“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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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…
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”…
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…
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!!
“Movies touch our hearts, awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places…open doors & minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime.” – Martin Scorsese
We’re going to forego a verbose preamble today and jump right into the fray. If you have not read Part 1 please go back and do so at your leisure. As always I appreciate everyone who stops by to read the things that are written here, and your feedback is welcome.
90 Ma & Pa Kettle (various films)
Ma & Pa Kettle starred in ten films from 1947-57. They are simple country bumpkins raising their brood of 16 kids on the family farm, and the movies put them into various fish-out-of-water scenarios like trips to New York, Hawaii, & Paris, as well as winning a “house of the future” in a contest. I seem to recall that the Kettle films were shown on Saturday morning television with some frequency during my childhood. That was way before channels like TCM & AMC, so I assume it had to be a local syndication type of deal. I also have a vague recollection that it was my Dad who enjoyed watching Ma & Pa Kettle and introduced me to the movies.
“It may be a good day for you, but it ain’t for Pa. All the poor man wanted was a new tobacco pouch and instead he won a house he didn’t want and he got a bad sunburn.” (Ma)
“You do all the barkin’, but it’s me that’s always in the doghouse.” (Pa)
“You mean, Pa & Me’s got to support all our kids and the government too?” (Ma)
“Pa, you’re lazier than that old hound dog we used to have.” “Which one?” “The one that used to lean against the wall when she barked.”
89 Thelma Dickinson & Louise Sawyer (Thelma & Louise)
Full disclosure…I believe I’ve only watched Thelma & Louise once, but that was enough. The duo are southern ladies taking a girls’ trip to escape from their mundane existence, but things go awry when a drunken rabble-rouser tries to rape Thelma and Louise kills him. Of course we all know that in TV & movies no one ever does the smart thing by calling the police…instead they get spooked & go on the run, which is the foundation for the adventure that follows. Nearly three decades later many of us still refer to mischievous gal pals as Thelma & Louise.
“You said you ‘n’ me was gonna get out of town and for once just really let our hair down. Well darlin’, look out ’cause my hair is comin’ down!” (Thelma)
“You get what you settle for.” (Louise)
“He kinda prides himself on being infantile.” (Thelma)
“Good morning everybody, this is a robbery. Now if nobody loses their head, nobody will lose their head. Simon says everybody lay down on the floor, right away, right away, except you sir. You’ll have a story to tell your friends, that or a tag on your toe, it’s your decision.” (Thelma)
“I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?” (Thelma)
88 Raymond Babbitt (Rain Man)
I’m not sure anyone in history has done more to promote awareness of autism than Raymond Babbitt. Dustin Hoffman won his second Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Raymond, a savant whose deceased father left him millions that his scheming brother is trying to get from him. It is rare for Tom Cruise to be outshined in any film, but Raymond’s charming blend of pathos, humor, & vulnerability does the trick.
“I’m an excellent driver.”
“13 minutes to Judge Wapner and The People’s Court.”
87 Dr. Frank N. Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Some films have broad appeal, and I assume that is what the powers-that-be are going for most of the time. However, there is no shortage of movies that are focused on a rather specific target audience. I haven’t seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show since I was in college, sitting out in a field late at night throwing rice & toilet paper at the screen, but that’s okay since it is exactly the kind of weird, drunken, relatively innocuous, & completely stupid experience one should have at 19, because if that’s how you spend your weekend when your 35 or 50 it becomes a bit disturbing. Dr. Furter describes himself as a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”, which seems like a fitting description. Unforgettable name?? Check. Unique outfit?? Check. Quirky as all get-out?? You bet. Actor Tim Curry has been nominated for Tony Awards, starred in films like The Hunt for Red October & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and portrayed Pennywise in the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s It, but he will most likely always be remembered as Dr. Frank N. Furter.
“Tonight, my unconventional conventionalists, you are about to witness a new breakthrough in biochemical research, and paradise is to be mine!”
“Don’t be upset…it was a mercy killing. He had a certain naïve charm, but no muscle.”
86 Mick “Crocodile” Dundee (Crocodile Dundee)
Let’s face it…the only reason any of us in the good ol’ USA has ever requested for someone to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” is because Crocodile Dundee taught us what that means in 1986. Outback Steakhouse was created in Tampa, FL two years after the film’s release in hopes of capitalizing on America’s newfound fascination with Australia. Two Dundee sequels were produced, but neither had the magic of the original, a classic fish-out-of-water tale featuring a most unconventional protagonist.
“Get on the right side of the road you pelican!”
“That’s not a knife…THAT’S a knife.”
“Well, you see, Aborigines don’t own the land…they belong to it. It’s like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years…still be there when you & I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.”
“Imagine seven million people all wanting to live together. New York must be the friendliest place on earth.”
85 Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas)
Not too long ago I saw a poll on Facebook asking about the best mob movie and was stunned when Goodfellas beat out The Godfather, because in my humble opinion The Godfather cannot be touched. Having said that, it is a rather unfair comparison. The Godfather is an Shakespearean fantasy with lots of Hollywood style & polish, whereas Goodfellas is more raw & down-to-earth. Inasmuch as The Mafia still exists in modern America I assume Goodfellas is probably a more accurate portrayal, but for me that doesn’t necessarily equal entertainment value. It’s kind of the same thing as people who fawn all over Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy because of its gritty realism, while I lean toward the escapism of the Burton/Schumacher Batman flicks from the late 80’s/early 90’s. At any rate, actor Joe Pesci had done Raging Bull in 1980 and added some life to the Lethal Weapon franchise in 1989 so Goodfellas wasn’t his first rodeo, but Tommy DeVito has become one of his defining roles (we’ll get to another a bit later). DeVito is loosely based on real life gangster “Two Gun Tommy” DiSimone, a NY City gangster who “disappeared” in January 1979. Two Gun Tommy was much younger, not to mention physically bigger & stronger, than the diminutive, middle-aged, fast-talking tough guy depicted in the film, but other mobsters have said that Pesci’s portrayal…for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor…is otherwise fairly accurate.
“What do you mean I’m funny? What do you mean? You mean the way I talk? What? You mean, let me understand this, ’cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how? I mean funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny? Funny how? How am I funny?”
84 Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man)
Y’all know that I’m not a horror movie fan, but for some reason I love the old Universal monsters from the 1930’s & 40’s. Talbot is a mild-mannered man who returns to Wales after two decades in America to reconcile with his estranged father. He is bitten by a werewolf while trying to rescue a damsel in distress, and thereafter becomes a werewolf himself. After committing a series of murders he is eventually bludgeoned to death by his own father, who doesn’t realize The Wolf Man is his son. Lon Chaney Jr.’s portrayal of Talbot as quiet & reserved and emotionally tortured by his infirmity is the perfect contrast to the ferocity of the beast.
“You think I don’t know the difference between a wolf and a man? You’re insane! I tell you, I killed a wolf! A plain, ordinary wolf! Don’t try to make me believe that I killed a man when I know that I killed a wolf!”
83 Tony Montana (Scarface)
I don’t rate Scarface as highly as some simply because I tend not to like movies about crime & drugs…it’s just not my kind of entertainment. Having said that, there’s no denying that Tony Montana is a memorable character. Tony arrives in Miami from Cuba and starts his new life as a dishwasher. A few years later he is a wealthy drug lord with an unhealthy cocaine addiction. As is the case with such characters there is a lot of bloodshed, ultimately ending (spoiler alert) with Tony face down in a fountain after having been shot in the back by a rival’s henchman. Critics like to attach meaning to films like Scarface, seeing it as some sort of allegory about rising & falling, the excesses of the American Dream, or a commentary on criminal avarice, but I prefer to learn such lessons without all the violence & profanity. Italian-American Pacino seems like an odd choice to portray a Cuban, and I’m not sure that would fly in our newly woke culture just a few decades later. Interestingly, Robert DeNiro was the first choice for the role of Tony Montana but he declined the opportunity.
“This is paradise. This is paradise, I’m tellin’ you. I shoulda come here 10 years ago. I’d have been a millionaire by this time. By this time, I’d have had my own boat, my own car, my own golf course.”
“Me, I always tell the truth…even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”
“This country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the woman.”
“Okay, you little cockroaches… come on! You wanna play games? Okay, I can play with you. Come on! Okay, you wanna play rough?!?!?? Okay! SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!”
82 Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (The Fugitive)
Other than its love of sequels the other way that Hollywood plays it safe by not being particularly innovative is to recycle old television shows and bring them…or atleast the central premise…to the big screen, with the results being decidedly mixed. The Dukes of Hazzard, Leave it to Beaver, & The Wild Wild West weren’t good movies, while The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, & Charlie’s Angels were decent enough. One of the best movie adaptations of a TV show is The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford portraying erroneously convicted Dr. Richard Kimble. While the television show had Dr. Kimble doggedly pursued across the country by local police Lt. Philip Gerard, the film kicks it up a notch by making the hunter no nonsense U.S Marshal Sam Gerard, although the quest is essentially limited to Chicago. Tommy Lee Jones won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Gerard, and became the focus of the story in a much inferior sequel a few years later. In the movie neither Kimble nor Gerard resemble the television characters they are based on all that much, but in this case the adaptation is actually better than the original.
“Let that be a lesson to you, boys & girls. Don’t ever argue with the Big Dog, because the Big Dog is always right.”
“Listen up, ladies & gentlemen! Our fugitive has been on the run for 90 minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles per hour and that gives us a radius of 6 miles. What I want out of each & every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”
81 Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski)
Lebowski is a weird movie, but it sure is fun to watch when a particular mood strikes. One of the key reasons for its success is John Goodman’s portrayal of Walter, the foul-mouthed, slightly unhinged, but loyal best buddy of the film’s protagonist. I’ve never been a fan of Goodman’s infamous TV show Roseanne in any of its incarnations, but I sure have enjoyed his big screen career. Raising Arizona. Everybody’s All-American. The Hangover Part III. They may not be transcendent films, but they’re enjoyable enough and better because Goodman is in them. Walter is most definitely second fiddle in Lebowksi, but that’s okay…great movies need supporting characters that add a colorful layer to the story, and in this case the mission is certainly accomplished.
“Donny, you’re out of your element! Dude, the Chinaman is not the issue here!”
“Nihilists! I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”
“Lady, I got buddies who died face down in the muck so that you & I could enjoy this family restaurant!”
“You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Believe me. There are ways, Dude.”
“Life does not start and stop at your convenience, you miserable piece of shit!”
“You know, Dude, I myself dabbled in pacifism once. Not in ‘Nam of course.”
“We’re talking about unchecked aggression here, Dude.”
“Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.”
80 Captain Louis Renault (Casablanca)
¾ of a century after its theatrical release Casablanca is still regarded as one of the best movies ever produced. There are multiple reasons for that, but one of them is Capt. Renault, a cynical & slightly corrupt French policeman. Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco on the coast of Africa. During World War II it was a vital strategic port, and since a large chunk of Europe was controlled by the Nazis travel was limited, hence the importance of the film’s “letters of transit” (a true film MacGuffin…in reality no such documents existed). Capt. Renault plays all sides, loyal only to his own needs & desires…or so we are led to believe until the film’s conclusion. He isn’t a clichéd movie bad guy…he seems pleasant enough, and in fact has some of the more blithe dialogue. It is rare for an alleged villain to add levity to the story, but that is exactly what Renault does, which is probably why I like him. Actor Claude Rains played more conventional antagonists in films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, and earned four Academy Award nominations in his career, but Casablanca was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the audience and Cpt. Renault.
“I’m making out the report now. We haven’t quite decided whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.”
“It is a little game we play. They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill. It is very convenient.”
“I have no conviction, if that’s what you mean. I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Vichy.
“How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”
“You mustn’t underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they “blundered” into Berlin in 1918.”
“I told my men to be especially destructive. You know how that impresses Germans.”
“Everybody is to leave here immediately! This cafe is closed until further notice. Clear the room, at once! I am shocked…shocked…to find that gambling is going on in here!”
“Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.”
“Round up the usual suspects!”
79 Jack Dawson & Rose DeWitt-Bukater (Titanic)
For several years Titanic was the highest grossing film of all time, and it swept thru the 1997 awards season like a tornado. Critics & the general populace both love it, but one of the few condemnations I seem to recall hearing back then was that the main focus wasn’t on actual people who lost their lives in the infamous tragedy. Instead the spotlight was given to two fictional characters in Jack & Rose. They are essentially a riff on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. He’s a good-natured American guy from the wrong side of the tracks heading home to Wisconsin, while she is a prim & proper British debutante who hates her rigid life. In the course of three hours we become invested in them individually and in their love story. They may not be based on real people, but as composite characters I believe they are solid representatives of the 1500 souls lost on that catastrophic night.
“I’m the king of the world!” (Jack)
“Do you know of Dr. Freud, Mr. Ismay? His ideas about the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to you.” (Rose)
“I’m not an idiot. I know how the world works. I’ve got ten bucks in my pocket. I have nothing to offer you and I know that. I understand. But I’m too involved now. You jump, I jump, remember? I can’t turn away without knowing you’ll be all right.” (Jack)
“I’m flying, Jack!” (Rose)
“I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” (Jack)
“Jack, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls. Wearing this…wearing only this.” (Rose)
“I don’t know about you, but I intend to go write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all this.” (Jack)
“Don’t you do that…don’t you say your goodbyes. Not yet, do you understand me? You’re gonna get out of here, you’re gonna go on, and you’re gonna make lots of babies, and you’re gonna watch them grow. You’re gonna die an old… an old woman warm in her bed, not here, not this night. Not like this, do you understand me? Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought me to you, and I’m thankful for that, Rose. I’m thankful. You must do me this honor. You must promise me that you’ll survive, that you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.” (Jack)
78 Jenny Curran (Forrest Gump)
A lot of subtext can be read into Forrest Gump. Some believe that Jenny…the lifelong friend of the film’s simpleminded hero who was abused as a young girl, becomes a hippie, descends into a life of drugs & prostitution, and ends up dying of (we assume) a sexually transmitted disease…is meant to represent the counterculture & upheaval of the 1960’s that many consider the loss of America’s innocence. She is the darkness in contrast to Forrest’s patriotic optimism. I’m not sure any of that symbolism was purposeful by the filmmakers, but the movie & the character stand on their own merits regardless of intent. Actress Robin Wright has had a solid career in Hollywood, from soap opera Santa Barbara in the mid-80’s to The Princess Bride in 1987 to the recently concluded Netflix hit House of Cards, but the sadness & vulnerability that defines Jenny has been her crowning achievement.
“Dear God, make me a bird. So I could fly far. Far far away from here.”
“Listen, you promise me something, okay? Just if you’re ever in trouble, don’t be brave. You just run, okay? Just run away.”
77 Inspector Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry)
Clint Eastwood’s career has spanned over a half century, and he’s done everything from westerns to critically acclaimed dramas to the television show Rawhide. He’s even become an Academy Award winning director. However, Eastwood will always be most closely associated with his portrayal of Harry Callahan, a tough as nails San Francisco cop who plays by his own set of rules.
“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
76 Euphagenia Doubtfire (Mrs. Doubtfire)
The titular character in this film is actually a man in drag. Daniel Hillard is an itinerant voice actor whose uptight wife divorces him and gets custody of their three children. Instead of allowing their father to spend more time with them the career driven mother decides to hire a nanny, so Daniel dons a very convincing disguise and becomes an elderly British woman. The ruse works, and Mrs. Doubtfire allows Robin Williams’ comedic genius to shine.
“Oh, sir! I saw it! Some angry member of the kitchen staff. Did you not tip them? Oh, the terrorists – they ran that way. It was a run-by fruiting.”
“I’m a hip old granny who can hip-hop, be-bop, dance ’til you drop, and yo, yo, make a wicked cup of cocoa.”
“Oh. Carpe dentum. Seize the teeth. Just shake them off, like a dog.”
“I found the best way to keep from smoking again and lighting up is to be around those who do smoke. I have to randomly ingest just a little bit of nicotine and it steels my wool.”
“He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him. He was hit by a Guinness truck. So it was quite literally the drink that killed him.”
75 Woody Pride & Buzz Lightyear (The Toy Story Series)
The older I get the more I appreciate animated movies, especially since the technology has really advanced in the past couple of decades. It doesn’t hurt that Toy Story is a great example of a film that can be enjoyed by kids but is well written enough for adults to be entertained as well. Buzz Lightyear is a boisterous Space Ranger who doesn’t understand that he’s a toy. He is the newest action figure for young Andy, a birthday present from his mother. Buzz initially has a difficult time fitting in with the rest of Andy’s toys, especially Sheriff Woody, who is envious that he’s been replaced as Andy’s favorite plaything. Woody is the unofficial leader amongst all of Andy’s toys and feels threatened by Buzz at first, although the two eventually become pals.
