The 30 Day Film Challenge – Part 2

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

16     A film that is personal to you…

We Are Marshall

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

 

 

 

17     Favorite film sequel…

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

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

 

 

 

18     A film that stars your favorite actor/actress…

Joe Versus the Volcano and The Glenn Miller Story

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

 

 

 

19     A film made by your favorite director…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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

 

 

 

20     A film that changed your life…

It’s A Wonderful Life

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

 

 

 

21     A film that you dozed off in…

Monty Python & The Holy Grail

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

 

 

 

22     A film that made you angry…

The Big Wedding

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

 

 

 

23     A film made by a director who is dead…

Rear Window

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

 

 

 

24     A film you wish you saw in theaters…

Apollo 13 and Titanic

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

 

 

 

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

The Godfather

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

 

 

 

26     A film you like that is adapted from somewhere…

Forrest Gump

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

 

 

 

27     A film that is visually striking to you…

Batman & Robin

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

 

 

 

28     A film that made you feel uncomfortable…

Very Bad Things

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

 

 

 

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

When Harry Met Sally

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

 

 

 

30     A film with your favorite ending…

Field of Dreams

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

90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 2

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forrest Gump

Release:    7/6/94

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

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

 

vs.

 

Presumed Innocent

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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The Fugitive

Release:    8/6/93

Starring:     Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones

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

 

vs.

 

Joe Versus the Volcano

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

______________________

 

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

 

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

 

 

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Billy Madison

Release:    2/10/95

Starring:     Adam Sandler

Directed By:        Tamra Davis (Half Baked)

 

vs.

 

The American President

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Grumpy Old Men

Release:    12/25/93

Starring:     Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann Margret

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

 

vs.

 

Mr. Saturday Night

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

Billy Crystal’s directorial debut.

 

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

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

 

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

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Father of the Bride

Release:    12/20/91

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

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

 

vs.

 

City Slickers

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s film debut.

 

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

 

_________________________

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Office Space

Release:    2/19/99

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

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

 

vs.

 

Hook

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gwyneth Paltrow appears briefly as the teenage Wendy.

 

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

 

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

_____________________________

 

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

 

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

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

 

The Wedding Singer

Release:    2/13/98

Starring:     Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore

Directed By:        Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, Blended)

 

vs.

 

Edward Scissorhands

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

___________________________

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

 

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

 

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

 

Die Hard: With A Vengeance

Release:    5/19/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Goodfellas

Release:    9/19/90

Starring:     Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci

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

 

vs.

 

Twister

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

____________________________________

 

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

 

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

The 2016 Sammy Awards – Part 1

SammyAwardeagleAfter an unavoidable…interruption…a year ago we are back and thrilled to present the 2016 Sammy Awards, a Manoverse tradition since 2010. The Sammys are, in a nutshell, a fun & introspective year in review presented as the world’s best imaginary awards show. I like to think of The Sammys as an eclectic remix of real awards shows…classier than anything MTV offers, not as pretentious as The Oscars & Grammys, and more engaging than the plethora of offerings (The SAGs, The Tonys, The ESPYs, The People’s Choice Awards, etc.) that no one watches. The pace is brisk because a show longer than two hours drags and loses the interest of the viewer. There are no acceptance speeches because most of the categories have far too many nominees to have in the audience and many might not consider it an honor to be nominated anyway. I’d like to think that Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu would take a shot at streaming the show. Their people should call my people.

 

Let us begin by welcoming the host for our 2016 show. He’s an award winning comedian & talk show host, and since 2010 sharveyhas breathed new life into legendary game show Family Feud. Please welcome Steve Harvey!!

 

schillingFollowing a brief yet hilarious introduction to the show by our host it is time for the first award presentation. Please welcome a three time World Series winning pitcher, six time MLB All Star, former ESPN baseball analyst, & everyone’s favorite politically incorrect keyboard warrior…Curt Schilling!! And the nominees are:

 

 

 

Biggest Sports Story

 

Retirements Everywhere!!

One of the more poignant moments in sports is when a player, coach, or other associated personality decides to walk away after a long & memorable career, and in 2016 it seems like we said more than the usual fair share of goodbyes. I was never a big Kobe Bryant fan, but there is no denying that he had a significant impact on the modern NBA. After limping to the finish line the last couple of years on tired legs & surrounded by a very mediocre LA Lakers team, Kobe summoned some of his old magic one last time, scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz in his final game. Peyton Manning rode into the sunset the way everyone would like to. After a legendary & record breaking 18 year career he led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl championship. Manning certainly wasn’t at his best in his final few seasons with the Broncos, but his place among the greatest quarterbacks of all time is secure. Vin Scully, Dick Enberg, & Verne Lundquist all plied their trade as announcers for many decades. Scully is best known as the voice of the LA Dodgers, but fortunately for us east coasters he also called many nationally televised games in both baseball & football. Enberg is best remembered as a play-by-play announcer for NBC, calling both NFL & MLB games. Lundquist isn’t completely retired, but will no longer be calling college football games. Thankfully we’ll still be able to hear him on golf broadcasts. Kevin Garnett & Tim Duncan both called it quits after the 2015-16 NBA season. Duncan won five championships in 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. In 1995 Garnett became the first player in two decades drafted directly from high school to the NBA, a practice the league would outlaw in 2006. He played for three different teams and won one championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008. He had more individual than team success, winning a league MVP & being named to 15 All Star teams. David Ortiz is a mountain of a man that was the designated hitter & occasional first baseman for the Boston Red Sox for 13 years. He was a big part of the team that finally broke the infamous Curse of the Bambino and brought Boston their first World Series title in 86 years. Two more titles would follow. Big Papi had one of his best seasons in 2016, batting .315 and hitting 38 home runs. Unfortunately various leg & foot problems forced him into retirement. Though I haven’t watched NASCAR for a couple of years for reasons I’ll not rehash, Tony Stewart had become my favorite driver after the tragic demise of Dale Earnhardt. I always appreciated his forthright & decidedly un-PC manner. Smoke won three Cup titles & 49 races in over 600 starts in 18 years. I suppose he’ll still be around as a team owner, which is good for the sport.