“To infinity and beyond!” (Buzz)
“I can’t stop Andy from growing up… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” (Woody)
74 Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)
You killed his father…prepare to die!! Inigo Montoya is a Spanish swordsman on a mission. As a child he witnessed six fingered Count Rugen murder his father and has spent his life seeking vengeance. Initially he works with malevolent Vizzini to kidnap the lovely Buttercup, but eventually he becomes a good guy, teaming up with The Man in Black & giant Fezzik to rescue Buttercup. He also comes face to face with Rugen and finally gets his revenge.
“He was a great swordmaker, my father. When the six-fingered man appeared and requested a special sword, my father took the job. He slaved a year before it was finished. The six-fingered man returned and demanded it, but at 1/10th his promised price. My father refused. Without a word, the six-fingered man slashed him through the heart. I loved my father. So naturally, I challenged his murderer to a duel. I failed. I was 11 years old. When I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So, the next time we meet, I will not fail. I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’”
73 Lt. Dan Taylor (Forrest Gump)
I was born with a birth defect and have been disabled my entire life, so the way I do things & live my life is entirely normal to me. However, I have known people who became disabled later in life thru some sort of calamity, and it isn’t uncommon for such folks to become understandably bitter & angry about their situation. Lt. Dan captures those emotions perfectly. He’s kind of a prick, but one can’t help but have empathy and root for him. Gary Sinise might be the most underrated actor of his generation, and it’s a shame that he didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Lt. Dan.
“Now, you listen to me. We all have a destiny. Things don’t just happen…it’s all part of a plan.”
“There are two standing rules in this outfit. One, take care of your feet. Two, don’t go doing something stupid, like getting yourself killed.”
“You call this a storm?!?!?? Blow, you son of a bitch! It’s time for a showdown! You and me! I’m right here! Come and get me! You’ll never… sink… this…boat!!!!”
72 Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)
I can’t say I’m on the Tim Burton bandwagon (I have zero interest in Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, or Sweeney Todd, Dark Shadows didn’t really work for me, and I’m thoroughly confused by The Nightmare Before Christmas), but I have enjoyed some of his work (the Batman films of the late 80’s/early 90’s are much more entertaining than Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy no matter what anyone says, and Beetlejuice is a modern classic), with Edward Scissorhands chief among them. Edward is the Pinocchio-esque creation of an elderly inventor whose kind & quiet demeanor is offset by the scary looking blades he has instead of hands. The inventor dies and Edward lives for years in an old gothic mansion until a nosy Avon lady stumbles upon him and tries to integrate him into her odd little neighborhood. There Edward falls in love with the lovely young Kim, which makes her boyfriend jealous. Drama & violence ensue, with Edward fleeing back to his mansion. The movie has a framing device with an older version of Kim telling her granddaughter the story and saying that she believes Edward is still alive & living in the old mansion. Johnny Depp seems like kind of a weird dude, but credit where it is due…the guy is a terrific actor and Edward Scissorhands is probably his best performance. Edward is a quiet character who expresses so much with his eyes & facial expressions, which I find captivating.
“Mrs. Monroe showed me where the salon’s going to be. You could have a cosmetics counter. And then she showed me the back room where she took all of her clothes off.”
71 Mickey Goldmill (The Rocky Series)
Burgess Meredith had a long & successful career in Hollywood, doing a little bit of everything from portraying The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV show to playing Lenny in one of the best film adaptations of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men, but to those of us of a certain age he’ll always be Rocky Balboa’s grizzled old manager in the first three Rocky films. Mickey sees Balboa’s potential and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Mickey encourages Rocky in his pursuit of heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, and does his best a few years later to steer the champ away from the menacing Clubber Lang. Of course Rocky is mauled by Lang, but Mickey’s death immediately afterward spurs his path to revenge.
“I’m here to warn ya, that ya gotta be very careful about this shot that you got at the title. Because, like the Bible says, you ain’t gonna get a second chance. What ya need is a manager. I know, because I’ve been in this racket for fifty years. I’ve seen it all, all of it. I’ve got 21 stitches over this left eye. I’ve got 34 stitches over this eye. Do ya know that I had my nose busted 17 times. I got all this knowledge, I got it up here now, I wanna give it to you. I wanna take care of ya. I wanna make sure that all this shit that happened to me doesn’t happen to you. Ya can’t buy what I’m gonna give ya. I’ve got pain and I’ve got experience.”
“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder.”
“You got another shot. It’s a second shot at the, I don’t know, the biggest title in the world. And you’re gonna be swappin’ punches with the most dangerous fighter in the world. And just in case, you know, your brain ain’t workin’ so good, all this happens pretty soon and you ain’t ready. You’re nowhere near in any shape. So I say, you know, for God’s sake, why don’t you stand up and fight this guy hard?! Like ya done before? That was beautiful! But don’t lay down in front of him like this! Like, I don’t know, like some kind of mongrel or something. ‘Cause he’s gonna kick your face in pieces, you know that? That’s right. This guy just don’t wanna win, you know. He wants to bury ya, he wants to humiliate ya. He wants to prove to the whole world that you was nothing but some kind of a freak the first time out. And he said you’re a one-time lucky bum. Well, now, I don’t, I don’t wanna get mad, in a biblical place like this, but I think you’re a hell of a lot more than that, kid.”
“Why don’t you carry this? ‘Cause I liked you a lot better when you was carryin’ spit. ‘Cause the way you’re trainin’, you’re gonna end up pumping gas in Jersey somewhere!”
“You can’t win, Rock! This guy’ll kill ya to death inside of 3 rounds! He ain’t just another fighter. This guy is a wreckin’ machine, and he’s hungry! Hell, you ain’t been hungry since you won that belt! Three years ago, you were supernatural. You was hard and nasty. You had this cast iron jaw. But then, the worst thing happened to you that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized. Don’t worry, kid. You know, presidents retire, generals retire, horses retire, Man o War retired. They put him out to stud. That’s what you should’ve done, retire.”
70 Ace Ventura (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)
Jim Carrey has gone on to become a fairly well-regarded actor who takes himself, his craft, and life in general way too seriously. However, 25 years ago he was an up & comer known for portraying Fire Marshal Bill on the TV sketch comedy show In Living Color. Critics hated Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but its 47% score on Rotten Tomatoes was trumped by a $72 million box office, making it the 12th highest grossing film of 1994 and earning a sequel just a year later. The sequel was an even bigger financial success but also more panned critically. Ace is a unique & unforgettable character because really, who would even conceive of “pet detective” being a thing?
“Einhorn is Finkle. Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a MAN!”
“Fiction can be fun! But I find the reference section much more enlightening. For instance, if you were to look up professional football’s all-time bonehead plays you might read about a Miami Dolphin kicker named Ray Finkle, who missed a 26-yard field goal in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XVII. What you WOULDN’T read about is how Ray Finkle lost his mind, was committed to a mental hospital, only to escape and join the police force under the assumed identity of a missing hiker, manipulating his way to the top in a diabolical scheme to get even with Dan Marino whom he blamed for the entire thing!”
69 Rhett Butler & Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind)
The on again/off again relationship between Rhett & Scarlett reminds me of every “will they or won’t they” antagonistic & tortured “romance” we’ve seen play out on TV in my lifetime. In the real world such relationships are toxic, but within the scope of entertainment we find the tension & chemistry charming. Rhett Butler is a wealthy scoundrel who eventually enlists in the Confederate Army. Scarlett O’Hara is an entitled debutante, the self-centered daughter of a plantation owner. She spends most of the film pining for southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes, but he’s married to her cousin. Rhett is immediately smitten with Scarlett, but thru the years she marries two other men for all the wrong reasons, and both husbands end up dead. Scarlett goes through a lot of stuff over the course of the story, proving herself to be as resilient & tough as she is spoiled. Eventually Rhett & Scarlett marry & have a child, but she STILL can’t get over Ashley Wilkes. Rhett becomes fed up with her shenanigans and bolts, just as she finally figures out that he’s the man she truly needs. Vivien Leigh won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Scarlett, beating out the likes of Greta Garbo & Bette Davis in the process. Clark Gable wasn’t the original choice to portray Rhett…Gary Cooper turned down the part. Gable was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Robert Donat for his role in Goodbye, Mr. Chipps.
“I’m very drunk and I intend on getting still drunker before this evening is over.” (Rhett)
“As God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again! (Scarlett)
“The war stopped being a joke when a girl like you doesn’t know how to wear the latest fashion.” (Rhett)
“Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow… is another day!” (Scarlett)
“Open your eyes and look at me. No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.” (Rhett)
“I’m the only man over 16 and under 60 who’s around to show you a good time.” (Rhett)
“There’s one thing I do know, and that is that I love you Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish & shrewd, but able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names.” (Rhett)
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (Rhett)
68 Robin Hood (various films)
Sir Robin of Loxley first appeared in English folk ballads in the 15th century and has popped in & out of our collective pop culture consciousness for over 500 years. An outlaw who steals from the rich & gives to the poor, lives in Sherwood Forest with his band of Merry Men (Friar Tuck, Little John, Will Scarlet, et al), battles the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, & romances the lovely Maid Marian, Robin Hood has starred in about three dozen movies in the past hundred years. It is likely that he’d be a bit higher in our countdown if more of those films had been…noteworthy. Hollywood keeps trying, but despite their best efforts the only Robin Hood movie that has made much of an impact is 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, a classic starring Errol Flynn.
“We Saxons have little to fatten on by the time your tax gatherers are through. Overtaxed, overworked, and paid off with a knife, a club, or a rope.”
“It’s time to put an end to this! Now, this forest is wide. It can shelter and clothe and feed a band of good, determined men – good swordsmen, good archers, good fighters. Men, if you’re willing to fight for our people, I want you! Are you with me?”
“What else do you call a man who takes advantage of the King’s misfortune to seize his power? Now, with the help of this sweet band of cutthroats, you’ll try to grind a ransom for him out of every helpless Saxon, a ransom that will be used, not to release Richard, but to buy your way to the throne. I’ll organize a revolt, exact a death for a death, and I’ll never rest until every Saxon in this shire can stand up free men, and strike a blow for Richard and England.”
67 Clark Griswold (The Vacation Series)
Five years ago The Manofesto ranked Clark Griswold 4th on our list of Superfluous 7 Most Awesome Fictional Dads, opining that despite being kind of a dufus it is obvious that he is a devoted family man. Chevy Chase has portrayed Clark in five films stretching all the way back to the original National Lampoon’s Vacation in 1983. He’s an interesting character in that his occupation as an R&D expert in food additives & preservatives seems to indicate some level of intelligence, yet he is depicted as an ordinary putz in his personal life. Chase’s gift for physical comedy as well as how others play off him…with sort of an eye-rolling tolerance for his buffoonery…endears Clark to the audience, making us glad when everything turns out fine despite his persistent screw-ups.
“This is no longer a vacation…it’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun! I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun! We’re all gonna have so much fuckin’ fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah out of your assholes!!! HAHAHA!!! I gotta be crazy; I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose! Praise Marty Moose! Holy shit!!!”
“Hey, look kids…there’s Big Ben and there’s Parliament.”
“Honey, we’re not normal people. We’re the Griswolds!”
66 John Doe (Se7en) & Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects)
Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey may be persona non grata in Hollywood these days, but until he ran into the #MeToo Mafia his career had been full of memorable roles. To be honest Se7en & The Usual Suspects aren’t really my kind of films, but both offer unforgettable villains made even better by the presence of Spacey inhabiting the characters. Se7en tells the story of a serial killer who uses The Seven Deadly Sins as a theme in his murders. John Doe forces a man to eat until his stomach ruptures (gluttony), kills a lawyer by literally taking a pound of flesh from him (greed), starves a drug dealer/child molester almost to death (sloth), forces a man at gunpoint to kill a prostitute by raping her with a bladed “toy” (lust), & mutilates the face of a model (pride). For those who haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil the final two crimes representing envy & wrath. The Usual Suspects finds the LAPD interrogating cerebral palsy-afflicted con man Verbal Kint after he survives a massacre on a ship. Kint weaves a tale about a crime lord named Keyser Soze, but in possibly one of the best endings to a movie ever it is revealed (major spoiler alert) that Verbal Kint IS Keyser Soze. Spacey won his first Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor) for his role in The Usual Suspects.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” (Keyser Soze)
“Don’t ask me to pity those people. I don’t mourn them any more than I do the thousands that died at Sodom & Gomorrah.” (John Doe)
65 Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein)
First of all, it is pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”. That is just one small way in which Frederick has intentionally distanced himself from his grandfather’s twisted legacy. However, upon inheriting the family castle in Transylvania Frederick finds himself at a crossroads, and I think we all know the hilarious path he chooses. I’m a fan of parody films, and the way director Mel Brooks spoofs the classic story is funny in a way that I fear may be lost on modern youngsters. Gene Wilder not only stars as Frederick but he also co-wrote the screenplay with Brooks. The cast…Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Gene Hackman…is first rate, even if no one under 45 these days might appreciate that fact. I have a bad feeling that someday somebody is going to get the bright idea to remake Young Frankenstein, and that would be…at the very least…misguided.
“From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, ‘I am man!’ our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself. Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens. We shall mock the earthquake. We shall command the thunders, and penetrate into the very womb of impervious nature herself.”
“My grandfather’s work was doodoo! I am not interested in death! The only thing that concerns me is the preservation of life!”
“Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a 7 and a half foot long, 54- inch wide GORILLA?!?!?! IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TELLING ME!?!”
63 Carl Spackler (Caddyshack)
One would assume that being an assistant greenskeeper at swanky Bushwood Country Club would allow even a middle class guy like Carl a decent lifestyle. Alas, he lives in small hut on the golf course, with his job & the game of golf itself consuming his life. He dreams of one day winning The Masters, and in his spare time breeds grass hybrids that one can “play 36 holes on in the afternoon” then “get stoned to the bejeezus” on it at night. He becomes obsessed with ridding the golf course of a rabblerousing gopher, going so far as to utilize explosives and blow up the very course he is employed to look after.
“What an incredible Cinderella story! This unknown, comes out of nowhere, to lead the pack at Augusta. The crowd is just on its feet here. He’s a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he lines up this last shot. He’s got about 195 yards left, and he’s got a, looks like he’s got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent… Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion. It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!”
“My enemy…my foe…is an animal. In order to conquer the animal I have to learn to think like an animal. And, whenever possible, to look like one. I’ve gotta get inside this guy’s pelt and crawl around for a few days.”
“And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”
64 Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series)
Author JK Rowling describes Hermione as having “pale skin, bushy brown hair, brown eyes, & large buck teeth”. In the films she is much lovelier than the impression one gets from the books, but her personality remains unchanged: intelligent, sensible, strong-willed, loyal, & just a tad bit officious. She’s the kind of person that’s nice to have in your corner, and one that presents fierce opposition. She’s tough as nails and not afraid to stand side by side with the boys or go toe to toe with the baddies, yet she retains an element of vulnerable femininity & kindness. I suppose for a certain age of young ladies Hermione could be called a feminist icon.
“Honestly, am I the only person who’s ever bothered to read Hogwarts: A History?”
“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed. Before you come up with another idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled.”
“I’m highly logical which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook.”
“Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have!”
“No Harry, you listen…we’re coming with you. That was decided months ago…years, really.”
62 Austin Powers & Dr. Evil (The Austin Powers Series)
I may not be a James Bond fan, but I really enjoyed the Austin Powers movies, which are essentially a Bond parody. Powers is a 60’s era swinger & British spy whose arch nemesis is Dr. Evil. When Dr. Evil becomes cryogenically frozen Powers does the same so that he’ll be available to stop Evil in the future. That future is three decades later, when both Powers & Evil are thawed out and continue their battle. Dr. Evil intends to steal nuclear weapons & hold the world hostage for “$100 BILLION!!”. It’s all very silly, with double entendres, sight gags, & the kind of goofy humor that tickles my funny bone. Mike Meyers created the story as a tribute to his British parents and plays both characters. Meyers was a couple of years removed from his time at SNL and hadn’t had much success outside of the two Wayne’s World films, but cemented his stardom with the dual roles. Rumors of a fourth Powers movie have persisted since the third one hit theaters 17 years ago, but so far it hasn’t happened.
“I bet she shags like a minx.” (Austin Powers)
“Fire the laser!” (Dr. Evil)
“The 70s and the 80s? You’re not missing anything! I looked into it. There’s a gas shortage and A Flock of Seagulls. That’s about it.” (Austin Powers)
“Why must I be surrounded by frickin’ idiots?” (Dr. Evil)
“Oh, behave!” (Austin Powers)
“Throw me a frickin’ bone here!” (Dr. Evil)
“Groovy, baby!” (Austin Powers)
“I have a better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.” (Dr. Evil)
“SILENCE!! I will not tolerate your insolence!” (Dr. Evil)
“Ladies & gentlemen, welcome to my new submarine lair. It’s long and hard and full of seamen.” (Dr. Evil)
61 John Bender (The Breakfast Club)
There are five high schoolers in trouble & spending their Saturday in detention at Shurmur High School in suburban Chicago on March 24, 1984: Claire Standish (The Princess), Andrew Clark (The Athlete), Brian Johnson (The Brain), Allison Reynolds (The Basket Case), & John Bender (The Criminal). Of that group it is Bender that shines just a little brighter. The idea behind these characters is that they represent typical high school stereotypes, and it’s the main reason the film holds up nearly four decades later…those labels are universal and don’t change all that much. Every high school has rebels like Bender, the kind of badass who thumbs their nose at authority, doesn’t care all that much about academics, & seemingly has a limited future. However, the great thing about The Breakfast Club is that it explores those archetypes & exposes their folly. It’s a movie that one perceives differently thru the prism of adulthood, and as a grown man I am struck by the not-so-subtle suggestion that Bender has been physically, mentally, & emotionally abused at home. There is a scene in which blowhard Principal Vernon gets in Bender’s face, and contrary to the bluster that he exhibits in the presence of his peers, the tough as nails bully cowers like a scared child. It is a stark reminder that not everything is always as it seems – sometimes people put on masks to hide their pain.
“Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.”
“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”
“I could see you really pushing maximum density. You see, I’m not sure if you know this, but there are two kinds of fat people. There’s fat people that were born to be fat, and there’s fat people that were once thin, but they became fat, so when you look at them you can sort of see that thin person inside. You see, you’re gonna get married, you’re gonna squeeze out a few puppies and then….”
“Eat my shorts.”
“”Face it…you’re a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie.”
60 Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice)
Horror comedies are a rare treat, but they are the kind of Halloween-ish fare I prefer instead of straight up slasher flicks. Michael Keaton is an undervalued gem of an actor, capable of adding zest to comedies, dramas, big budget superhero films, biopics, or whatever else he does. When a young couple dies in a car accident but still finds themselves residing in their suburban Connecticut home they employ the services of a centuries old “freelance bio-exorcist” to get rid of the new owners of the house. That freelancer is a fast-talking, mischievous, & crude trickster who is essentially a “Livingbuster” (as opposed to a Ghostbuster)…a ghost who exterminates the living by scaring them away. The name Betelgeuse (the proper spelling) refers to a star in the Orion constellation that is the ninth brightest star in the night sky. Rumors of a Beetlejuice sequel have been circulating for years, but the project seems to have hit a wall.
“I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”
59 Sonny Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy)
Hands down Sonny has the greatest death scene in movie history. The eldest son of Don Vito Corleone, hothead Santino takes over as temporary boss of The Family after his father is shot by goons working for narcotics kingpin Turk Sollozzo. Under Sonny’s leadership the Five Families engage in a Mafia war after Sonny’s younger brother Michael kills Sollozzo & a corrupt cop, forcing the entire Corleone organization to “go to the mattresses”. After his brother-in-law Carlo physically abuses his wife Connie, Sonny defends his sister’s honor by beating the holy hell out of Carlo, which leads to rival boss Emilio Barzini setting a trap using Carlo to bait Sonny into making a reckless mistake. He is brought down in a hail of gunfire at a toll booth. Sonny’s sexual prowess and physical…gifts…are elaborated on much more in the book than the movie, but his affair with one of Connie’s bridesmaids at the beginning of the first film is important because his illegitimate son Vincent Mancini becomes Don of the Corleone Family in the much maligned & underappreciated Part III.
“Hey, whatcha gonna do, nice college boy, eh? Didn’t want to get mixed up in the family business, huh? Now you wanna gun down a police captain ’cause he slapped ya in the face? Hah? What do you think this is? The Army, where you shoot ’em a mile away? You’ve gotta get up close like this and bada-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit!”
58 Godzilla (various films)
Godzilla (which in Japanese translates into gorilla whale) is a 300-400 ft. reptilian creature weighing several hundred thousand tons who lives in the sea and is awakened as a result of nuclear radiation. He has been the star of about three dozen films dating back to the 1950’s, and the earliest movies are still the best, mostly because of the kitschiness factor of the archaic special effects & amusingly poor dubbing of English over the original Japanese. Big scary monsters are nothing new in Hollywood, but most of them come & go rather quickly. Maybe they get a couple of sequels but that’s usually it. Godzilla has stood the test of time, and we can still count on a new movie in the series popping up somewhere every few years for our viewing pleasure.
57 Bo “Bandit” Darville (Smokey & The Bandit)
At one point in my childhood Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world, and though he’d previously done well-regarded films like Deliverance & The Longest Yard my earliest memory of him is Smokey & The Bandit. I was five years old and didn’t really get all the humor, but there were car chases & crashes so that was enough to attract my attention. In the ensuing four decades I have watched this movie countless times, and though the entire cast is terrific it is The Bandit that holds it all together. He’s a trucker who’s between jobs, and that guy that knows everyone and is loved by everybody because of his charm & good looks. He’s cocky but not arrogant, confident enough in his skills to agree to a bet wherein he’ll bring 400 cases of Coors beer to Atlanta from Texarkana, TX in just 28 hours. The premise might not make much sense to folks in 21st century America because one first must understand that in the 1970’s Coors was unavailable east of Oklahoma (it didn’t become distributed nationally until 1986), and because it was made without stabilizers & preservatives could spoil quicker than other beers. Bootlegging was the illegal transport of alcoholic beverages due to violation of registration & licensing laws. I have no idea what the penalty was, but I assume the $80k Bandit is offer by Big Enos Burdette is worth the risk. At any rate, his antics are so much fun that it makes an otherwise odd & now outdated idea still entertaining after all these years.
“Oh I love your suits. It must have been a bitch to get a 68 Extra Fat and a 12 Dwarf.”
“You’re always hoppin around. And you’re kinda cute, like a frog. And I’d like to jump ya.”
“He was taking a 10-100.”
“Cowboys love fat calves.”
“What’s a Texas county mounty doing in Arkansas?”
56 Moses (The Ten Commandments)
Hollywood’s history with Biblical epics is spotty at best, but they did it right with The Ten Commandments. It’s got to be a tough gig portraying a character from The Bible, right?? They are real people who actually walked the Earth, but it was so long ago that there aren’t photos or video to lay the foundation for an accurate depiction. With the exception of events that are written about in God’s Word there isn’t much to base a character on, yet millions of people whose faith is deeply important to them have high expectations. By 1956 director Cecil B. DeMille had helmed dozens of movies, many of them in the silent era in the first two decades of the 20th century. His epic circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth had won the Academy Award for Best Picture a few years earlier. Charlton Heston wasn’t DeMille’s first choice to play Moses, but the two had worked together on The Greatest Show on Earth and Heston’s knowledge of Egyptian history captivated the director, who thought the actor resembled Michelangelo’s 16th century statue of Moses in the church of San Pietro in Rome. William Boyd, who had portrayed Hopalong Cassidy in over five dozen cowboy movies in the 1930’s & 40’s, turned down the part, so Heston was chosen. He’d acted in over a dozen previous films, but it was The Ten Commandments that made him a star.
“A city is made of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none. So much for accusations.”
“It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage. It would take a god, and I am no god. I am but a man, a man who asks by what right any man may enslave another of a different race or creed. But if I could free these people, I would.”
“Who shall withstand the power of God?!?!??”
55 Buck Russell (Uncle Buck)
It’s the role that John Candy was born to play: a slovenly black sheep uncle called on to babysit his nieces & nephew in the midst of a family emergency. Buck is a middle-aged unemployed bachelor who smokes cigars, drinks beer, drives a noisy old gas guzzler that’s seen better days, & spends a lot of time at the track betting on horses…not exactly the ideal caretaker for children. The two younger kids take an immediate liking to Buck, but he has a much more difficult time winning over his teenage niece. Those interactions between an uncle clearly out of his element and the children are the crux of the film, and Candy infuses Buck with a mix of humor, common sense, tough love, amiable befuddlement, & roguish charm that endears him to the audience.
“I’m on to cigars now. I’m on to a five year plan. I eliminated cigarettes, then I go to cigars, then I go to pipes, then I go to chewing tobacco, then I’m on to that nicotine gum.”
“What’s your record for consecutive questions asked?”
“I don’t think I want to know a 6 year old who isn’t a dreamer or a sillyheart, and I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. You so much as scowl at my niece or any other kid in this school and I hear about it, I’m coming looking for you! Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.
“Stand me up today and tomorrow I’ll drive you to school in my robe and pajamas and walk you to your first class.”
“Ever hear of a ritual killing? You gnaw on her face in public like that again and you’ll be one.”
“I have a friend who works at the crime lab at the police station. I could give him your toothbrush and he could run a test on it to see if you actually brushed your teeth or just ran your toothbrush under the faucet.”
54 R2D2 & C3P0 (The Star Wars series)
The Star Wars galaxy created by George Lucas offers a multitude of memorable characters. We’ll get to some others eventually, but we begin with a pair of futuristic droids that offer delightful levity amongst all the action & intrigue. There are eleven films in the series…the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, the soon to be concluded sequel trilogy, Rogue One, & Solo. R2D2 & C3P0 have appeared in ten of these, which is by far more than any other character. R2D2 purportedly stands for Second Generation Robotic Droid Series-2, but the truth is that when Lucas heard his sound editor on American Graffiti ask for Reel 2, Dialog Track 2 in abbreviated form he liked the sound of it. R2D2 is a utility robot used for the maintenance & repair of starships and related technology. In the films he first belongs to Naboo defense forces charged with repairing Queen Padme Amidala’s ship. Thru the years he is owned by Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin Skywalker, Owen Lars, Luke Skywalker, & Rey. R2’s distinctive shape and various beeps & unique noises are signature elements of the character. C3P0 is a little more humanlike than his buddy, having legs & feet and the ability to speak. He is a protocol droid intended to assist in etiquette, customs, & translation and is fluent in over seven million forms of communication. Thru the years he has served Shmi Skywalker, the Lars family, Padmé Amidala, Raymus Antilles, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, & Rey. His distinctive gold plating makes him easy to spot in a crowd, and his fussy, worrisome personality is rather comical. I’m sure back in the 70’s many people thought that by the 21st century robot assistants like R2D2 & C3P0 would be commonplace, but we’re not quite there yet.
“For a mechanic, you seem to do an incessant amount of thinking.” (C3P0)
“Don’t blame me. I’m an interpreter. I’m not supposed to know a power socket from a computer terminal.” (C3P0)
“R2, you know better than to trust a strange computer.” (C3P0)
“It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity.” (C3P0)
53 Billy Madison & Happy Gilmore (eponymous films)
Adam Sandler’s career has been a mixed bag. He is undoubtedly talented & funny, but his shtick isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and he’s made a lot of bad movies. In my opinion his funniest films were in the early 90’s, though you won’t find many critics who would agree. I take no issue with solicitous, meaningful films with life lessons, powerful messages, & profound themes, but sometimes we just want to turn off our brain for awhile and laugh at something completely stupid & pointless and Sandler has done a decent job of providing that sort of entertainment. Billy Madison is a rather juvenile 20-something in a clear state of arrested development. When his hotel tycoon father plans to retire he’d prefer Billy take over the business but knows he isn’t capable, especially since the old man bribed teachers to pass Billy all the way thru school. At any rate, Billy accepts a challenge to complete 12 grades of school in two weeks, which is somehow supposed to magically make him qualified to helm a Fortune 500 company. I know…it makes very little sense, but the journey is lots of silly fun, which is the whole point. Happy Gilmore is a failed hockey player wannabe who must figure out a way to help his grandmother buy back her house that the IRS took for back taxes she owes. He inexplicably ends up on the PGA Tour and (spoiler alert) wins enough money as a champion golfer to help out his grandmother. Once again…don’t put too much thought into it. The plots of these movies aren’t meant to be logical and the characters aren’t supposed to be realistic, but Sandler infuses both Billy & Happy with enough affable charm that we root for their success and want them to overcome the odds despite the fact that they are total idiots.
“Oh, Veronica Vaughn … soooo hot … want to touch the hiney!” (Billy)
“The Price is wrong, bitch!” (Happy)
“You ain’t cool, unless, you pee your pants! Everybody my age pee their pants; it’s the coolest!” (Billy)
52 Ellis “Red” Redding (The Shawshank Redemption)
Many folks may not realize that The Shawshank Redemption is based on a 1982 Stephen King novella. In that book Red Redding is described as a middle-aged Irish man with greying red hair, so casting Morgan Freeman in the role can only be described as an inspired choice. Red has been imprisoned at Shawshank for 40 years for murdering his wife & passengers in her vehicle after he tampered with the brakes. He has attained a level of influence for being able to smuggle a variety of goods into the jail for other inmates, though his attitude remains somewhat sullen. He is a practical man, resigned to his fate yet regretful of the crime he committed when he was young & stupid. Red befriends new inmate Andy Dufresne, and they end up changing each other’s lives tremendously. Freeman received his third Academy Award nomination for the role, but lost the Best Actor prize to Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump).
“In 1966, Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a 600 years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than 20. Andy crawled to freedom through 500 yards of shit-smelling foulness I can’t even imagine…or maybe I just don’t want to. 500 yards… that’s the length of five football fields; just shy of half a mile.”
“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
“These prison walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized. They send you here for life, that’s exactly what they take. The part that counts anyways.”
“Rehabilitated? Well, now, let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means. I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made-up word. A politician’s word, so that young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie and have a job. What do you really wanna know? Am I sorry for what I did? There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I gotta live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So go ahead and stamp your forms, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”
“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
51 Laurie Strode (Halloween)
Screen legend Janet Leigh is the original Scream Queen for her small yet pivotal role in the 1960 Hitchcock classic Psycho, so it is fitting that her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis would assume the mantle after playing Lorrie Strode, an ordinary American teenager who endures a single night of terror at the hands of a knife-wielding masked maniac. Numerous sequels, remakes, & reboots have kept the Halloween franchise alive, but really the 1978 original & its initial 1981 sequel are the only two that matter.
I am not a “prisoner of the moment” kind of guy. I’m 45 years old so I’m not an old fogey, but neither am I hip, cool, woke, with it, or worried about keeping up with the crowd. Oftentimes I am late to the party when it comes to movies, music, television, books, & various pop culture trends. Perhaps I’m a bit close-minded and stuck in my ways, but generally I like what I like and that’s just fine with me. It isn’t unusual for me to pass over something that has the masses excited, only to decide months or even years later to give it a whirl. I suppose I figure that if people are still talking about something after all that time then maybe it’s legit. At any rate, if you’re new to 90’s Film Frenzy everything you’ve missed is available in The Vault, including second round action in the Dope Division. Enjoy.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris
Directed By: Ron Howard (Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood)
Only the Lonely
I had a Polack friend once. She was incredibly stupid. She was the stupidest woman that I ever knew. She believed that black cows squirted chocolate milk!
Oh… sorry… but I just got lucky in there with a girl. Not in that way… she does everybody in there… not in that way.
Odds & Ends
Maureen O’Hara initially refused to sign the movie contract…though she loved the script…until she met co-star John Candy. Fortunately the two of them instantly created a strong rapport.
Producer John Hughes insisted that Ally Sheedy be cast as Theresa because he wanted to have a member of his Brat Pack be romantically involved with a star of his later adult features on-screen. It represents two different generations of Hughes regulars.
Chris Columbus wrote the script with Maureen O’Hara in mind for the role of the mother. Once casting had begun, he insisted on having O’Hara play the role, and began a search for her. What he didn’t know, was that she had long since retired, and was living on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Columbus contacted her brother and had a script sent.
This was Maureen O’Hara’s first feature film role since Big Jake in 1971.
O’Hara told John Candy that he reminded her of Charles Laughton and said that underneath the clown character existed a powerful, complicated actor. O’Hara told Candy to trust his talent as an actor and not always play the clown.