 

Cleveland Wins NBA Title

I’m not the biggest NBA fan. I only pay attention when the playoffs roll around, have never had a favorite team, & haven’t cared all that much since Michael Jordan retired. However, the one thing that has drawn me in at all over the past several years is the closest thing we’ve had to Jordan…Lebron James. His departure from Cleveland to Miami and subsequent return has been well chronicled, and in 2016 all the hopes & dreams of every sports fan in Cleveland came to fruition as King James led his hometown Cavaliers to their first ever NBA title, the city’s first professional sports championship of any kind since 1964. It was an exciting rematch of the previous year’s championship series, with the Cavs coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to upend the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a thrilling Game 7.

 

Brady’s Court Battle

In 2016 golden boy QB Tom Brady finally lost his yearlong battle against DeflateGate and was forced to serve a four game suspension at the beginning of the NFL season. Of course he still may get the last laugh, as the New England Patriots finished with the best record in the league and enter the playoffs as a solid Super Bowl favorite.

 

Villanova Wins NCAA Title

The Villanova Wildcats won their first national championship since 1985, beating North Carolina on a buzzer beater in the title game. The Wildcats won 35 games and defeated four straight Top 10 opponents during March Madness.

 

Warriors Wins Record

The 2016 Golden State Warriors, led by point guard Stephen Curry & power forward Draymond Green, won 73 games during the regular season, breaking a record set by the Jordan/Pippen Bulls two decades earlier. They came into the season as the defending NBA champs and dominated the competition…until the finals, where they fell to Lebron James & his Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

Cubs Win World Series

The Chicago Cubs have been the loveable losers of baseball for as long as I can remember. As with the Red Sox, the Cubs had been battling their own “curse”, the Curse of the Billy Goat, on which multiple heartbreaking postseason failures had been blamed since their last World Series title in 1908. All of that changed in 2011, when Theo Epstein, the wunderkind general manager that had helped Boston turn things around a decade ago, took the same job in Chicago. In 2016 his rebuilding plan blossomed and the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in a really fun seven game World Series.

 

Johnny Football

The long sad odyssey of Johnny Manziel finally reached its inevitable conclusion in 2016 when the former Heisman Trophy winner but failed NFL quarterback was cut loose by the Cleveland Browns. Aside from the fact that Manziel is a marginal NFL talent at best, off the field issues with drugs, legal problems, & just a generally selfish, arrogant, poor attitude torpedoed any chance he had at success. When the Browns don’t even want you that’s a huge warning sign.

 

Penguins Win Stanley Cup

I pay even less attention to hockey than I do the NBA & NASCAR, but if my Pens are involved when the playoffs roll around I will generally check it out. 2016 brought Pittsburgh its fourth Stanley Cup since 1990. They defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games, with the awesome Sidney Crosby being named the series MVP.

 

 

 

And the Sammy goes to…..

 

 

The Chicago Cubs. It’s hard to beat a century old drought and an angst ridden fan base that has endured so many painful losses. I’m a Pirates fan, so I obviously cubscheer against the Cubs all season long, but I must admit this was a really cool story and I am glad for long suffering fans in The Windy City.

 

 

 

 

gavinTo present our next award, please welcome three all-time favorites who have one thing in common…they did guest spots on a certain television show backnicholson2 in the 60’s. First, he is best known as Captain Merrill Stubing on 80’s cheesefest The Love Boat. Please welcome Gavin MacLeod. Next, he has long been one of America’s crankiest yet most beloved comedians. He hung out with Sinatra back in the day, spent a good deal of time on Johnny Carson’s Tonight rickles2Show couch, and now he is here with us at The Sammy Awards. Please welcome Don Rickles. And finally, he is an Academy Award winning actor best known for creepy roles in The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Batman, & A Few Good Men. It is an honor to welcome Jack Nicholson.

 

This is a special award with only one nominee & winner.

 

 

The Fred Berry Memorial Award for Excellence in Syndication

 

The Andy Griffith Show

Even the best television shows are generally cancelled after 6-10 seasons, air in syndication for a few years, & then slip away into the ether, replaced in the hearts & tags2minds of viewers everywhere with the latest & greatest sitcom, soapy drama, or police procedural. Every once in awhile a program comes along that stays afloat in the sea of pop culture prominence for a bit longer, but eventually even those elite shows fade into just an occasionally recalled fond memory. The Andy Griffith Show is different. On any given day of the week I can do a little channel surfing and watch atleast a couple of TAGS episodes. Ponder that. This is a show that stopped airing original episodes nearly a half century ago, but its reruns are still broadcast in 2016 and beyond. Almost all of the cast has left this mortal coil, yet we still watch. I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that TAGS has entertained multiple generations and continues to delight people of all ages even today. Local TV stations have no shortage of syndicated programs to choose from when they need to fill a time slot, but they know that TAGS has retained its popularity and will get good ratings. There are many reasons for this, most of which I have mentioned somewhere in this forum at one time or another. It is the distinct pleasure of The Manofesto to give The Andy Griffith Show one more well deserved victory lap, and hopefully we’ll all still be enjoying it for many years to come.

 

 

 

susannah-lewisTo present our next award we originally contacted singer & emancipated butterfly Mariah Carey, but she declined the invitation and has gone into hiding in an undisclosed location for some unknown reason. We next contacted MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, but when she was told that the presentation would likely take longer than 48 seconds she was forced to say no. Therefore, we turn to well-regarded and very funny blogger, author, & social media personality Susannah Lewis. And the nominees are:

 

 

 

 

Least Satisfying Movie

The Do-Over

So it has come to this for Adam Sandler. After being one of the biggest movie stars in the world in the 90’s with hits like The Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, & The Waterboy, he has hit the skids in the past decade, with some of the worst films ever produced (Jack & Jill, That’s My Boy, something about a Zohan). Now his movies aren’t even in theaters…they are being directly streamed into our homes. I didn’t know this until after I saw The Do-Over, but awhile back Sandler signed a four movie contract with Netflix. The first one was released last December when I was in the hospital which explains why I hadn’t heard of it. As for this second project in the deal, it has Sandler & David Spade as two old high school pals who are unhappy with their lives so they fake their own deaths. It’s an interesting premise, and I’ve got to give all involved credit for one thing…they didn’t mail it in. The story has more twists & turns than an Appalachian highway, with an odd mix of comedy, action, intrigue, & pathos. It’s not boring…it’s just not very good.