June of 1995 was a rough month for me (I’ll spare you the details), so I didn’t see Apollo 13 on the big screen, but oh how I wish I would have because I’m sure it was even more impressive. However, in the years since I have watched it dozens of times, and it just seems to get better with age. I am too young to remember the real life Apollo 13 disaster, but I have developed an interest in reading about the space program and don’t think that knowing how the story ends detracts from one’s enjoyment of the movie. I have no idea what is in the job description of a film director, but it feels like Ron Howard made a lot of correct decisions, starting with the outstanding cast. Apollo 13 was the third highest grossing film of the year, behind only Toy Story & Batman Forever and ahead of Jumanji & Waterworld. It holds a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with the NY Daily News predicting that “Tom Hanks is on his way to becoming the American Everyman…an exemplar of boyish goodwill and quiet moral force”, People Magazine opining that “tense as the best murder mysteries and as kinetic as the most exciting action films…this space adventure is as thrilling as movies get”, and the Washington Post observing that the movie “lifts off with a payload of the right stuff: courage, can-do, grace under pressure, & other qualities derided as machismo by some but applauded as old-fashioned values by others”. Apollo 13 was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won two. Only the Lonely is an underrated gem. I’m a big John Candy fan, and seeing Maureen O’Hara onscreen in her twilight years nearly a half century after her turn in Miracle on 34th St. is a real treat for aficionados of that Christmas classic, even though she portrays an entirely different kind of character. At first glance this seems like an odd potpourri of talent, and amongst the more well-known work of all involved it kind of gets lost in the shuffle, but it’s definitely not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.
The Verdict:Apollo 13. I have nothing bad to say about Only the Lonely and would encourage anyone who’s never seen it to give it a whirl, but the competition is overwhelming.
Directed By: Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho)
Having a son is great… As long as his eyes are closed, and he’s not moving or talking.
Dented cans are half-price. Microsoft went down 3 points. We gotta save some money.
Do you want a Happy Meal? Can I get you one of those Happy Meals? You got a Happy Meal? Can we get a Happy Meal? WILL SOMEBODY GET THE KID A HAPPY MEAL?!
The boy just won’t quit peeing and throwing up. He’s like a cocker spaniel!
Odds & Ends
Allen Covert has appeared in 25 Adam Sandler films.
This is the most successful live action movie of Adam Sandler’s career, making over $163 million domestically. His 2015 animated sequel Hotel Transylvania 2 made over $169 million.
In the past two decades Damon & Affleck have become ubiquitous in Hollywood, starring in everything from thrillers & rom-coms to action flicks & superhero franchises. No one will ever list them among the finest actors of their generation, but kudos must be given for carving out solid, lasting, & somewhat impactful careers for themselves. Back in the mid-90’s they were barely blips on the radar, with Damon having a pivotal yet small role as the titular character in Saving Private Ryan, and Affleck best known as part of Kevin Smith’s ensembles in Dazed & Confused and Mallrats. But then the two best buddies co-wrote a screenplay about a troubled genius working as a janitor at MIT, and that film received nine Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), winning two of them (Best Supporting Actor for Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Damon & Affleck). The rest is history. Good Will Hunting was the 7th highest grossing film of 1997 and holds an extraordinary 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. USA Today thought that Damon “delivers the year’s No. 1 breakthrough performance”, while our old pal Ebert said that “the outcome is fairly predictable; so is the whole story, really” but added “it’s the individual moments, not the payoff, that make it so effective”. Big Daddy bested Basic Instinct in the first round because when Sandler is funny he’s more entertaining than ice picks & Sharon Stone’s lady parts. When you watch some of the movies that Sandler has starred in during the past decade Big Daddy looks like Citizen Kane in comparison. I understand that his comedy is an acquired taste, but I think this is a film that probably has a slightly broader appeal than most of his other stuff.
The Verdict:Good Will Hunting. Affleck & Damon strike me as being real douchenozzles, but I’ll be darned if they haven’t made some entertaining films, and I can’t overlook a movie that got my guy Robin Williams his one & only Academy Award. Mostly known as a manic comedian, Williams was also a brilliant dramatic actor, and his talent is on full display in this movie. Big Daddy is fun to watch on a lazy rainy day, but in this case it’s bologna going up against filet mignon.
Starring: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Sean William Scott, Tara Reid, Mena Suvari, Eugene Levy, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Jennifer Coolidge, Eddie Kaye Thomas
Directed By: Paul & Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Little Fockers)
Damage? Total, sir. It’s what we call a global killer. The end of mankind. Doesn’t matter where it hits, nothing would survive, not even bacteria.
I know the president’s chief scientific advisor. We were at MIT together and, in a situation like this you really don’t wanna take advice from a man who got a C- in astrophysics. The president’s advisors are wrong and I’m right.
The United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody wanna say no?
You know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?
We spend 250 billion dollars a year on defense. And here we are. The fate of the planet is in the hands of a bunch of retards I wouldn’t trust with a potato gun.
Yeah, one more thing, um…none of them wanna pay taxes again. Ever.
You go take care of my little girl now. That’s your job. Always thought of you as a son. Always.
For the next 11 days the Earth’s in a shooting gallery. Even if the asteroid itself hits the water, it’s still hitting land. It will slam into the ocean bedrock. Now if it’s a Pacific Ocean impact, which we think it will be, it will create a tidal wave about three miles high, flash boil millions of gallons of sea water. It will hit the West Coast and wash up in Denver. Japan is gone, Australia is wiped out. Half of the Earth’s population will be incinerated by the heat blast, the rest will freeze to death in a nuclear winter. Basically the worst parts of the Bible.
Odds & Ends
NASA shows this film during their management training program. New managers are given the task of trying to spot as many errors as possible. At least 168 have been found. Many of the errors found in the film were acknowledged by the director and known even during filming & production and were left in deliberately. Michael Bay said, “It’s a movie and not many people know about it”, so they were kept in for entertainment value. Bay has also stated that Armageddon is his worst film, saying “I will apologize for Armageddon because we had to do the whole movie in sixteen weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie. I would redo the entire third act if I could.”
When asked why he did this film, Steve Buscemi replied, “I wanted a bigger house”. Billy Bob Thornton also admitted to doing the film for the money and often jokes about acting in it. He has, however, called it “not THAT bad”. Ben Affleck has practically disowned the movie, even repeatedly making fun of it on the commentary.
Because of the patriotic nature of the script, and the success of using Top Gun as recruitment material, the producers persuaded NASA to allow Director Michael Bay and company to shoot in the normally restricted space agency. This included the neutral buoyancy lab, a 65 million gallon, 40 ft. deep pool used to train astronauts for weightlessness, and the use of two $10 million space suits. Parts of the movie were filmed at Edwards Air Force Base in California and the crew was allowed to shoot in a launch pad with an actual space shuttle docked to it. The only condition was that they not step into the shuttle itself. Ben Affleck admitted to stepping inside the orbiter for a brief moment, before NASA technicians ordered him out of the spacecraft.
After Rockhound gets space dementia, the shuttle crew wraps him in duct tape, which is, in fact, NASA protocol for immobilizing a crazed crew member.
Bruce Willis has said that he did not care for Michael Bay’s directing style, and he refuses to work with him again.
Teen sex comedies are a tried & true movie trope, with some being funnier & more memorable than others. It seems like every generation has one such film that they claim as their own. American Pie finds a group of high school seniors making a pact to get laid on prom night. Of course the group of teens has personalities of varying quirks & levels of hilarity and finds themselves in amusing situations. It was a surprise hit in the summer of ’99, ending the year as the 20th highest grossing film. It made stars out of most of its young cast and spawned several sequels, none of which lived up to the mirth & freshness of the original. Rotten Tomatoes gives American Pie a decent score of 60%. The Cincinnati Enquirer called it “cheap soft-core porn masquerading as comedy”, the L.A. Times complimented its “unusual ability to mix bodily functions humor with a sincere & unlooked-for sense of decency”, our pal Ebert called it “cheerful, hard-working, & sometimes funny”, and USA Today compared it to “the C student who later makes a bundle then comes back to endow the school”. I assume that was meant as a compliment. Armageddon got past Clerks in Round 1, which I’m sure would tick off erudite film aficionados who think Kevin Smith is freakin’ genius.
The Verdict:American Pie. The cast & crew of Armageddon made this decision easier than I anticipated, because if they’re going to insult & ridicule their own movie then why should I support it?? I chuckle at people who complain about scientific accuracy in such films since those folks completely miss the point of sitting down with a bucket of popcorn, a vat of soda, & a box of candy and escaping from reality for a couple of hours. No one will ever accuse Armageddon of being good, but it is entertaining enough with a charming cast and impressive special effects. American Pie is undoubtedly a cultural touchstone for 90’s kids. I was a 27 year old college graduate in 1999 so I don’t claim it as such, but it has more than a few funny moments and does a great job of mixing gross-out humor with a certain level of sentimentality.
Directed By: Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle)
I’m a federal agent! You know what that means, you lowlife? It means you’ve got no rights, your life is mine! I could kick your teeth down your throat and yank them out your asshole, and I’m not even violating your civil rights!
You want to know something funny? I discovered the law again. You actually made me think about it. I managed to go through three years of law school without doing that.
Let me get this straight: you want me to steal files from the firm, turn them over to the FBI, send my colleagues to jail, breach attorney-client privilege, thus getting myself disbarred for life, then testify in open court against the Mafia?? Are you out of your mind?
Odds & Ends
Holly Hunter is on screen for a total of 5 minutes and 59 seconds; one of shortest performances ever nominated for an Oscar. She is in twenty scenes, for an average of eighteen seconds per scene.
Except for the sporadic soundtrack songs the entire movie score is created solely on a piano, as played by its composer Dave Grusin. As a means of expanding the tonal range of his piano’s percussive properties, he simulated harp-like passages by stroking the naked strings of his grand and rapping the wooden frame for effects, as a drummer might beat his drums.
The cast includes two Oscar winners: Gene Hackman & Holly Hunter; and five Oscar nominees: Tom Cruise, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Gary Busey, and Ed Harris.
You’ve Got Mail was the third & (thus far) final Hanks/Ryan collaboration. It is very loosely based on the 1940 Jimmy Stewart rom-com The Shop Around the Corner, taking the premise of two people who can’t stand each other in “real life” but have fallen in love thru anonymous correspondence and updating it to the 20th century. Ryan is the proprietor of a quaint little children’s book store in NY City whose business goes under when a big box chain bookstore moves into the neighborhood. What she doesn’t realize is that the owner of the evil chain store is also the man that she met in an online chat room and has been having an ongoing e-mail “relationship” with for several months. Hanks & Ryan are obviously charming, but kudos to a supporting cast that includes Jean Stapleton (All in the Family’s Edith Bunker), Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn, Heather Burns, & Dave Chappelle. You’ve Got Mail was the 14th highest grossing film of 1998 and holds a 69% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert observed that “Ryan and Hanks have more winning smiles than most people have expressions”, the Dallas Morning News said that it “provides a perfectly cuddly night at the movies”, and Variety called it a “winning romantic comedy and great date movie”. The Firm defeated My Best Friend’s Wedding in Round 1. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 76% rating, with Newsweek crediting it for “restoring faith in Hollywood professionalism”, Variety saying that it is “a smooth adaptation of John Grisham’s giant bestseller”, and Rolling Stone observing that “the book moved at turbo speed…at two and a half hours, the movie crawls”.
The Verdict:You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks. Meg Ryan. Bookstores. Internet romance. What’s not to love?? Rolling Stone was right about The Firm…it’s good, but the book is better.
Starring: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Gilbert Gottfried
Directed By: Ron Clements & John Musker (The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid)
All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.
You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.
What’s wrong with death, sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.
Our job is to rigorously and ruthlessly train the humanity out of you and make you into something better. We’re gonna make doctors out of you.
Odds & Ends
During filming Robin Williams and the rest of the cast & crew worked closely with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to fulfill the fantasies of several children who were at the time undergoing cancer treatment. The children appeared with Williams in scenes at the pediatric ward.
One of the film’s producers was Mike Farrell, who met the real Patch Adams when Adams served as an advisor to the TV series MAS*H, in which Farrell played Dr. B.J. Hunnicutt.
In real life, Patch Adams’ close friend who was murdered was a man, not a female love interest. Carin is a fictional character.
This was the fifth time Robin Williams portrayed a doctor in the space of nine years: Awakenings (1990), Nine Months (1995), Good Will Hunting (1997), What Dreams May Come (1998).
It’s Robin Williams vs. Robin Williams!! Patch Adams got by Black Sheep in Round 1. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1998, ahead of Mulan and The Truman Show but behind Rush Hour and Godzilla. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a hideous 23% rating, with Ebert opining that “it extracts tears individually by liposuction, without anesthesia”, Entertainment Weekly calling it “offensive and deeply false ‘inspirational!’”, and CNN dubbed it a “blubbering ass-kiss of a movie”. It is my opinion that such reviews are a bit excessive, but then again I am one who tends to enjoy what others derisively accuse of being sentimental. It is tempting nowadays for Robin Williams fans to deify the man and his career, but the truth is that his movies were hit & miss. I don’t think Patch Adams is as bad as the critics seem to believe, especially with a charming supporting cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Jeter, & the lovely Monica Potter, but when the real life subject of the film doesn’t particularly like his own biopic it is an indication that some poor decisions may have been made along the way. Aladdin is another big screen animated classic from Disney, which seems to specialize in such movies. It is based on one of the stories from the classic One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. Aladdin is a young homeless boy who falls in love with Princess Jasmine, comes into possession of a magic lamp, and is granted three wishes by The Genie that is released from the lamp. It’s a familiar story to most of us, but is told with particular panache in this adaptation, especially with Williams giving voice (and loads of personality) to The Genie.
The Verdict:Aladdin. It really isn’t even a fair fight.
Directed By: Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation)
Wasn’t my mom a Betty? She died when I was just a baby. A fluke accident during a routine liposuction.
So, okay. I don’t wanna be a traitor to my generation and all, but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, c’mon, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants, and take their greasy hair…ew!…and cover it up with a backwards cap and, like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so!
Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.
Like, right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, “What about the strain on our resources?” But it’s like, when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday, right? I said RSVP because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that, like, did not RSVP, so I was, like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day, it was, like, the more the merrier. And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians.
I so need lessons from you on how to be cool. Tell me that part about Kenny G again?
Odds & Ends
The film’s writers sat in classes at Beverly Hills High to get the flavor of the students.
The band playing during the party scene is the Boston-based Ska band the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Clueless got past Empire Records in the first round based largely on its pop culture cache back in the day. If this competition was only about which film represents the 1990’s best I’d have to say that Clueless would be a prohibitive favorite. It was a surprise hit in the summer of 1995, and inspired trends in fashion & slang. Entertainment Weekly said of the main character Cher that “there’s such a gaping discontinuity between her physical beauty and her vacant, gum-snapping personality that she’s like a walking advertisement for everything that’s right & wrong with America”, something that I could say about numerous women I have encountered in my own life. Variety called it “a fresh, disarmingly bright, and at times explosively funny comedy” and the San Francisco Chronicle observed that “by the time you skip out of the theater you’ve had a great time but can’t remember a single reason why”. The story is loosely based on Jane Austen’s 1815 book Emma, but I must admit that’s one classic novel that I’ve never read so I cannot properly compare the two. Much like Scrooged it took me awhile to give Groundhog Day a whirl because for the longest time I just didn’t get the whole Bill Murray thing, but rest assured I most certainly do now. On its surface Groundhog Day is a simple comedy about a misanthropic weatherman who keeps waking up on the same day (February 2…hence the title) over & over & over again. But it’s so much more than that. Groundhog Day was the 13th highest grossing film of 1993, just ahead of Grumpy Old Men and behind Philadelphia (which won Tom Hanks his first Oscar). It has an incredible 96% Rotten Tomatoes score, with People Magazine calling it “surprisingly inventive”, Empire Magazine saying it is “comic perfection”, and Ebert opining that it is “lovable and sweet”. All of those comments are accurate, but I’d be interested in digging thru all of the reviews to see if any critic actually “got it”, to find out if anyone truly understands the movie on a deeper level.
The Verdict:Groundhog Day. I am busting at the seams to say everything I want to say about Groundhog Day, but I’ll save it until next time. For now allow me to give you a homework assignment: watch this movie. You may be able to catch it on TV somewhere, but if not then stream it on Netflix or whatever service you prefer. You will not regret it. With all due respect to Clueless, my apologies, but this is like comparing fast food to a five star dining experience.
Starring: Jim Carrey, Sean Young, Tone Loc, Dan Marino
Directed By: Tom Shadyac
Hold on, sugar! Daddy’s got a sweet tooth tonight!
Sssomebody stop me!
Hold me closer, Ed, it’s getting dark…tell Auntie Em to let Old Yeller out…tell Tiny Tim I won’t be coming home this Christmas…tell Scarlett I do give a damn!
Odds & Ends
A lot of moments, particularly ones involving the dog, were ad-libbed on set. The scene where Milo won’t let go of the Frisbee as Ipkiss tries to stash the money in his closet wasn’t planned, and Jim Carrey ad-libbed Ipkiss’ frustrated reaction to Milo not being able to run up the wall.