 

Dirty Grandpa

Robert DeNiro needs to fire his agent, manager, & anyone else that assists him in choosing projects. Seeing him in excrement like this makes me sad. Even Zac Efron can do better and he’s a tool.

 

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

I had low expectations going in because the 2014 original wasn’t good, yet somehow this sequel is actually even more tasteless & unremarkable. I didn’t laugh once. Two hours of my life I can never get back.

 

The Bronze

Fans of The Big Bang Theory get quite a shock seeing their sweet little Bernadette in this flick. Melissa Rauch stars as a former Olympic medalist still living on her fading notoriety in the small Ohio town in which she grew up. The young “lady” is mean-spirited, foulmouthed, & treats her adoring mailman father like dirt. She doesn’t have a job and relies on her fans & friends to buy her things. Oh, and she also steals money from mail she rifles thru in her Dad’s truck. Are you laughing yet?? When Hope (that’s her name…seriously) gets an opportunity to coach an up & coming gymnast also from her hometown she at first attempts to sabotage the young girl, but eventually changes course and guides her to the gold medal. I’m sure there are people out there that find this movie hysterically funny, but I’m not sure I’d want to know those people.

 

Bad Santa 2

If you enjoyed the 2003 original I suppose you’ll like this follow-up, which has Billy Bob Thornton putting the ol’ red suit back on & reprising his role as a misanthropic, drunken, foul mouthed thief who likes to score big during the holiday season. He reunites with his diminutive partner in crime and they team up with Santa’s profane & terminally ill mother to rob a Chicago children’s charity. I’m no prude, but I do believe I have some class and this kind of humor just doesn’t frost my cupcake. I didn’t particularly care for the first film and had no expectations that the sequel would alter my perspective. I was right. If vulgarity & F-bombs tickle your funny bone then, by all means, enjoy…it’s a free country. I will continue to aim higher.

 

 

And the Sammy goes to…..

Dirty Grandpa. I don’t know why I continue to subject myself to DeNiro. The Godfather Part II is way way way in the rearview mirror. Even the Meet the Parents facepalmmovies seem like a lifetime ago. In the past decade this alleged cinematic icon has made a string of forgettable and/or outright atrocious films. This might be the absolute worst of the bunch, and could compete for one of the vilest pieces of garbage to ever be on the big screen. Just retire Mr. DeNiro. Leave the memories alone.

 

 

 

This feels like an appropriate place to pause. Please stay tuned for Part 2!!

Sports Films: The 25 Best (IMHO) Part 2

watchingAnd we’re back!! I hope you enjoyed Part 1, which I assume you did or you wouldn’t be back. Logic rules. Anyway, the middle part of our batting order contains a wide variety, including more hilarious Saturday Night Live alumni, some movies older than my Dad, & one or two entries that you won’t be startled to see but may be somewhat surprised to see so soon. Remember, these are my own opinions and I am fully aware that others might view things differently. Please leave me some comments about what sports movies you like or don’t like, and if you haven’t yet been Manotized and become a citizen of The Manoverse you’re just a click away from one of the best decisions you’ll make all day.

 

 

 

 

20 Slapshot / Rocky II
Slap+Shot+hansonbrosLet me say two things. First, hockey is probably my least favorite of the major sports (which, since I live in America, doesn’t include soccer). Secondly, I’m just a skosh too young to see what the big deal is about Paul Newman. Several of his most notable films were made either before I was born or when I was an infant, and a lot of them seem to be westerns, which just aren’t my thing. That being said, I have enjoyed a few Newman performances, chief among them this outing as a veteran player-coach for a minor league hockey team on the verge of going belly-up. The team’s braintrust decides to focus on keeping the club financially viable by making it an entertaining sideshow rather than a competitive entity. Hilarity ensues, including the three Hanson Brothers, man-children with a hysterical penchant for thuggery & rulebreaking. Rocky II is the inevitable sequel to the r2original. Hindsight proves that this is a series that peaked in its initial outing and had, for the most part, diminishing returns thereafter. However, II isn’t too far gone from the quality if its predecessor, and (spoiler alert) it’s the one where The Italian Stallion finally wins the title so I cannot exclude it from this particular honor roll.

 

19 Raging Bull / Caddyshack
bullOne normally wouldn’t think of this pair of films together, but I do for a simple reason. Both films would likely be rated far higher on most any other list they’d be on. Caddyshack…the classic 1980 story of The Haves vs. The Have Nots at a snooty country club…is consistently ranked as one of the funniest movies of all time. Raging Bull…a biopic of 1940’s pugilist Jake LaMotta that was also in theaters in 1980…is generally considered not only one of the greatest sports films but among the finest movies of any genre. The pedigrees for both are impressive. Caddyshack was directed by Harold Ramis and stars Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, & Ted Knight. Raging Bull was directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Robert DeNiro (who won the Academy Award for Best Actor) and Joe Pesci in one of his earliest roles. DeNiro, much like Pacino, makes anything he is in awesome. I think the timing caddyshackwas just a bit off in relation to my enjoyment of these particular movies. They aren’t the kind of stories that an 8 year old kid is going to watch on the big screen, and by the time I saw them and began to understand their greatness I had developed my own tastes and had a bunch of other films that I preferred. Caddyshack is more in my wheelhouse since I like comedy, while Raging Bull just can’t compare, in my humble opinion, to another boxing film that we’ll discuss eventually.

 

 

18 The Waterboy / Talladega Nights
waterboyIt will probably surprise many that Adam Sandler has a couple of entries in this little countdown. When one thinks about sport movies it is unlikely that Sandler would automatically come to mind. However, a sub-genre that I am especially fond of is the sports comedy. I like comedy and I love sports so I suppose it makes sense. The Waterboy is vintage Sandler back when he was at the pinnacle of his career nearly two decades ago. It tells the story of a dimwitted country bumpkin from Louisiana’s bayou who goes from abused waterboy to college football star thanks to classic Sandler rage. The supporting cast is terrific, with Henry Winkler (aka Fonzie) as a mild mannered coach and Academy Award winner Kathy Bates as an overprotective mother standing out above the rest. As with many of Sandler’s popular films critics hated The Waterboy while real people continue to gleefully watch it over & over again. Much like Sandler, fellow SNL alum Will Ferrell is a love him or hate him kind of actor. His films aren’t tnartistic masterpieces that get four stars from stuffed shirts, but Joe Sixpack tends to enjoy them. In Talladega Nights he teams with the vastly underrated John C. Reilly to form an odd NASCAR racing duo. Ricky Bobby is the kind of smug simpleton role that Ferrell has perfected, and the writing is pretty sharp for an alleged “dumb” comedy. There’s plenty of on track action and a clichéd climactic race. Both of these films are just a lot of silly fun, and I see nothing wrong with that.

 

 

17 Fever Pitch / Dodgeball
Speaking of silly fun & SNL alums…
Fever Pitch is actually based on a novel written by Nick Hornby, the same British author who fppenned High Fidelity and About a Boy, both of which were adapted into films as well. This particular story was originally about soccer and I believe a more faithful movie was made in 1997. However, this is America and we couldn’t care less about soccer, so the script was reworked into a tale about baseball for this 2005 effort starring Jimmy Fallon & Drew Barrymore. There are a few interesting things about Fever Pitch. First of all, it leans heavily toward rom-com territory so some may not really consider it a sports film. In my humble opinion though there’s enough sports involved for it to make the cut. Secondly, the filming happened to take place during the miraculous season when the Boston Red Sox broke the infamous Curse of the Bambino, which necessitated a change to the movie’s intended ending. And finally, this is a story (aside from the romantic stuff) about a fan. A hardcore fan. An obsessed fan. A fan who eats, drinks, sleeps, & breathes baseball and lives & dies with his team’s every win or loss. We can all see just a little bit of ourselves in him. Fallon & Barrymore are a charming duo and it’s a shame they never made any more movies together. Dodgeball is kind of unusual in that it dodgeballdoesn’t feature an actual sport but instead focuses on a game most of us played as children. However, it utilizes the sports movie playbook all the way. I’m a Vince Vaughn fan even though he pretty much plays the same kind of affable slacker in every movie he makes. I suppose if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?? This is another silly comedy that’s not going to change lives or add anything meaningful to intelligent conversation, but if you’re chillin’ out and looking for a delightful way to waste a couple of hours it’ll do the trick just fine.

 

 

16 Pride of the Yankees / Knute Rockne: All-American
louAnother true story: When I was in college I saw these two entries during a class I took about sports films. Yes that was actually a thing. I can’t remember if I got an A, but one would hope so because if a person can’t score an easy A in that class what hope do they have dealing with legitimate scholastic material?? At any rate, these movies were both released in the early 1940’s within a couple years of one another. Pride is the story of New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig and chronicles his rise from a baseball player at Columbia University all the way thru his legendary Iron Man streak with the Bronx Bombers, culminating in his untimely demise from the illness that now bears his name. We also get a glimpse at Gehrig’s family life, especially the dynamic between his overprotective mother and the lovely young lady that becomes his bride. It is kind of an outdated, corny movie and prime material for a remake…if anyone under the age of 40 knew who Lou Gehrig was, Cal Ripken, Jr. hadn’t broken Gehrig’s Iron Man record a couple of decades ago, & there was an actor on the planet who could portray Gehrig as impressively as Gary Cooper. Rockne rocknewas the football coach for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish from 1918 to 1930, winning four national championships in five undefeated seasons (I know that makes no sense but if you are curious feel free to do some research) before being tragically killed in a plane crash. To this day he still has the highest winning percentage of any Division 1A football coach in history. All-American tells Rockne’s story, although these days it is probably more notable for the appearance of future President Ronald Reagan as The Gipper, complete with a legendary speech that atleast 75% of hardcore football fans can recite from memory.

 

 

15 Rudy
I really try not to let my utter contempt for Notre Dame bias any opinions about ancillary matters and rudythis certainly would qualify, but, objectively speaking, Rudy is a really solid movie. Based on the true story of Daniel Ruettiger, a young Illinois man who grew up in the 1950’s dreaming of playing football for the Fighting Irish, Rudy is a classic underdog story…the foundation of sports cinema. You see, Daniel had everything going against him. His family was poor. He was dyslexic & had below average grades. And…oh, by the way…he was 5ft.6 and 170lbs. soaking wet. That’s hardly the kind of “athlete” one of the nation’s elite football programs typically recruits. But Ruettiger was persistent, and after a couple of years in the Navy, a couple of years working at the local power plant with his father & brother, and then getting his academics up to par at a less stringent institution of higher learning, he finally enrolled at Notre Dame at the age of 26 and walked on to the football team. Now does that mean that he became a superstar athlete?? Of course not. That’s not what Rudy is about. Vince Lombardi may have said that “winning is the only thing”, but different people define victory in a variety of ways. This film is notable as well for being amongst the earliest work of both Vince Vaughn & Jon Favreau.

14 Eight Men Out
Baseball fans of all ages should be atleast somewhat familiar with the 1919 Black Sox scandal. This8men movie is based on a 1963 book written about that situation. Both the book & the film are quite good. The cast isn’t all that memorable with the exception of John Cusack & Charlie Sheen, who were both up & coming performers when the movie was made in the late 80’s, but the performances are all solid. The players who were eventually banned forever from baseball aren’t given a free pass for their errors in judgment, but the prevailing viewpoint is that they were far from villains, that there were understandable circumstances that led to poor decisions. I first saw Eight Men Out many years ago and came away believing that maybe…just maybe…the punishment was a bit too harsh, but then again I’m compassionate like that. Your mileage may vary.