Prior to Cameron Diaz landing the role of Tina Carlyle, the producers had originally suggested Anna Nicole Smith for the role. This was Diaz’s first acting role.
Based on a Dark Horse comic book series of the same name which consisted of dark horror stories abiut how the mask would murder people with cartoon antics. Chuck Russell has said that the movie script started off in that tone before being transformed as a vehicle for Jim Carrey’s unique comedy.
This was the first Jim Carrey movie to reach $100 million at the box office.
It’s Jim Carrey vs. Jim Carrey!! Before Ace Ventura hit theaters in February of 1994 Carrey was primarily known as a stand-up comic and one of the stars of Fox’s hit variety show In Living Color. But that all changed with this strangely hilarious tale about a detective specializing in animal cases taking on the task of finding the missing mascot for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. It was 16th highest grossing film of the year, behind Maverick, The Client, & Disclosure but ahead of Legends of the Fall and D2: The Mighty Ducks. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 46%, which isn’t surprising since it is precisely the sort of goofy comedy that pompous critics just don’t get. Entertainment Weekly compared Carrey’s performance to “an escaped mental patient impersonating a game-show host”. The NY Times said that the movie “has the metabolism, logic, & attention span of a peevish 6-year-old”. Roger Ebert said that he viewed the film as “a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot”. Real folks look at Ace Ventura and see rapper Ton Loc (Funky Cold Medina) as a police detective and NFL quarterback Dan Marino in his acting debut and understand that this is a silly farce intended to make folks laugh, something at which it succeeds. The Mask defeated PCU in the first round based mostly on its cultural impact. Critics like it a lot more than Ace Ventura, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a score of 77%. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “an amazing fusion of physical comedy and state-of-the- art cinema illusion”. The L.A. Times said Carrey “has a bright and likable screen presence, a lost puppy quality that is surprisingly endearing”. Variety thought the film was “adroitly directed…viscerally & visually dynamic and just plain fun”. Both of these films received sequels, but neither Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Son of the Mask (which had neither Carrey nor Diaz in its cast) failed to live up to their predecessors.
The Verdict:The Mask. Jim Carrey is an acquired taste and I freely admit that he grew tedious for me a long long time ago. However, these movies were our first big screen exposure to his antics and they were fresh & humorous at the time. Nowadays Carrey seems to take himself way too seriously, but 25 years ago that wasn’t an issue and his performances were much more fun. As far as this particular head-to-head matchup it’s really a pick ‘em, but since The Mask did better critically & at the box office I’ll give it the nod.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio
Directed By: Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, A Dog’s Purpose)
Starring: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere
Directed By: Garry Marshall (Overboard, Beaches)
I wasn’t born in the sewer, you know. I want some respect…a recognition of my basic humanity. But most of all I wanna find out who I am by finding my parents, learning my human name. Simple stuff that the good people of Gotham take for granted!
You’re catnip to a girl like me. Handsome, dazed, and to die for.
Just relax. I’ll take care of the squealing, wretched, pinhead puppets of Gotham!
Odds & Ends
The production wanted to use King Penguins, and the only tame ones in captivity were at a bird sanctuary deep in the English countryside. The birds were flown over to the States in the refrigerated hold of a plane, given their own refrigerated trailer & swimming pool, a half a ton of fresh ice every day, and had fresh fish delivered daily straight from the docks. Even though the temperature outside frequently topped 100 degrees the entire set was refrigerated down to 35 degrees. The birds also had an around-the-clock bodyguard. Clearly the birds enjoyed the experience as, following their stint in Hollywood, most of them had mated and produced eggs, the sure sign of a contented penguin.
Annette Bening was originally cast as Catwoman, but was replaced by Michelle Pfeiffer when she became pregnant.
Singer David Bowie, who had been previously considered to play the Joker in 1989’as Batman, was the first choice for the part of Max Shreck, but he turned down the role in favor of one in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
Though it was it was lambasted as too grotesque & pessimistic it is the only one of the four Warner Brothers’ Batman films that doesn’t include a single reference to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
Burgess Meredith, who had portrayed The Penguin in the 1960’s Batman TV show, was asked to play the Penguin’s father in the opening of the film, but illness prevented him from it.
Michelle Pfeiffer said that her costume was vacuum sealed once she was fitted into it for scenes, so she actually had only a short amount of time to perform before she would have to have it opened or she could become lightheaded and pass out. They went through 60 catsuits during the six month shoot, at a cost of $1000 each.
In 1993 Leonardo DiCaprio was barely a blip on the pulp culture radar. He had joined the cast of television sitcom Growing Pains during its final season in 1991, and had bit parts in a few movies, but Gilbert Grape was his coming out party. The titular Gilbert is actually portrayed by Johnny Depp. What is eating at him is having to be the main caretaker of his morbidly obese mother, mentally challenged brother, & two sisters after his father had committed suicide a few years earlier. DiCaprio plays Arnie, the mentally challenged brother, and Arnie is a real handful for Gilbert. Complicating things further is a fetching young lady who arrives in town and catches Gilbert’s eye. Luckily she takes a shine to Arnie which makes things a bit easier. Gilbert Grape is a touching family drama chockful of great performances. It was only 111th highest grossing film of 1993, but it garnered an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and got DiCaprio his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Tommy Lee Jones for his role in The Fugitive). Newsweek complimented Depp’s performance, but predicted that it was DiCaprio who “will take your breath away”. Time summarized the premise as “true heroes are those people who day by day must tend to misfits, and do so with love, tenacity, and a determination not to go terminally sour in the process”. Ebert called it “one of the most enchanting movies of the year”. Julia Roberts’ coming out party was Pretty Woman, the story of a kindhearted & good-natured prostitute hired to be a wealthy businessman’s arm candy for a few days who turns out to be so bewitching that he falls in love with her. It was the 4th highest grossing film of 1990, behind Home Alone but ahead of Total Recall and Die Hard 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 62%, with the NY Times calling it “something special”, Ebert proclaiming it “the sweetest and most openhearted love fable since The Princess Bride”, and the Washington Post dubbing it “a slick, instantly & entertainingly digestible Cinderella fable”. Roberts was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress but lost to Kathy Bates for her role in Misery. Batman Returns easily beat Showgirls in Round 1. It was the third highest grossing film of 1992, behind only Aladdin and Home Alone 2. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 81%. The L.A. Times said that “Burton’s dark, melancholy vision is undeniably something to see…but it is a claustrophobic conception, not an expansive one, oppressive rather than exhilarating, and it strangles almost all the enjoyment out of this movie without half trying”. The Boston Globe called it “the rarest of Hollywood beasts…a sequel that’s better than the original”. People Magazine observed that the movie is “full of grim, Dostoyevskian undertones, not to mention a multitude of bloody, violent scenes”. Newsweek said that Burton “makes nightmares that taste like candy”.
The Verdict:Batman Returns. I’m just not a Julia Roberts fan. I understand that she was one of the biggest stars of the 90’s and Pretty Woman is not only her signature role but also one of the defining movies of the decade, but repeat viewings just haven’t happened over the years, and if I’m channel surfing it is likely that I’d watch just about anything else. I’m not a huge DiCaprio guy either, but unlike his buddies Clooney and Affleck it isn’t because he seems like such an assclown in real life as much as it is the roles he has chosen over the years. I look at a lot of DiCaprio films…. The Man in the Iron Mask, Gangs of New York, The Departed, Inception…and immediately know that I’m just not interested. There are a few exceptions of course, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is probably his most underrated film. Having said that, there’s no denying that it’s a bit of a downer. I’d have to watch a silly comedy immediately afterward as a palate cleanser. Batman Returns is, as critics mentioned, dark, melancholy, grim, & a bit violent. But it’s a comic book movie, and with all of the films that have come out in that genre in the ensuing decades criticism of Batman Returns as being too gloomy feels misleading. We pretty much know what we’re getting with a Tim Burton movie, and all things considered that’s usually not a bad thing.
It’s a psychological fact that some people enjoy…to a degree…fear. I’m not a scientist and won’t bore you with a bunch of jargon, but there are a couple of reasons for this phenomenon. First, fear triggers the pleasurable release of dopamine, the same thing that happens in our brain during sex. As one article I ran across put it…”Dopamine is love. Dopamine is lust. Dopamine is motivation. Dopamine is attention. Dopamine is addiction.” So adrenaline junkies, drug abusers, folks with a bit of a gambling problem, & nymphomaniacs all have a similar brain chemistry as those who are really into horror movies. I am sure that is an epic oversimplification, but it’s the best I can do. Secondly, there is something called “excitation transfer”, which essentially means that after one gets really scared they calm down, but it’s not just the average everyday calm. When the heart rate levels out, breathing normalizes, & muscles relax one feels an intense sense of relief that is exceedingly positive & enjoyable, and that pleasant feeling is what is remembered about the experience in the long run.
I tell you all of that as a preamble to saying that I am not one of those people. I don’t enjoy being scared. I don’t like horror movies. I couldn’t possibly care less about haunted houses. However, I am rather intrigued with Halloween. I’m a bit of a history buff and have developed somewhat of a fascination with cultural anthropology, folklore, & mythology. I might have explored career options in that general direction if I’d known such pathways existed as a kid. Halloween has a quirky, fun vibe and a peculiar backstory & evolution. I completely understand that many of my fellow Christians choose not to celebrate Halloween, and I respect those opinions. However, there are frivolous elements of the occasion that I rather enjoy. As much as I appreciate a big ol’ bag of candy I am a little too old to go out trick or treating, so instead I’ll keep the lights low in The Bachelor Palace, snuggle with Rocco, and delight in some fantastic Halloween themed entertainment. I’m a bookworm and cannot recommend highly enough Washington Irving’s 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Yes, I know there have been countless film & television adaptations, but trust me…read it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novella The Hound of the Baskervilles could qualify as Halloween-ish, as could any number of stories written by the late great Ray Bradbury. Tastes vary, but there are worse ways to spend Halloween than curled up with a good book. However, this being the 21st century, many are predisposed to grab the remote and watch a movie or TV show. So sit back, relax, maybe drink a glass of cider & snack on some candy corn as I present…..
from the home office in Anoka, MN…..
The Superfluous 7 Favorite Halloween Movies & TV Shows:
7 Beetlejuice and Young Frankenstein
We begin with a tie!!
I was a little late in joining the Beetlejuice bandwagon, having first watched it several years after its 1988 release. However I have always been a fan of Michael Keaton’s work, and this is one of his most iconic roles. He stars as a long dead “freelance bio-exorcist” who is enlisted by a newly dead couple to scare a living family away from their house. Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, & Winona Ryder are in the cast as well, and the film is directed by Tim Burton with music by Danny Elfman…a most impressive crew indeed. It’s an odd amalgamation of comedy & horror that really works. A sequel has been rumored for awhile, but to my knowledge it’s all talk right now.
Did you know that a Halloween comedy inspired Aerosmith’s hit song Walk This Way?? Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein hit theaters in 1974 and is now regarded as a comedy masterpiece. It is a spoof of classic horror films, focusing on the grandson of Dr. Victor Frankenstein…an American named Frederick Frankenstein (which he hilariously pronounces “Fronk-en-steen”) who disavows his crazy family legacy until he inherits the estate in Transylvania. Once Frederick moves into the castle hilarity ensues as he decides to duplicate his grandfather’s infamous experiment. The terrific cast includes Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, & Cloris Leachman. Gene Hackman makes a brief but hysterical cameo. If, like me, you enjoy a well-written parody you can’t go wrong with Young Frankenstein at Halloween.
6 Hotel Transylvania
Adam Sandler has had a bad run, starring in mostly putrid affronts to good taste for most of the past 15 years. A rare exception is this animated 2012 offering in which Sandler voices Dracula as he tries (and fails) to keep his daughter away from humanity while hosting her 118th birthday party with many of his famous monster friends in attendance. Selena Gomez is even more beautiful animated than she is in real life (or maybe I’m just really lonely), and a bunch of Sandler’s buddies…Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, et al…add their voices to the fun. A sequel was released in 2015, and a third film is coming in 2018.
5 Halloween Documentaries on History
Nerd alert…I have decided to include an ode to the documentary. The History Channel may have gone in the crapper the past few years (Life After People?? Really??), but once upon a time it actually focused on…duh…history, and occasionally still does (even a broken clock is right twice a day). The original Haunted History of Halloween was first broadcast in 1997 and traces Halloween all the way back to its origins with the Celtic tribes of Medieval Ireland thru an American renaissance of the holiday in the 1950’s and the rise of horror films in the 1980’s. Whether you are determined to view Halloween as a pagan celebration of darkness & death or choose to look at it thru the eyes of innocent children dressing in fun costumes and asking for candy, every angle is presented, all narrated by the mellifluous cadence of newsman Harry Smith. In 2010 History produced an update called The Real History of Halloween, which covers a lot of the same territory, albeit with a more ominous tone and without Smith’s dulcet inflection, as he is replaced by the guy who seems to narrate everything on History (name unknown). Both documentaries are worth your time. Learning really is fun kids…I promise.
4 Frankenstein & Dracula
Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, while Mary Shelley (wife of poet Percy Shelley) wrote Frankenstein way back in 1818. Both are great novels that have frequently been adapted for the stage & screen. Most movie versions don’t hardly resemble the books at all, but that’s a discussion for another day. Universal Studios produced a collection of horror films in the 1930’s & 40’s with Dracula and Frankenstein featured prominently in many of them, and it all started in 1931 with Dracula starring Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff. Lugosi’s performance as Count Dracula and Karloff’s interpretation of The Monster both set a standard for our pre-conceived notions of those characters. Neither film is all that scary thru the prism of what modern slasher flicks have become, and that’s just fine with me. There are several other creature features in the Universal canon of that particular era, including The Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, & The Invisible Man, that are worth watching if you are so inclined. However, I suggest starting with these two.
3 Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
I grew up in the 1970’s & 80’s, and comedy team Abbott & Costello had their heyday in the 40’s & 50’s, so I’m not sure how I became a fan. Though it may be counterintuitive, it seems like their movies (along with classic stuff from The Three Stooges, Ma & Pa Kettle, The Marx Brothers, and Laurel & Hardy) were on TV with some frequency during my childhood long before there were hundreds of channels or streaming was invented. At any rate, at the height of their popularity Bud Abbott and Lou Costello teamed up with Universal to make a handful of films in which the humorous duo encounter classic monsters. This 1948 offering is the first & best, although later entries like Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, & Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy are perfectly delightful as well. Contrary to the title the twosome meet more than just Frankenstein’s Monster…Dracula & The Wolf Man are around too. It’s a seamless blend of absurd fun & fear, which is exactly what I like.
It really is the only horror movie I like. To be clear, I am speaking of the 1978 original. A bunch of sequels were made, and remake(s) came out just a few years ago, but really, other than 1981’s Halloween II, I don’t care about any of them. The original was written, directed, & produced by John Carpenter (who even composed the legendary theme song) with a $300k budget, which was super low even back then. However, the film made $70 million so everything worked out alright. Actually I think forced frugality did the film (and audience) a favor. Instead of graphic blood & guts Halloween is more suspenseful than scary, perfectly capturing the mood of the titular holiday. I have come to appreciate minimalism in relation to many aspects of life, and with movies I respect directors who show restraint, whether it is an artistic or economic choice. I can count on my hands the number of horror films I have bothered to watch in my four & a half decades on the planet…they’re just not my thing. Among those I have seen Halloween is the only one that I keep coming back to. It’s an annual tradition.
1 It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip began in the fall of 1950. Fifteen years later Coca-Cola sponsored the first of what would eventually be over fifty Peanuts animated television specials…A Charlie Brown Christmas. After the enormous success of the Christmas program plans were formulated for a different holiday show. The Great Pumpkin first aired on October 27, 1966 and has been warming the cockles of children of all ages ever since. It makes complete sense if you think about it…kids are all about Santa Claus, right?? So why wouldn’t a youngster like Linus Van Pelt desire another mythical gift giver on what is…for most children…the second coolest holiday on the calendar?? Of course we all know that the magic of Santa Claus isn’t possible without agreeable participation from parents, therefore the absence of such adults in the Peanuts universe dictates that the Great Pumpkin mythos is logically doomed. Schultz seemed to have somewhat of a jaded worldview, and it shows up throughout Peanuts. These are some cynical little crumb crunchers!! At any rate, everything about The Great Pumpkin is perfect, from Charlie Brown getting nothing but rocks in his trick or treat bag in what has to be the cruelest neighborhood in history, to Snoopy going all Walter Mitty and battling The Red Baron on a flying dog house, to the charmingly vibrant animation & groovy jazz soundtrack. I might be “middle-aged”, but I never hesitate to wave my inner child flag and bask in the glorious glow of nostalgia. The Great Pumpkin is quintessential Halloween, and for that I am thankful.