 

 

13 61
This project is mostly about feature films, but I do feel compelled to include an exception. 61 is a 2001 61HBO movie about the competition to best Babe Ruth’s single season home run record, one that had been setting the pace since 1927. The number 61 has a double meaning. First, Ruth’s record was 60 homers in a season so 61 would break the record. Also, the action in this film takes place during the 1961 MLB season. The focus is on two men…New York Yankees outfielders Mickey Mantle & Roger Maris, and their contrasting lifestyles & demeanors. By 1961 Mantle was a living legend, another in a long line of Yankee icons, whose drinking & hard partying ways were well documented. Conversely, Maris was a quiet & old-fashioned guy from North Dakota who felt and was often treated like an outsider in The Bronx. Even though we know how this home run race turned out the story is still compelling and the examination of the personalities & relationships is fascinating. It is a well-written script and the performances are terrific. The film was directed by lifelong Yankees fan Billy Crystal, who really should direct more often. In my heart & mind Maris, an honest & humble man, is still baseball’s single season home run king.

12 Seabiscuit
Hard tack is a type of long lasting cracker often consumed by sailors & soldiers. Hard Tack was the biscuit-spanname of a race horse in the 1930’s. Hard Tack fathered a race horse named Seabiscuit. Sea biscuit is an alternative term for the aforementioned cracker. Interesting. Seabiscuit (the movie) is based on a really good book about that young racehorse, who won a lot of races in the late 30’s. Like so many great sports films it’s an underdog story. In this case the horse was an underdog, but so was its owner, trainer, & jockey. There’s a lot of inspirational relationship stuff here, but oddly enough there’s no romance, atleast not the kind we usually see. It’s a well-written story with many of the characteristic sports movie brush strokes, but Seabiscuit is better than average. We don’t pay as much attention to horse racing in America as we once did, for various reasons, but it is still the sport of kings and this movie will remind you of that.

 

 

11 Jerry Maguire
It had me at hello. It completes me. But is it a sports film?? Ehhh…I suppose, although it’s really more of jm2a romantic dramedy, which is why I am putting it this far down in the countdown. It does tell a story from the perspective of an agent, which is unique. We get an interesting peek inside the cutthroat business side of sports, including some fun cameos from former Eagles frontman Glenn Frey as a team owner, real life agent Leigh Steinberg, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., and a plethora of former NFL players and other athletes. And we even see some on-the-field drama courtesy of Rod “Show Me the Money” Tidwell, a role that won Cuba Gooding Jr. an Academy Award.

 

 

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion…coming soon!!

100 Favorite Movies…..6-10

Finally. After over a year we have entered hallowed ground…The Top 10. This will be the last group of five, as I will give each of the top five movies their own entry. Part of me is actually a little sad that this series is almost over because I have had so much fun writing it and doing a self-examination of my own tastes. We’ll do it all again in one form or another in a few years, but until then enjoy the remaining entries, and as always thanks so much for visiting my little corner of this wonderful thing we like to call The Info Superhighway. Fear not, because I have much more to say on a variety of topics.

 

 

 


10 The Godfather Part II

As we have covered a few times in this series, sequels are often a very risky proposition. From a business perspective I understand why they are made, but from a creative standpoint and through the prism of the viewing public it is difficult to not fall into the trap of being lazy, repetitive, and uninspired. Too often we see sequels that are just retreads of the original…same stunts, same gags, same jokes, same effects. Or worse yet, the powers-that-be try to make a sequel where few of the original actors or characters remain and they are only borrowing a broad concept or theme with very loose ties to its predecessor. The Godfather Part II is not a victim of any of these issues. It is quite possibly the greatest sequel ever made. It was the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, a feat that has only been matched once since with 2003’s third part of the epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Return of the King (movies that will likely make it onto this list next time around). Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather is the source material for both the first and second movies in this trilogy and is a great read. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoyed the movies. However, this is a rare case where I must say that the greatness on film exceeds what one finds on the written page. Part II is fascinating, as it shows us two different stories at the same time. We follow Al Pacino‘s Don Michael Corleone as he moves the family business to the left coast in the 1950’s, making his home in Lake Tahoe while simultaneously trying to become a major player in Vegas, which of course mirrors the real life exploits of infamous gangster Bugsy Seagal. Meanwhile, in turn of the century Sicily we see little Vito Corleone‘s parents killed and his escape to Ellis Island. The adult Vito is then played by Robert DeNiro in a performance that won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the only time that two different actors (Marlon Brando got the nod for Best Actor in the original film) have received Academy Awards for the same role. Vito gets married, has a family, meets new pals Tessio & Clemenza, and quickly rises from small time NY City hood to nationally known, feared, and respected organized crime boss. Flash ahead to the 50’s and we see Michael’s attempt to bring his empire to Cuba, his double cross of rival gangster Hyman Roth and Roth’s henchman The Rosato Brothers, United States Senate hearings with Michael as the chief target that mirror the real life Kefauver investigation of the mob, and the revelation that Michael’s older but dimmer brother Fredo betrayed him which resulted in an assassination attempt and ultimately ends up with Michael having his own brother murdered. I love love love Al Pacino and this movie is neck & neck with Scent of a Woman as his best role. In the original Godfather film he shares the spotlight with Marlon Brando and James Caan, but here he goes toe to toe with DeNiro in what may be his best role as well. The supporting cast is superb, with Talia Shire, Robert Duval, and Diane Keaton returning from the first film and acting legend Lee Strasberg coming out of retirement to portray Hyman Roth. My favorite character though might be Frank Pentangeli, a Corleone family caporegime who replaces Clemenza, a development dictated by a dispute with the actor who played Clemenza. Frankie Five Angels is just tremendous…funny, ham-handed, erratic, and most of all unique. I am not sure Part II would have been quite as good with Clemenza as it ends up being with Pentageli. The flashback sequences with the younger Vito are done completely in Italian, a risky move by director Francis Ford Coppola that pays off. Emulating real events like the coup in Cuba, U.S. Senate hearings, and the mafia infiltration of Las Vegas is a nice touch. There are a significant number of people who rate the The Godfather Part II above its predecessor and say that it is the only sequel in movie history that is actually better than the first film. I can’t go that far for reasons which I will eventually explain. Nevertheless it is an extraordinary achievement and those responsible for it…Coppola, Puzo, Pacino, DeNiro, and many others…can be very proud of what they were able to accomplish. The story arc of the rise & fall of Michael Corleone is truly one of the most inspired ideas in cinema and has been endlessly entertaining for me and millions of others for over 35 years.

 

 


9 Die Hard

I know I have said it before but it bears repeating…I am not an action flick aficionado. Most anything starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Seagal, or Chuck Norris just doesn’t frost my cupcake. I have never seen a James Bond film in its entirety. Indiana Jones has never graced a screen big or small in my presence. But as with any rule there are exceptions, and this is the biggest one of them all. 1988’s Die Hard finds Bruce Willis starring as John McClane, a NY City cop whose marriage is on the rocks because his wife took a corporate gig in Los Angeles and now lives there with the kids, estranged from her husband. She invites him out to the Left Coast for Christmas to visit the children and maybe smooth things out. However, upon arriving at the wife’s company Christmas bash near the top of an unfinished skyscraper McClane finds himself the lone wolf fighting against a contingent of foreign terrorists who invade the party, kill the CEO, and hold everyone else hostage. The bad guys are unaware of McClane’s presence and even when he does make himself known he does not reveal that he has the skills to fight back. Soon enough the LAPD and the FBI are involved. There is lots of shooting and explosions, but thankfully they are accompanied by a good story and surprising levity for an action movie. I think maybe that’s why I like it…the humor sets Die Hard apart from others in the genre, who tend to take themselves too seriously. Don’t misunderstand…Die Hard is a serious movie about terrorism and one man’s battle to save the life of his beloved wife, but along the way we get airheaded FBI agents (agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson), a limo driver that personifies the generation gap between himself and McClane, and the Dad from Family Matters, an 80’s sitcom best known for its nerdy star Urkel, who bonds with McClane over the two-way radio. We also get Hans Gruber, one of the most memorable villains in movie history. Gruber is portrayed by Alan Rickman, who is widely known today as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. But in 1988 he was an unknown who ended up creating such a great character. It is implied that Gruber is a ticked off German who has taken over Nakatomi Plaza for political reasons. However, we eventually learn that he is nothing more than a thief whose goal is to steal a half billion dollars worth of bonds, destroy the building making everyone think the terrorists perished as well, and escape with the loot. It is an ingenious plan, and Gruber seems to know everything that will happen. He especially knows the playbook of the police and the feds, who are portrayed as predictable buffoons. But what he and his men don’t plan on is the “fly in the ointment” named John McClane. Willis was a television star at the time, coming into our living rooms each week alongside Cybill Shepherd in the detective rom-com Moonlighting. He had done a few forgettable films, but it was Die Hard that made him a star and he has continued to ride the wave for over 20 years. Die Hard, in my opinion, is the gold standard of action movies. It has just the right mix of drama, action, humor, suspense, good writing, and excellent performances. It is not gratuitously bloody, and it is just plausible enough for the viewer to suspend disbelief and become engrossed in the story and characters. 1988 was, of course, long before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and for that I am thankful if only because Die Hard would likely never get made in a post-9/11 world. McClane has resurfaced in three sequels with plans for yet another, but those efforts have been hit & miss. I keep using the phrase “lightning in a bottle”, and it applies here as well. Countless films have borrowed elements of Die Hard in the last two decades, and I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But I have yet to stumble upon a knockoff that comes anywhere close to being as good as the original.

 

 


8 The Star Wars Trilogy

Yes, I know…I am kinda sorta cheating just one more time. In pondering the three original Star Wars movies…Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi…I just couldn’t find a sensible way to justify any type of separation. It is true that most fans of the trilogy will say that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the three and that Return of the Jedi comes in third. But I cannot look at these three films as separate entities. The story is an arc with huge themes of good vs. evil, destiny, vengeance, justice, fear, anger vs. patience, self-sacrifice, and betrayal. There are elements of religion, philosophy, and mythology so intertwined yet so subtle that the films may be enjoyed as simple popcorn entertainment by some and appreciated on another level by those who like to ponder life with a deeper, more esoteric thought process. Writer/producer/director George Lucas was heavily influenced by a number of sources, including the Flash Gordon comic books and movies of the 1930’s, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, and Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I am making the assumption that most adults have seen the trilogy and know the basic story, but…just in case…allow me to summarize. Star Wars and its sequels is the story of Luke Skywalker, a young man of meager means who is thrust into an ongoing adventure involving the battle between The Rebel Alliance, a resistance group that desires to restore The Republic, and The Empire, which is what has become of The Republic under the tyrannical rule of Emperor Palpatine. One must remember that this story was written and the movies made in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, so there are obvious parallels to The Cold War and the ongoing battle between The United States and The Soviet Union. Throughout the trilogy we are exposed to a plethora of memorable characters…Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Pricess Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2, CP30, Hans Solo, Jabba the Hutt, Lando Calrissian. I could go on and on. I have never been a big fan of westerns, but what Star Wars does is take many of the elements of the typical western and utilize them in a futuristic space motif. It is a concept brilliant beyond comprehension. Lucas has done some other notable films…The Indiana Jones Series, American Graffiti, Hook, Howard the Duck (well…okay…maybe that isn’t such a great example)…but his crowning achievement is most certainly The Star Wars Trilogy. Over 30 years since the story was first introduced to the public these three films are still among the world’s most popular. They pop up on television all the time and people like me, who have seen them dozens of times, still watch. Earlier this decade when Lucas was preparing to launch a new prequel trilogy…Episodes I, II, and III…the excitement and anticipation reached a fever pitch. People waited in line days in advance for tickets. Unfortunately the prequels did not live up to their predecessors, but honestly how could they?? They aren’t really bad films, especially the third, but there was no way they could possibly approach the greatness of the original trilogy. Every new generation that is introduced to The Star Wars Trilogy embraces it which is a testament to the timelessness and superb quality of the story. And make no mistake…it IS the story. Are there any truly special performances here?? Not really. The only acting that was ever critically recognized was Sir Alec Guinness’ Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope, and even that was likely more a function of his legendary status. Most of the other actors involved have had middle-of-the-road, mildly successful careers but are still primarily known for their roles in the trilogy. The only exception is Harrison Ford, who over the course of the past three decades has become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. So one must conclude that the enduring appeal of these movies is the epic nature of the tale itself.