Greetings friends and fellow cinephiles. It’s time to put the 3rd Round of 80’s Movie Mania to bed so that we can move on to the Sweet Sixteen. At this point I can’t recall exactly what I’ve said or not said in these little preambles, so please excuse any unfortunate repetitiveness. I do want to remind The Manoverse that I am well aware that I have left many worthy films out of this competition. If you haven’t seen some of your favorite 1980’s classics there are a few possible explanations. This competition is heavily influenced…maybe totally so…by my personal preferences and what I have or haven’t seen. Therefore you won’t find any of the Indiana Jones series (I’ve never watched any of them), no horror films (the only slasher flick I like is Halloween, which was made in 1978), or stuff like Tootsie, Full Metal Jacket, Gremlins, Fatal Attraction, Amadeus, The Color Purple, or The Untouchables…because either I haven’t seen them or have and don’t believe them to be all that remarkable. You may have noticed that Lethal Weapon was included in this competition while Die Hard was not. That was a difficult decision, but I have a little something brewing for Christmas 2017 and didn’t want to be redundant (also the reason cool holiday flicks like A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, & Scrooged are not a part of 80’s Movie Mania). You already know that I eliminated trilogies right off the bat, specifically the Star Wars and Back to the Future films, four of which were produced in the 1980’s. There were also a lot of laudable sports films made during the decade, including Hoosiers, Raging Bull, Field of Dreams, Major League, The Karate Kid, BullDurham, & All the Right Moves, but I’ve already focused on them elsewhere so I decided including them here was unnecessary. Even with these omissions I believe I’ve presented a compelling & provocative tournament, and a fun trip down memory lane. Okay, enough of that. We ride!!
National Lampoon’s Vacation vs. Stand By Me
1983’s Vacation received byes thru the first two rounds. Chevy Chase stars as Clark W. Griswold Jr., a well-intentioned yet blundering family man who decides to drive his wife & kids from Chicago to California to visit the nation’s preeminent theme park. As usual with road trip flicks there are a plethora of epic fails & hilarious calamities, with the biggest twist coming when the Griswolds finally reach Wally World. This movie has held up remarkably well over the past thirty plus years, with the notable exception that the conclusion would never ever happen in The Internet Age. A few sequels were made with variable results…European Vacation isn’t too bad, Christmas Vacation is awesome, & Vegas Vacation is…well…let’s just forget it ever happened. A reboot/sequel was made last year in which the adult version of Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a cross-country trek. It is…okay. Stand By Me has gotten past K-9 and Weekend at Bernie’s to arrive at this point. It is one of the better film/TV adaptations of Stephen King’s work, right up there with The Shawshank Redemption and Carrie. It has a 91% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is nostalgically romanticized by almost everyone who was a young teenager in 1986.
The Verdict:Vacation. I’m all about nostalgia, but I really can’t fully embrace Stand By Me. I suppose I just don’t relate to the boys in the film. I never had those kinds of relationships or those sorts of adventures as a kid. Objectively speaking it is a great movie, but it’s not one for which I’ve ever had deep affection. Conversely, I’ve seen Vacation countless times in the past three decades. If it’s on television I’m probably going to stop flipping thru the channels and watch. I’ve been known to keep it saved on my DVR for a boring rainy day. There are so many great scenes & quotable lines. It is undoubtedly the zenith of Chevy Chase’s long & prosperous career.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off vs. The Princess Bride
You were probably wondering about the whereabouts of ol’ Ferris. Well, he had byes thru the first two rounds but has now arrived. 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off solidified the star status of Matthew Broderick and tells the story of a scheming yet likeable high schooler, his girlfriend, & their best friend who decide to play hooky for the day and enjoy some of the finer things Chicago has to offer. They visit the Art Institute of Chicago, go to the top of the Sears Tower, eat lunch at a fancy restaurant, take in a Cubs game, & Ferris commandeers the microphone on a parade float belting out fun covers of Danke Schoen and Twist & Shout. In the process Ferris outwits his clueless parents as well as a persistent school principal. It’s all great fun, and we get to vicariously live thru a character who brazenly pulls off what most of us would never have the cahonas to try. The Princess Bride got past Cocktail in Round 2. It didn’t fair that well at the box office in 1987, coming in 41st, behind drivel like Outrageous Fortune, Mannequin, & Adventures in Babysitting. It did better than Ishtar and Superman IV though, so that’s something. Like other “cult classics” The Princess Bride would have to wait for the riches gained from home video to be deemed successful. Actress Robin Wright starred in the film while still doing soap opera Santa Barbara, but of course she has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s best. Rotten Tomatoes rates The Princess Bride as 97% Fresh, and our old pals Siskel & Ebert gave it double Thumbs Up. Ebert said it is “good-hearted fun” and “satire containing true innocence”, while Siskel called it “the weirdest assortment of characters since Star Wars” (which I’m pretty sure he meant as a compliment).
The Verdict:Ferris Bueller. It’s odd to contemplate how different this competition might look with slightly altered matchups. The Princess Bride probably deserves a better fate, but Ferris Bueller is just so entertaining. And it kind of has a subtle message. We’ll get into that some other time though.
Batman vs. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Our favorite Caped Crusader defeated 80’s pop staple Pretty in Pink in the last round. Batman was by far the #1 film at the box office in 1989, and almost three decades later it is still near the Top 50 highest grossing films of all-time when adjusted for inflation. Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Richard Gere, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Englund, & James Woods were among the actors considered for The Joker. Robin Williams thought he had the role after Jack Nicholson initially turned it down, but then Nicholson reconsidered and Williams was dismissed. That angered him so much that he refused an offer to portray The Riddler in the 1995 sequel Batman Forever. Thus we were stuck with Jim Carrey. Director Tim Burton retroactively says of his own film that it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”, while Christopher Nolan, who would direct a new Dark Knight trilogy a couple of decades later, called the 1989 film “brilliant, visionary, & extraordinarily idiosyncratic”. The Voyage Home…aka the one with the whales…defeated Eddie & The Cruisers in Round 2. It was the fifth highest grossing film of 1986, behind Top Gun and Platoon but ahead of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand By Me, Hoosiers, & Pretty in Pink. It has an 85% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert calling it “easily the most absurd of the Star Trek stories”, but also “the best, the funniest, and the most enjoyable in simple human terms.” I concur.
The Verdict:The Voyage Home. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think Burton is onto something, and since he directed the thing he should know…Batman is probably more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie. I mean I still think of it as a great movie as well, but the competition is stiff. The Voyage Home…in my opinion…is right up there with Wrath of Khan in the Star Trek hierarchy.
Risky Business vs. Coming to America
After a first round bye Risky Business took out Iron Eagle in Round 2. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1983, behind classics like Return of the Jedi & WarGames, but beating out some darn good competition like Scarface, The Big Chill, & A Christmas Story. It has an impressive 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert said Risky Business “is a movie about male adolescent guilt…in other words it’s a comedy”, and also called it “one of the smartest, funniest, most perceptive satires in a long time.” High praise indeed. Coming to America defeated Brat Pack classic St. Elmo’s Fire in Round 2. It was the 3rd highest grossing film of 1988, behind only Rain Man & Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and ahead of great stuff like Die Hard, Beetlejuice, Scrooged, Bull Durham, & The Naked Gun. Its rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 69% Fresh, which is really good but not quite on par with many of the greats in this competition. Judged against other Eddie Murphy films it is easily in his Top 5, but amongst the bigger universe of comedy films I’m not sure it stands out.
The Verdict:Risky Business. While Coming to America is a solid comedy it doesn’t feel special except when held up alongside the dreck that comprises way too much of Murphy’s overvalued filmography. Conversely Risky Business is an iconic representation of its era.
We’re down to 32 competitors as we begin Round 3. You’ll see eight additional films that we haven’t yet talked about, two in each division that received 1st & 2nd round byes. Moving forward I am going to get back into posting polls and seeking your input, not only because I’m stubborn like that but due mainly to the fact that there are going to be some monstrously difficult decisions that I don’t want to make all by myself. As for the films that have made it thus far thru a couple of rounds, I might be running out of things to say and ways to praise them, but I’ll figure out something. I think I may even look at dollar figures and Tomato-meters just as a way of splitting hairs. Let’s start with the Tubular Division.
The Breakfast Club vs. Mr. Mom
You may have been wondering where this 1985 John Hughes classic has been in the competition…and now you know. Starring five members of the infamous Brat Pack (Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, & Anthony Michael Hall), The Breakfast Club tells the story of high schoolers forced to spend an entire Saturday in detention…something that I’m pretty sure would be considered illegal today. You know…civil rights and all that jazz. At any rate, each of the students embodies an authentic high school cliché…the popular jock (Estevez), the snobbish fashionista (Ringwald), the studious nerd (Hall), the defiant hellraiser from the wrong side of the tracks (Nelson), & the antisocial weirdo (Sheedy). As they get to know each other walls come tumbling down and we understand just how imprudent preconceived notions can be. The group also bonds over their mutual loathing for assistant principal Richard Vernon, the arrogant hardass charged with the task of supervising detention. Vernon does an amusingly poor job of being in charge, but he is also one of the best, most memorable parts of the film. The Breakfast Club straddles the line between comedy & drama, but more importantly it is an honest snapshot of teenage life in America. Mr. Mom has beaten Porky’s & Ghostbusters thus far. It has an 85% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but upon its release famed critic Roger Ebert opined that it was “overwritten” and a great concept that is poorly executed like “the pilot for a TV sitcom”. That assessment might not be totally off base, and this movie in any other hands might have been a completely mediocre bomb. However, Michael Keaton makes it work. After guesting on a plethora of TV shows in the 60’s & 70’s Teri Garr was in several notable movies in the late 70’s/early 80s, but after Mr. Mom her fame seemed to dissipate considerably and these days she is retired from acting as she battles multiple sclerosis.
The Verdict:The Breakfast Club. It’s the end of the road after an impressive run by Mr. Mom, but The Breakfast Club is just too good. It should be required viewing for every teenager in America. I look at it differently now, thru the prism of middle age. But even from that perspective it is still a well-written & performed story, and I could see it being successfully translated to a theatre production. I don’t know…maybe somebody somewhere has already done that.
When Harry Met Sally vs. WarGames
I loves me some rom-coms, and 1989’s When Harry Met Sally is one of the best of the genre. It asks the intriguing question “Can men & women simply be platonic friends??” and stars Meg Ryan & Billy Crystal as college acquaintances who become best friends and eventually fall in love. The screenplay was written by Nora Ephron, who also wrote two of my other favorites…Sleepless in Seattle & You’ve Got Mail (both of which also star Meg Ryan)…and who is not in any way related to Zac Efron. The film was directed by Rob Reiner, who had quite the winning streak in the 1980’s with This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, & The Princess Bride, all of which are still alive in 80’s Movie Mania. Billy Crystal is a national treasure, and the supporting cast of Carrie Fisher & Bruno Kirby is superb. WarGames has overcome challenges from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure to make it this far. The director was John Badham, who less than a decade earlier had helmed a little John Travolta project you may have heard about called Saturday Night Fever. Badham’s sister Mary portrayed Scout Finch in the classic 1962 adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird with Gregory Peck. WarGames is one of the earliest pop culture depictions of what is now commonly referred to as hacking and is thought to contain the first cinematic mention of the term firewall. When President Reagan saw the movie he was told that the scenario was indeed conceivable, prompting the President & Congress to update cyber security legislation.
The Verdict: Okay Manoverse…this one is up to you. Please don’t leave the decision in my hands.
The Blues Brothers vs. The Big Chill
The Blues Brothers received a first round bye and then beat European Vacation in Round 2. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1980, behind classics like The Empire Strikes Back, Stir Crazy, & Coal Miner’s Daughter, but also besting some pretty solid competition like Caddyshack, The Shining, Friday the 13th, & the Academy Award winner for Best PictureOrdinary People. The screenplay was written by Dan Aykroyd and the film directed by John Landis, who had previously worked with Belushi on Animal House and would work with Aykroyd again a few years later on Trading Places. Landis has also directed such memorable efforts as Coming to America, Three Amigos!, & Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video. The Blues Brothers went $10 million over budget and at one time held the record for the most expensive comedy film ever made, but the $115 million it earned in theaters certainly softened the blow. The Big Chill received a first round bye and then defeated Scarface in Round 2. It ranked 13th at the box office in 1983, behind classics like Return of the Jedi, Flashdance, & Risky Business, but better than notables like The Outsiders, The Right Stuff, and two Stephen King adaptations…Cujo & Christine. The soundtrack is a-m-a-z-i-n-g, with songs from Marvin Gaye, Three Dog Night, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, and The Four Tops. I’m a little too young for songs from the 60’s to be childhood favorites, but I’ve been blessed with good taste in music and I love these tunes. The movie’s title, according to director Lawrence Kasdan, refers to “a cooling process that takes place for every generation when they move from the outward-directed, more idealistic concerns of their youth to a kind of self-absorption, a self-interest which places their personal desires above those of the society or even an ideal”.
The Verdict:The Blues Brothers. It’s all about repeat viewings, and The Blues Brothers is one of those movies that is often on random channels at various times of the day & night. I’ve seen it dozens of times, while I can’t remember the last time I watched The Big Chill.
Lethal Weapon vs. Dirty Dancing
Lethal Weapon arrived at this point after a first round bye and a Round 2 decision over La Bamba. It was the 9th highest grossing film of 1987, behind Fatal Attraction & The Untouchables but ahead of Robocop & Throw Momma From the Train. It has an 84% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and upon its release critic Roger Ebert gave it 4 Stars, calling it a Bruised Forearm Movie wherein “you and your date grab each other’s arm every few minutes and you walk out black & blue and grinning from ear to ear”, and saying “this movie thrilled me from beginning to end….part of that is because I cared about the characters.” I concur. Dirty Dancing also received a first round bye and then defeatedMoonstruck in Round 2. It was the 11th highest grossing movie of 1987, behind Three Men & A Baby, The Witches of Eastwick…and yes, Lethal Weapon. It’s unofficial theme song, I’ve Had the Time of My Life (sung by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes) won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, besting Harold Faltermeyer’s Shakedown (from Beverly Hills Cop II) and Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now(from Mannequin), among others. Stars Patrick Swayze & Jennifer Grey reportedly had a tumultuous working relationship dating back to when they co-starred in 1984’s Red Dawn, but thankfully they made it work or else we might have ended up with some kind of pairing involving Val Kilmer or Billy Zane with Sarah Jessica Parker or Kyra Sedgwick. No disrespect to those fine performers, but I think things turned out for the best.
The Verdict: This is exactly the kind of decision that I need The Manoverse to make. These are two great films. Both are worthy of victory. I shall abide by the choice of the masses.
Today we finish up second round action for 80’s Movie Mania. Please feel free to go back and check out Round 2 results for the Gnarly, Tubular, & Bodacious Divisions. I haven’t been posting polls much lately because it seems like an exercise in futility. Maybe someday I’ll figure out what I’m doing wrong, but until then we’ll just forge ahead. As always feedback is appreciated. Tell your friends & family about the site. Let’s grow The Manoverse into a force to be reckoned with in the blogosphere!!
Rain Man vs. Night Shift
More Tom Cruise?? Yep, I’m afraid so. In 1988’s Rain Man Cruise plays Charlie, a down-on-his-luck shyster whose estranged father dies and leaves him nothing but an old car and some rose bushes. The old man left millions of dollars to an older brother that Charlie didn’t even know existed. That brother, Ray (in an Oscar winning performance by Dustin Hoffman), is an autistic savant residing in a mental institution. Charlie impulsively decides to take Ray away from the facility and get legal custody thereby gaining access to the inheritance. The ensuing road trip is full of fun & poignant moments as the two brothers bond and Charlie matures. Rain Man not only got Hoffman his second Oscar but also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, & Best Original Screenplay. Night Shift defeated Fletch in Round 1. It ranked 36th at the box office in 1982, behind clunkers that no one remembers like Things Are Tough All Over, Best Friends, & The Dark Crystal, but ahead of notable competition including The Thing, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Diner, & Grease 2. It might be an overstatement to say that Night Shift launched the careers of Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, & Shelley Long, but it definitely counts as a prominent catalyst for them, especially the directorial trajectory of Howard and Keaton’s stellar filmography. Winkler’s portrayal of a character that is the polar opposite of Happy Days’ Fonzie showed his range even if he never became a huge movie star.
The Verdict:Rain Man. The pedigree cannot be denied, and unlike many Best Picture winners it is the kind of lighthearted popcorn flick one can enjoy anytime it may pop up on television.