 

 


7 Apollo 13

This is what NFL scouts might call at quick riser, a movie that has improved its stock the most in the shortest amount of time. Released in 1995 and based on the true story of NASA’s 1970 “successful failure”, Apollo 13 is a film that I honestly didn’t pay that much attention to when it first came out. Looking back I have to assume that is due to the timing. June of 1995 was a bad month, one that I look back on almost daily as a negative turning point in my life. So I guess I was engrossed in my own drama and didn’t make it a priority to go to the theater and pay money to watch tragic events of others’ lives. But over the course of the past 10 years I have discovered its greatness and become familiar with the real life situation. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton as astronauts whose planned mission to land on the moon goes horribly awry, Apollo 13 is just the sort of movie I can truly embrace. It is beautifully written, has understated, moving performances, and the direction by Ron Howard is magnificent. I don’t usually recognize the function of the director because honestly I am not familiar enough with what a director really does and what his/her role is in the final product. But here one can easily see that this story, in the hands of someone else…maybe James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic), Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2), Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), or God forbid as a Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer production (Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor)…would have been completely different and likely lacked the subtlety and class brought into the mix by Howard, aka Lil Opie Cunningham, who turns it into something better than a cookie cutter action flick. Two supporting performances, Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz and Kathleen Quinlan as astronaut wife Marilyn Lovell, were nominated for Academy Awards. The film itself was nominated for Best Picture and Howard for Best Director. Somehow all four of these awards went to others. Braveheart won Best Picture and its director, Mel Gibson, won that award. Kevin Spacey was Best Supporting Actor for his role as Keyser Soze/Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects. And Mira Sorvino was Best Supporting Actress in some movie no one remembers. I suppose many may disagree, but it is my contention that Apollo 13 was robbed and should have won atleast 3 of these 4 awards. Harris’ performance is especially exceptional and cemented his status as one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated actors. Various television stations show Apollo 13 quite often, and I almost always stop whatever I am doing to watch, which in my mind is the mark of a really good movie. There is a scene near the end of the film where the fate of the astronauts is in question for about 3 minutes. This plays out in real time and is very dramatic. Since this is a true story I know what happens, and even if it wasn’t a true story I have seen it enough times that I know how everything plays out…yet every single time I watch I get goosebumps and am on the edge of my seat. Now THAT is a great movie.

 

 


6 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This is an oddity simply because it is the third movie in a series, and while traditionally the third movie in a series is better than the second (which is usually a poorly written, hastily produced money grab in response to the public’s love of the original) it is unusual that it would outrank the first. I suppose on most lists the tradition would hold true here, as the vast majority of folks would likely opine that 1983’s Vacation, where we first meet The Griswold Clan, is the best in the series. But by now loyal readers know of my fierce passion for Christmas movies, and that is why Christmas Vacation ranks higher than its parent film, which is 13th on this list. Clark, Ellen, Rusty, and Audrey don’t actually go anywhere this time. They stay home to host a good old-fashioned Christmas for the extended family, which includes Clark’s parents, Ellen’s parents, and the elderly Uncle Lewis & Aunt Bethany, though their exact relationship is never explained. Showing up unexpectedly is cousin Catherine and her redneck husband Eddie, along with two of their small children. Fans of the Vacation series will recall that Catherine & Eddie and their brood make a memorable appearance in the original, and Eddie turns out to be the big star of this film. There is too much goodness for me to go into detail here, but suffice to say that Clark proves himself to be as big of a buffoon as usual, all the grandparents are nuts in that special grandparent way, and Eddie’s antics are the icing on the cake. Virtually every scene in this move has become legendary, from the oversized Christmas tree that Clark stubbornly determines is going in the living room, to Eddie cleaning out his RV’s toilet in his bathrobe, to the 25,000 lights with which Clark adorns the house. As a matter of fact, every December channels like HGTV and The Travel Channel have shows featuring wacky, over-the-top, gaudy Christmas light displays from across the country, and I’d be curious to know whether those kinds of garish exhibits were always around or if Christmas Vacation was the impetus for an odd new holiday tradition. I remember the first time I ever saw this movie, and there is a scene where Clark crashes a saucer sled oiled up with some sort of food varnish that he supposedly invented straight into a WalMart. At the time we did not have a WalMart in my hometown and it was just becoming a big deal. I remember thinking “Man, I wish we had a WalMart”. I laugh at that thought now since WalMart has become such a ubiquitous part of every day life. At any rate, Christmas Vacation has quickly become part of the pantheon of great Christmas movies, one of the half-dozen or so that everyone watches annually. It isn’t high art and it isn’t supposed to be. It is fairly innocuous entertainment, and that’s just fine by me.

 

 

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..61-65

It dawned on me after I posted the previous installment of this series that I failed to write a pithy introduction. My apologies. It is difficult when one takes into consideration that by the time I’m finished with this project I will have written about 20 such intros. What makes it even harder is that my taste in movies tends to be so eclectic, something that is really being driven home to me as I write these little ditties, that usually there’s nothing to tie any 5 of these movies together. Today’s entry is a perfect example. There are virtually no similarities between any of these five films. I suppose the good thing is that with such a wide variety of things that I like I am bound to touch on atleast one thing or another that’ll be of interest to everyone.