This Is Spinal Tap vs. Flight of the Navigator
After receiving a first round bye the ultimate mockumentary makes its Mania debut. Presented as a faux documentary of a supposedly real rock band, 1984’s Spinal Tap is a satirical look inside the zany world of rock n’ roll. It stars Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley’s Lenny Kosnowski), Harry Shearer (the voice of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, & others on The Simpsons), & Christopher Guest (the real life husband of Jamie Lee Curtis) as members of a goofy British band that sings songs like Hell Hole, Sex Farm, & Gimme Some Money. Written & directed by Rob Reiner, the movie features cameos & early screen appearances by stars like Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Fran Drescher, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer, & Anjelica Huston and contains many memorable scenes & quotable lines. Actual rock stars like Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, U2’s Edge, & Dave Grohl allegedly love the film and praise its accuracy. Flight of the Navigator upset The Goonies in Round 1. I can be a rebel on occasion. Navigator ranked a lowly 48th at the box office in 1986, behind idiocy like Friday the 13th Part 6, Wildcats, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, & The Golden Child (a film that nearly killed the career of Eddie Murphy). However it did fare better than decent flicks like Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Best of Times, 9 ½ Weeks, Highlander, & Maximum Overdrive. A quick look back reveals that Flight of the Navigator was released in early August of 1986 and faced stiff competition from summer blockbusters Aliens and The Fly as well as 80’s mainstay Stand By Me.
The Verdict:This Is Spinal Tap. I adore the whole mockumentary genre, and this is the one that started it all. Great characters, well-written script, superb cast, fun cameos…there’s a whole lot to appreciate here.
Wall Street vs. Revenge of the Nerds
Michael Douglas, son of legendary 20th century actor Kirk Douglas, has had a fine career. He co-starred with Karl Malden in the 1970’s TV cop show The Streets of San Francisco. He won an Oscar for producing 1975 Best Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s starred in notable films like Basic Instinct, The China Syndrome, & Falling Down. But he reached the pinnacle in 1987 with his portrayal of Gordon Gekko, a dodgy business tycoon who famously opines that “greed is good”. Charlie Sheen is also along for the ride as an inexperienced but ambitious stockbroker who first admires Gekko before eventually turning against him. The world of stocks, bonds, & corporate raiding is a tricky one to translate to film, but Wall Street pulls it off, keeping things accessible to the viewer and creating a level of suspense, intrigue, & drama normally reserved for more action based movies. Revenge of the Nerds defeated Twins in the first round. It was the 16th highest grossing movie of 1984, behind hits like Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Footloose, & The Karate Kid, but besting pretty solid competition, stuff like The Terminator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, & Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Well okay, that last one sucked, but I had to sneak it in somewhere because thirty years later the title, as well as the concept of break dancing in general, cracks me up. The powers-that-be squeezed all they could out of Nerds, with three sequels in the course of the following decade. The original still pops up on TV occasionally and is always good for a few chuckles.
The Verdict:Wall Street. Gordon Gekko may be one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of cinema. He has become the icon of a certain fragment in time, a symbol of arrogance, materialism, & yes…greed.
Splash vs. The Naked Gun
Everyone remembers Ron Howard when he was a little kid starring as Opie Taylor on The Andy GriffithShow, and then as a teenager playing Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. However, Howard knew from an early age that he wanted to become a director. He left Happy Days after its 7th season to concentrate on directing and has strung together an impressive list of well-received & entertaining hits. One of his early triumphs is 1984’s Splash, about a NY City businessman who falls in love with a mermaid. The cast includes Tom Hanks (in his breakout role), Daryl Hannah, John Candy, & Eugene Levy. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1984 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture. The Naked Gun beat out Dragnet in Round 1. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1988, behind really good films like Rain Man,Big, Coming to America, & Die Hard, but besting some pretty good flicks like Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Alright, I’m joking again about that last one, Anyway, as far as the parody/spoof genre goes The Naked Gun would be on its Mount Rushmore…if such a thing existed.
The Verdict:The Naked Gun. I suppose this is kind of an upset. Splash is definitely the more critically acclaimed film, and with names like Howard, Hanks, & Candy its pedigree is indisputable. However, one of the benchmarks I hold in highest esteem is repeat viewings, and I don’t think I’ve seen Splash in atleast 20 years. It’s just not shown on television that much for some reason. And to be honest if it were on but The Naked Gun was also on at the same time I have a feeling I’d choose the latter. Splash is mostly remembered as a springboard for the careers of Howard & Hanks (who have both done better work in the ensuing years), not necessarily for the movie itself. Meanwhile, The Naked Gun epitomizes an entire category of films and is just plain old funny. Poor Tom Hanks…beaten by Leslie Nielsen & OJ Simpson two rounds in a row.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial vs. Sixteen Candles
One of the earliest moviegoing experiences I remember is going to see Coal Miner’s Daughter at the drive-in with my parents & sister, which was likely sometime during the summer of 1980 or 81 when I was 8 or 9 years old. The other experience I remember is going to see E.T.. Our local mall opened in 1982, the same year that E.T. was in theaters, and it was there that I saw it. Produced & directed by the incomparable Steven Spielberg, E.T. tells the story of a cute, friendly little alien botanist who is inadvertently left behind by his compatriots when their peaceful mission to collect samples of Earth plant life is interrupted by government agents. E.T. is discovered by a 10 year old boy named Elliot, and eventually his younger sister Gertie (a 5 year old Drew Barrymore in one of her earliest roles) and older brother Michael. The kids decide to keep E.T.’s existence a secret from their mother and formulate a plan to help the alien get home to his own world. Drama ensues. E.T. quickly overtook Star Wars as the highest grossing film of all time and held that title for over a decade. To this day it is still in the Top 10 on that list when the numbers are adjusted for inflation. It won four Academy Awards, though it lost Best Picture to Gandhi. Sixteen Candles got the decision over Red Dawn in Round 1. It ranked a humble 44th at the box office in 1984, behind head scratchers like Cannonball Run II, City Heat, All of Me, & Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. But hey, it beat horror classic Children of the Corn, so that’s…something. I guess America hadn’t gotten the John Hughes/Brat Pack memo quite yet.
The Verdict:E.T.. I’m going to contradict myself. It’s probably been even longer since I’ve watched E.T. than Splash. In that time I’ve seen Sixteen Candles plenty of times. I was initially prepared to hand Sixteen Candles the upset victory, but I just can’t pull the trigger. E.T. was the highest grossing movie OF ALL TIME for 11 years!! How do I overlook that?? This is a great example of why Manoverse participation would be helpful. I’d love to take the temperature of the masses, but I have no faith that delaying the decision with a poll would accomplish anything.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High vs. Spaceballs
Fast Times beat Brighton Beach Memoirs in Round 1. It was the 29th ranked film at the box office in 1982, behind classics like Poltergeist & First Blood as well as not so great movies like The Toy, Young Doctors in Love, and The Sword & The Sorcerer. The good news is that it did better than some impressive competition like Pink Floyd: The Wall and re-issues of The Empire Strikes Back, Bambi, & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fast Times isn’t the kind of movie that wins awards, but it meant something to those of a certain age. I’m not sure how modern teens view it…if it speaks to them on some level or seems completely lame & outdated. I really hope it is the former rather than the latter. Spaceballs won a tossup over Summer School in Round 1. It ranked 31st at the 1987 box office. One would think a Star Wars parody might do better, but atleast it bested solid competition like The Lost Boys, Can’t Buy Me Love, Raising Arizona, Some Kind of Wonderful, & Over the Top. A sequel would seem to write itself, but for some reason it just never happened.
The Verdict:Fast Times. Easy call. Spaceballs is a great parody film, but it isn’t better than an archetypal 80’s film that helped define the decade and an entire generation.
First things first. Let’s tie up a loose end from the previous installment. In a coin flip I am giving The Outsiders a victory over Weird Science. The former is just too good to overlook, with a powerful story and an all-star cast, while the latter, though it is another collaboration between John Hughes and Anthony Michael-Hall, is probably their weakest effort. Okay, so…let’s move forward. Today we’ll have the second round of competition in the Bodacious Division. Rock n’ roll dudes!!
Batman vs. Pretty in Pink There have been many incarnations of my favorite superhero. The Caped Crusader of course originated in comic books in 1939 and continues to be a staple of that medium today. A famously campy television show aired on ABC for three seasons in the late 1960’s. Director Christopher Nolan brought his dark & gritty vision of the character to the big screen in a solid film trilogy a decade ago. And before that directors Tim Burton then Joel Schumacher produced a quadrilogy (I think I just created a new word!) of Batman movies in the late 80’s/early 90’s. We’ll talk about the other films at some point in the future, but for now we focus on 1989’s Batman, the first of that quadrilogy. Starring Michael Keaton as the titular hero and the legendary Jack Nicholson as his archnemesis The Joker, Batman adequately reflects the character’s caliginous & savage comic book history while still remaining classic popcorn escapism. There were concerns about Keaton being cast in the starring role because he was known mostly for being a comedic actor, but he nailed it and to this day remains my favorite big screen Batman. Of course everybody knows that Nicholson steals the show and is still the best Joker ever, with all due respect to the late Heath Ledger. Anyone who has enjoyed the plethora of films in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” in the past several years should know that they owe a ton of credit to Batman for breathing new life into the genre nearly three decades ago. Unlike its opponent Pretty in Pink did not get a first round bye, besting Broadcast News in a close call. John Hughes, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, John Cryer, If You Leave…Pretty in Pink has everything one could want in an 80’s film. A tip of the cap must be given to the powers-that-be for the ending, wherein the girl (Ringwald) DOESN’T pick the loveable loser best friend and instead chooses the good-looking rich guy…just like real life.
The Verdict: Batman. This is a tough one because Pretty in Pink is the prototypical 80’s movie, while Batman is slightly ahead of its time in embracing a gloomier 90’s-esque sensibility. However, I must go with my heart here. In my opinion this is the best comic book film ever made, although I have admittedly seen very few others.
Risky Business vs. Iron Eagle He’s baaaacckk. Tom Cruise dominated the box office in the second half of the 80’s, but his breakout role came in 1983’s Risky Business. Cruise stars as high schooler Joel, whose parents leave him alone while they go on vacation. Like any normal teenager Joel goes a little nuts, including getting’ busy with a…lady of the night. After inadvertently sending his father’s Porsche into the river he must come up with some quick cash to get it repaired. The answer?? Turn the house into a brothel for a night…obviously. Risky Business not only features a fantastic soundtrack (Phil Collins, Bob Seger, Muddy Waters, Prince), but includes an iconic scene in which Joel dances around his living room in his underwear lipsynching Old Time Rock n’ Roll. Iron Eagle upset An Officer & A Gentlemen in Round 1. It ranked 41st at the box office in 1986, behind unremarkable bombs like Cobra, Children of a Lesser God, & Police Academy 3, but ahead of solid competition including Flight of the Navigator, Youngblood, & Brighton Beach Memoirs. Obscure trivia: Did you know that Robbie Rist, best known as Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch, has a role in Iron Eagle?? Well you do now!!
–The Verdict:Risky Business. I love Iron Eagle, but Risky Business is a time capsule film and probably one of Cruise’s Top 5 roles.
Coming to America vs. St. Elmo’s Fire Eddie Murphy is back too. I’m sensing a theme. At any rate, 1988’s Coming to America is much more aligned with the kind of comedy we expect from Murphy. He stars as a pampered prince from one of those fictional nations that movies like to create, but doesn’t want to enter into an arranged loveless marriage. So the prince & his loyal assistant (played by Arsenio Hall) take off for NY City. There they find jobs at a McDonald’s-esque fast food joint and the prince falls in love with the owner’s lovely daughter. From there it is a classic fish-out-of-water story intertwined with a rom-com. James Earl Jones plays the king, while Samuel L. Jackson and Cuba Gooding Jr. have really small “blink and you’ll miss it” roles. This is undoubtedly one of Murphy’s best movies. St. Elmo’s Fire beat Romancing the Stone in the first round and is a classic Brat Pack film. It was the 23rd highest grossing film of 1985, behind stiff competition like Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, & The Goonies, but besting notable films like Teen Wolf, Weird Science, Young Sherlock Holmes, & Vision Quest. St. Elmo’s Fire, by the way, is “a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a sharp or pointed object in a strong electric field in the atmosphere, such as those generated by thunderstorms or created by a volcanic eruption, sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms, regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light” and is named in honor of St. Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. I have no idea what that has to do with the movie, but meaningless trivia is kind of my thing.
The Verdict:Coming to America. St. Elmo’s Fire has a fabled cast and a kickass theme song, but it is a flawed film, probably in part because it is directed by Joel Schumacher and John Hughes is nowhere in sight. Coming to America is directed by John Landis and has a likeable cast with a fun script. It doesn’t necessarily paint outside the lines, but it doesn’t really have to.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home vs. Eddie & The Cruisers There were six films made with the cast of the original Star Trek series…William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, DeForest Kelley as Dr. Bones McCoy, George Takei as Sulu, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, Walter Koenig as Chekov, & James Doohan as Scotty…between 1979 and 1991. In this fourth installment the crew of the USS Enterprise goes back in time to modern day (1986) San Francisco to scoop up some humpback whales that will play a part in saving Earth in the 23rd century. It is a quintessential fish-out-of-water story, with our favorite space cowboys trying to fly under the radar in the 1980’s. It also holds up a rather humorous mirror to modern culture and allows the characters to really shine in a fun, lighthearted way. Eddie & The Cruisers scored an upset victory over the more acclaimed A Fish Called Wanda in Round 1 because that’s just how I roll. It is actually based on a novel that I may read someday. The premise is fantastic, but I have a lot of questions about the execution. In doing some reading about the film it sounds like it just ended up in the wrong hands and several mistakes were made. A more skilled director and production team might have made a movie that isn’t quite as overlooked & underappreciated as the final product.
The Verdict:Star Trek IV. I love Eddie & The Cruisers, but it could have been so much better. The Voyage Home isn’t necessarily a traditional Trek film. The action doesn’t take place in outer space and The Enterprise is MIA, but the script is really good and the cast does some of their finest work. It makes me smile, and in my book that’s pretty cool.
The Princess Bride vs. Cocktail 1987’s The Princess Bride is another film based on a book, the author being the guy who would go on to write or assist with screenplays for films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery, A Few Good Men, & Good Will Hunting. The film uses the book as a framing device, with Peter Falk (aka Columbo) starring as a grandfather reading to his ill grandson, played by a pre-Wonder Years Fred Savage. In the “fairy tale” a young farm girl named Buttercup falls in love with a laborer. He goes off to seek his fortune so they can be married but is presumed dead when his ship is attacked by an infamous pirate. A few years later Buttercup is set to marry the prince of yet another fictional country before she is kidnapped by one of the oddest trios you’ll ever see. Of course the young lady’s true love isn’t really dead and sets out to rescue her. The film is directed by Rob Reiner and has a charming cast, including Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, & Andre the Giant. The best way I can describe it is delightfully quirky…family friendly escapism at its best. Cocktail got the decision over Stripes in Round 1. It was the 9th highest grossing movie of 1988, beating out solid competition like Beetlejuice, Scrooged, Bull Durham, & Everybody’s All-American. The Beach Boys’ song Kokomo is the film’s unofficial theme song and was a #1 hit.
The Verdict:The Princess Bride. This is a tough one because I love Cocktail. It is probably the most underrated Cruise movie. But The Princess Bride, besides being a cult classic, is a really solid film and a lot of fun.
Stand By Me vs. Weekend at Bernie’s Stand By Me defeated K-9 in Round 1. It was the 13th highest grossing film of 1986, behind Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but ahead of Pretty in Pink, The Fly, Three Amigos!, & Hoosiers. It was directed by Rob Reiner and features a cool 50’s soundtrack. The framing device with Richard Dreyfuss as an older version of one of the characters that lets us know how all of their lives ended up playing out is a nice touch. Weekend at Bernie’s got the first round decision over Bachelor Party. It ranked 39th at the box office in 1989, ahead of Road House, The Fabulous Baker Boys, & The Dream Team but behind crapfests like The Karate Kid Part III, The Abyss, & The Bear (whatever the heck that is). It is interesting to ponder what became of stars Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman. McCarthy…a member of the infamous Brat Pack who starred in notable films like Mannequin, Pretty in Pink, & St. Elmo’s Fire…hasn’t been in anything memorable since Bernie’s (unless one wants to generously include the 1993 sequel) and has more recently been doing guest spots in TV shows that no one watches. Silverman starred in a mid-90’s sitcom called The Single Guy for a couple of seasons and does a lot of TV stuff, but Bernie’s seems to be his career highlight. Fame is indeed fleeting.
Welcome back to Round 2. Surprisingly enough I posted no polls for the Tubular Division so we have no loose ends to tie up. That may change today…or it might not. So, without further ado…let’s roll.