 

 

 

65 Airplane!

If anyone were ever to build a Mount Rushmore of parody films, the first and foremost honoree would have to be Airplane!. Made in 1980, the film is meant to spoof a plethora of 70’s airline disaster flicks. It’s cast is a brilliant collection of heretofore tough guy types known for their dramatic roles, most notably Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Loyd Bridges, and Peter Graves, who areairplane very much cast against type. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes a super fun cameo as himself apparently trying to live a double life as an airline pilot under an assumed name. The plot involves many of the passengers and nearly the entire crew, including the pilot and co-pilot, becoming ill because of food poisoning and a passenger who just happens to be a pilot with post traumatic stress disorder being called into action to fly and land the plane. But this is another rare case where the story takes a back seat. This time though the centerpiece of hilarity are sight gags and side-splitting word play. One has to watch Airplane! a few times to take in all the visual and verbal gags. There’s Barbara Billingsley, the mother on Leave It to Beaver, speaking ebonics. The emergency autopilot is a blowup doll. A guy who thinks he’s Ethel Merman (played, in her final appearance on film, by Ethel Merman). Co-pilots named Roger and Captain Oveur (think about it). And the great thing is, it never gets old. After over a quarter century those of us who love this movie still laugh when we watch.

 

64 Raging Bull

Robert Deniro is such a brilliant actor that he could take the worst story imaginable and make it halfway compelling. Fortunately as real life boxer Jake Lamotta, in a film directed by the legendary Martin Scorcese, Deniro has a good story with which to work. He also has capable support from Joe Pesci in what was his first major film. I’m not a big boxing fan, but the acting and Scorcese’s style make this a modern classic. Maybe if I’d have been born a few years earlier or if I loved boxing as much as I do other sports Raging Bull would rank higher, as it does on most lists of this ilk. However, I must remain true to my own tastes and preferences, and this is where it falls on my spectrum.

 

63 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Readers of this series know by now of my affection for Jimmy Stewart. I’m also a bit of a political aficionado and an unabashed patriot, so Mr. Smith falls right into my wheelhouse. The story revolves around a small town yokel (a role Stewart showed many times he could play perfectly) who is handpicked to fill an open seat in the U.S. Senate. He is chosen by a corrupt political machine who believes he can be easily manipulated so they can achieve their selfish goals. The villain in this complex web of deceit is the elder senator from Stewart’s state, played by Claud Rains, who is probably better known for playing the corrupt police official in Casablanca. Rains played the role of conflicted slimeball several times and was apparently quite good at it. I’m not sure how a Frenchman snagged the role of a United States Senator, and the fact that he doesn’t really make much of an effort to hide the accent is somewhat distracting. Adding support as a caustic adminstrative aide is Jean Arthur. She is assigned the task of babysitting the doe-eyed new Senator and gradually falls for him. The plotline specifics, in which Stewart’s character wants to build a “national boys’ camp” on land that, unbeknownst to him, Rains’ character has more nefarious and profitable plans in store, are not necessarily all that crucial. The film is about political corruption, and in its time it was groundbreaking. We’ve become a much more cynical nation now. But 70 years ago a movie that took such a dark view of the inner workings of our government was quite controversial. Stewart’s performance show’s his range. Over the course of his career, from lighthearted comedies like Harvey and The Philadelphia Story through Hitchcockian fare such as Vertigo and Rear Window to hardscrabble westerns including Shenandoah and The Rare Breed Stewart did a bit of everything and proved himself to be a fine actor. With Mr. Smith he gives a small sampling of that range within one movie, goofy and fun in some scenes and dark and solemn in others. Because of the access the masses now have through things like CSPAN, the internet, and talk radio there’s not a whole lot that goes on in Washington DC that’s unknown or all that shocking. To some degree that hurts the legacy of Mr. Smith because we don’t see what the big deal is outside of Stewart’s winning charm. However, taken within the context of its time it’s quite a cinematic achievement.

 

62 Meet the Parents

DeNiro makes a second appearance in today’s group, so I guess I was wrong…there is a common thread after all. This time however, he’s doing comedy…and doing it surprisingly well. Meet the Parents stars Ben Stiller as a male nurse who goes home for the weekend with his girlfriend (who he is planning to make his fiancee) to…you guessed it…meet her parents. Unfortunately for Stiller, things get off on the wrong foot and get worse from there. Hilarity ensues. This is one of those movies that has more than its fair share of memorable scenes and lines, which is its main charm. Stiller has never been funnier in my opinion, and Owen Wilson has an hysterical cameo as the girlfriend’s former boyfriend. After watching this film water volleyball, Puff the Magic Dragon, airports, and cats can never be thought of like they were before…trust me. A sequel was made a few years later called Meet the Fockers. It was okay, but as with most sequels it failed to rise to the high level of the original.

 

61 Silence of the Lambs

Is it a horror film?? I suppose. I’m not necessarily sure how the experts categorize it. If it is officially a horror film it is most certainly on the high end…..sort of like how Dom Perrignon and Andre Extra Dry are both technically champagne but one is $150/bottle and the other is available at 7/11. Silence of the Lambs is based on a really great book about a young FBI agent who enlists the aid of a jailed, psychotic cannibal to track down a fellow serial killer. The psychotic cannibal is Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lechter and he is one of the creepiest yet most sublime creations in cinematic history as portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. Unlike most maniacal killers in stereotypical gorefests (think Jason from Friday the 13th, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street), Hannibal doesn’t need knives or chainsaws, doesn’t wear a mask, and doesn’t have any kind of otherworldly nonsensical powers. He’s actually pretty realistic…almost like a normal person you or I may know, may work with, or who might live down the street…except for the fact that he likes to eat humans. Jodie Foster is fantastic as Clarice Starling, the agent who looks to be in way over her head. The whodunit part of the movie is secondary to the interactions involving Hannibal and Clarice, but it’s also what separates Silence of the Lambs from the rest of the cliched mass of blood-n-guts. Sure there is some violence, but there is also a compelling story and extraordinary performances. I won’t go so far as to say the movie is better than the book, but let’s call it a tie.