Top Gun vs. Crocodile Dundee
Once upon a time, before Tom Cruise became a couch jumping whackjob, he was the epitome of cool. And he just so happened to make some really good movies…something he hasn’t done with regularity for about 15 years. At any rate, in 1986’s Top Gun Cruise portrays a cocky pilot given the opportunity to train at the elite U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, more popularly known as Top Gun. Once there he annoys just about everybody with his arrogance, but his immense talent cannot be ignored. Oh, he also happens to get romantically involved with one of his instructors. The cast includes Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Kelly McGillis, Tom Skerrit, Meg Ryan, & Tim Robbins, and the soundtrack is amazing. With songs by Kenny Loggins, Cheap Trick, Berlin, Loverboy, Miami Sound Machine, Jerry Lee Lewis, & The Righteous Brothers it epitomizes the 1980’s while also giving a nod to the past. Crocodile Dundee did not receive a first round bye, narrowly defeating Purple Rain, a decision I feel slightly guilty about after the untimely death of rock legend Prince. Ah well…what’s done is done. Dundee was the 2nd highest grossing film of 1986…Top Gun was #1. What we must ponder is which film has aged better and I think the answer is obvious.
The Verdict: Top Gun. As crazy as Cruise may be in real life credit must be given where it is due. While lots of movies get made every year the fact is that the vast majority of them are forgotten about five minutes after we leave the theater. And just like music’s “one hit wonders” there are a ton of actors who may get lucky enough to do one decent project and then they fall off the map. Tom Cruise has hung around for over thirty years and made atleast a dozen or more movies that people remember with varying degrees of affection. Top Gun is amongst his best work and holds a special place in the collective pop culture consciousness of a certain generation.
Uncle Buck vs. The Last Starfighter
John Candy passed in 1994 at the age of 43…far too soon. Fortunately he left behind a plethora of unforgettable work, including 1989’s Uncle Buck. Candy portrays a slovenly bachelor who is called upon to babysit his brother’s children for a few days due to a family emergency. There are a handful of recognizable faces in Uncle Buck, including 8 year old MacCaulay Culkin in his first significant role, but make no mistake…Candy carries the film and does it well. Written, produced, & directed by the incomparable John Hughes, Uncle Buck spawned a short-lived TV show the following year, but without Candy it was doomed. The Last Starfighter upended Police Academy in Round 1 and is a criminally underrated sci-fi adventure. It ranked 31st at the box office in 1984, way behind more celebrated films like Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Splash, & The Terminator. Admittedly its appeal is probably limited to sci-fi nerds like myself, but that’s okay. It is quirky & inspired and deserves more appreciation than it gets.
The Verdict: Uncle Buck. John Hughes ruled the box office throughout the 1980’s, and John Candy was an underrated actor with a remarkable filmography. They made a great team and this is their best work together.
Good Morning Vietnam vs. Biloxi Blues
It’s Vietnam vs. WWII! I have been effusive in my praise of the late Robin Williams and it makes me sad that we’ll never see any more new specimens of his genius. One of the first indicators of the immensity of his talent came in 1987’s Good Morning Vietnam. Williams portrays Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrien Cronauer in a film based on a true story. As with many of Williams’ films that would follow the subject matter is at times dramatic but always tinged with the star’s unique brand of humor. He received his first Academy Award nomination for the role. The cast also includes Forest Whitaker (who would win his own Oscar two decades later), Bruno Kirby, & JT Walsh, and a solid soundtrack has songs by The Beach Boys, Frankie Avalon, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, & The Supremes. Biloxi Blues edged out Parenthood in Round 1. It was the 23rd highest grossing film of 1988, ahead of competition like Mississippi Burning, The Accidental Tourist, & Mystic Pizza in what was a particularly strong year at the box office.
The Verdict: Good Morning Vietnam. As much as I like the combo of Christopher Walken & Matthew Broderick I like Robin Williams 1000x more. It’s a different kind of war film that doesn’t completely ignore the violence & turmoil but doesn’t wallow in it either. This marks the moment Williams segued from legendary comedian to movie star.
Airplane! vs. Beetlejuice
1980’s Airplane! received a first round bye and now enters the arena as the second oldest film in the competition. It was inspired by a 1957 disaster flick called Zero Hour, but turns the idea on its ear by making it a hilarious parody. Four tough guy actors who had never before done comedy…Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, & Lloyd Bridges…were cast in lead roles. It’s the kind of thing Robert DeNiro has done with some regularity in the past decade. At any rate, the movie is loaded with sight gags, silly wordplay, & amusing cameos to the point that the plot sort of takes a back seat. Shakespeare it is not, but Airplane! does the yeoman’s work of making its audience laugh, which is sort of the point. Beetlejuice got the decision over Turner & Hooch in Round 1 even though it isn’t the kind of film normally in my wheelhouse. There is some buzz about a Beetlejuice sequel, especially since Michael Keaton is an even bigger star now than he was in 1988. Winona Ryder hasn’t had much career success in the past decade (or two) so she’s got to be praying hard that it happens.
The Verdict:Airplane!. Say the words “parody film” and Airplane! almost immediately comes to mind. It set the standard for a genre that has seen its share of success with films like The Naked Gun, Spaceballs, the Austin Powers series, & Robin Hood: Men in Tights. They all surely owe a serious debt of gratitude to Airplane!.
Say Anything… vs. 48 Hrs.
1989’s Say Anything is in the mix after receiving a first round bye. It is a romantic dramedy that’s just a little…different…from the typical high school films that were so in vogue in the 80’s. John Cusack stars as Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school graduate with absolutely no plans for his future. He is hit by the thunderbolt at his graduation ceremony and becomes focused on pursuing Diane Court, the beautiful valedictorian who seemingly has it all together. Miraculously the quest works and the two begin dating during the summer before she intends to take off for a fellowship in England. There is a solid supporting cast, including Joan Cusack as Lloyd’s sister who is a single mother herself, the sublime John Mahoney (now better remembered as Frasier Crane’s Dad) as Diane’s overprotective and somewhat shady father, and smaller roles for folks we know better now than we did back then: Lili Taylor, Bebe Neuwirth, Eric Stoltz, Jeremy Piven, & Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson). At the end of the day though this is John Cusack’s show and he knocks it out of the park. 48 Hrs. narrowly beat out Teen Wolf in Round 1. The 80’s were very good to Eddie Murphy. He was THE star of Saturday Night Live before jumping into movies like Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, & Coming to America. Since then his career feels like it’s been two decades of mediocrity. One cannot help but wonder how the dominoes would have fallen if Richard Pryor had been cast as originally planned. A sequel…imaginatively titled Another 48 Hrs….was made in 1990, but no one remembers it even exists.
The Verdict:Say Anything…. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s just something about this movie that has allowed it to remain in the 80’s pop culture consciousness. Maybe it is the performance of Cusack, who should have become every bit the superstar that contemporaries like Cruise, Swayze, & Michael J. Fox did but never quite got there. Perhaps it is the charm of Ione Skye, a beautiful lass that, much like fellow 80’s hotties Phoebe Cates, Mia Sara, & Jennifer Grey, shot to fame and then just as quickly fell off the map. Or possibly some credit should be given to the fact that every time we hear Peter Gabriel’s hit In Your Eyes we STILL picture Lloyd Dobler in a trenchcoat, boombox held high above his head, trying desperately to win back the love of his life. It’s probably all of the above.
The Outsiders vs. Weird Science
Both of these films overcame stiff competition in Round 1. Well okay, The Outsiders beat My Tutor, which isn’t exactly stiff competition, while Weird Science got the nod over Raising Arizona, a film that a lot of people really enjoy. The Outsiders was only the 28th highest grossing film of 1983, behind two James Bond movies, something called Blue Thunder (????), and a bunch of bad sequels like Psycho II, Porky’s II: The Next Day, & Jaws 3D. However it did better than A Christmas Story, All the Right Moves, and re-issues of classics Rear Window & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hindsight is 20/20, and thankfully we have home video to help us catch up with good things we may have foolishly disregarded the first time. Weird Science did even worse in 1985, ranking only 38th in a very competitive year at the box office, although the fact that it made less money than forgettable schlock like Spies Like Us, White Knights, Jagged Edge, & Agnes of God should embarrass somebody…mainly the viewing public. I know which way I lean here, but I’m going to throw a bone to The Manoverse. You’re welcome.
Welcome to Round Two of 80’s Movie Mania. This round will feature 20 films that we have yet to discuss, as five in each division received first round byes. I would really appreciate Manoverse participation, as all of these combatants have their own merits and it’s going to be very difficult to make certain choices. In situations where I am forced to decide a winner my own bias is a key factor. I appreciate the fact that some movies have been critically acclaimed, made lots of money at the box office, or won a plethora of awards. Those are all influential elements. However, at the end of the day it all comes down to one big question: If I am sitting around The Bachelor Palace on a lazy rainy afternoon with nothing else better to do than flip thru the channels or hop on Netflix and check out a good old movie what would I choose to watch?? That is the overriding guiding light. In many cases I can be persuaded in one direction or another which…theoretically…is where YOU come in. Let’s make it happen. At any rate, we’ll kick off the 2nd Round with the Tubular Division, and as always thanks so much for taking time to visit The Manofesto.
The Blues Brothers vs. European Vacation
1980’s The Blues Brothers received a first round bye and makes its Mania debut right now. Starring Dan Aykroyd & John Belushi as a couple of musicians/career criminals with a robust admiration for blues music, the idea sprouted from a Saturday Night Live skit in which Jake & Elwood Blues, clad in dark suits, fedoras, & sunglasses, would perform on the show. After three SNL appearances their popularity grew to the point that they were doing concerts and producing albums. The film finds Jake being released from prison and both brothers “putting the band back together” to save the orphanage in which Jake & Elwood grew up. It features fantastic cameos from the likes of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Chaka Khan, Joe Walsh, & John Lee Hooker, and has stars such as John Candy, Carrie Fisher, Steven Spielberg, & Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) in bit parts. The soundtrack is amazing for those of us that like that particular kind of music. A sequel was made in 1998, but as much as I like John Goodman he’s no Belushi. European Vacation defeated Three Amigos! in Round 1 and is a lot better than people may recall. Taking the Griswold clan out of the car and putting them in different locations across Europe was a really interesting idea. The two actors portraying Rusty & Audrey are my least favorite of all that have inhabited the roles. It’s a tall order to live up to the original Vacation, but this one gives it a good go.
The Verdict:The Blues Brothers. Great cast. Awesome music. Fun cameos. It’s a cult classic for a reason.
Lethal Weapon vs. La Bamba
1987’s Lethal Weapon received a first round bye, while La Bamba got the decision over Three Men & A Baby. Lethal Weapon is an action flick, which is usually not my cup of tea. However, the cast is so good and the script is infused with enough humor & character development that it rises above the usual limitations of the genre. Mel Gibson plays a cop on the edge after the unfortunate death of his wife. He is paired with Danny Glover as an older officer pondering life after the police department. Riggs & Murtaugh are a classic film duo…one a loose cannon with nothing to lose and the other a by-the-book family man who just wants to ease into retirement. They are forced to put their differences aside and investigate an apparent suicide that develops into a much more sinister case. The supporting cast is superb, including Gary Busey as a crazy felon…a role he was born to play. The first film was followed by three sequels that I personally like just fine, but none quite recapture the original magic. La Bamba re-introduced the world to Ritchie Valens, a young singer who died tragically in a plane crash that famously also took the lives of 50’s rockers Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. Valens was only 17 years old at the time of his demise and had produced a few hits, including Donna, Come On Let’s Go, & La Bamba. One cannot help but wonder what he could have become had he lived. It is my understanding that his influence on the Latino community has been immense and I am glad that, with the help of this film, he finally got some well-deserved recognition from the masses.
The Verdict: Lethal Weapon. How can you not love it?? It’s got action, atmosphere, great characters, & lots of fun.
Ghostbusters vs. Mr. Mom
I know there is a remake coming out soon, but who cares?? It can’t possibly live up to the original 1984 Ghostbusters, which enters this contest after having a 1st Round bye. Starring Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, & Harold Ramis as a team of ghost hunters way before such a profession became fashionable and the paranormal evolved into a widespread cultural fad, the cast also includes Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, & Sigourney Weaver as well as cameos by Larry King, Casey Kasem, Bill Walton, & Ron Jeremy (yes…THAT Ron Jeremy). The movie also features an infectious theme song by Ray Parker Jr., who hasn’t done anything notable since. Mr. Mom defeated Porky’s in the first round. It was the ninth highest grossing movie of 1983, ahead of competition like Risky Business, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Big Chill, Scarface, & A Christmas Story. Impressive indeed. Michael Keaton did about a half dozen good movies in the 1980’s and this is probably my second favorite.
The Verdict: Mr. Mom. It’s another upset for the underrated Mr. Mom. I know there are Ghostbusters enthusiasts out there that would strongly disagree with the decision, but again it comes down to repeat viewings and what I would choose to watch while channel surfing, and the fact is that I’ve seen Mr. Mom a hundred times and would likely always choose it over Ghostbusters.
Dirty Dancing vs. Moonstruck
After receiving a first round bye 1987’s Dirty Dancing enters the fray. Mostly what people remember about Dirty Dancing is A) it starred Patrick Swayze, B) the fantastic soundtrack, & C) the dancing…of course. That is probably enough to qualify it as a quintessential 80’s time capsule movie, but it also had a storyline. It takes place in the early 60’s at an exclusive resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains and features Jennifer Grey as a young woman who receives forbidden dance lessons from the resort’s dance instructor Johnny Castle (a really cool name) and falls for him. The romance is classic Romeo/Juliet, good girl/”bad” guy, right/wrong side of the tracks stuff, but the formula works as long as there is a creative spin. Moonstruck beat out Flashdance in Round 1 and interestingly runs up against more musically inclined competition here. Having grown up in an Italian family I appreciate the broad strokes in Moonstruck, and really enjoy the performance of Nicolas Cage. It was the 5th highest grossing film of 1987, ahead of La Bamba, Lethal Weapon, and yes…Dirty Dancing. Cher may be nuttier than a fruitcake but she has been in some damn fine movies.
The Verdict:Dirty Dancing. Moonstruck is undoubtedly the “better” movie by almost any metric. However, Dirty Dancing is the more memorable movie. For anyone who came of age in the 1980’s it is one of the signature films of that era, and it seems to be that the things we enjoyed as teenagers…movies, songs, TV shows, etc…leave an indelible mark on our soul.
The Big Chill vs. Scarface
1983’s The Big Chill is undeniably a commentary on 60’s rebels facing the perils of adulthood in the “greedy” Reagan era. But it is also a universal story about growing up and understanding that, though college may have been the best time of your life, there comes a time when it is necessary to move forward. The cast…featuring stars like Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Cline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, & William Hurt…is unsurpassed. They gather together to mourn the suicide of a close friend who was to be portrayed by Kevin Costner, but his flashback scenes got cut, which is unfortunate. The Big Chill may have been the genesis for my appreciation of the dramedy, because goshdarnit I like to have some laughs mixed into my tragedy. Scarface easily beat out License to Drive in Round 1 because Al Pacino will kick the snot out of as many Coreys as you can throw at him. It was only the 16th highest grossing film of 1983, behind stinkers like Jaws 3-D, Superman III, & Staying Alive, which perfectly illustrates both the pitfalls of sequels and exactly why they get made in the first place.
The Verdict: The Big Chill. Some movies appeal to a very specific target audience. Scarface fits that bill, and I am not the kind of moviegoer that really enjoys violence, rampant drug use, & abundant gunfire. I prefer to laugh. The Big Chill isn’t a comedy, but it is well-written with great performances and really speaks to me on a deeper level.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure vs. WarGames
Neither of these opponents had a first round bye. Bill & Ted beat out Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1, while WarGames got a Round 1 victory over The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. WarGames was the fifth highest grossing film of 1983. Bill & Ted ranked 32nd at the 1989 box office. A more useful indicator may be Rotten Tomatoes, where WarGames has a 93% Fresh rating and Bill & Ted has a 79% Fresh rating. Well okay…maybe that isn’t quite as helpful as I’d hoped.
The Verdict: WarGames. It’s a tossup, and I am tempted to leave it in the hands of The Manoverse, but I am resisting the temptation. WarGames might be a tad bit dated and a candidate to be remade with more modern technology, but that is part of the charm that definitively marks it as an 80’s film. The Cold War is a relic of the past and we face new dangers nowadays, but the fear & paranoia felt by many back then can’t be matched. WarGames is the perfect blend of subtle social commentary and edge-of-your-seat fun. It is the rare action-adventure flick without much violence. A masterstroke indeed.