100 Memorable Movie Characters…Part 1

 

“Everything I learned I learned from the movies.” Audrey Hepburn

 

 

 

About a year & a half ago…prompted by a longtime citizen of The Manoverse…we examined my 100 Memorable TV Characters. I knew back then that we’d eventually get around to talking about characters in feature films, but it was an idea that needed to percolate for awhile, and now it’s time to pull the trigger.

 

Television characters are rather easy to ponder. They come into our living rooms on a weekly basis for 5-10 years (give or take, and then we may watch reruns for decades). We get to know them. Their personalities…quirks, idiosyncrasies, & relationships…grow & evolve. They interact with a number of people in a variety of situations. Over the years they become something akin to imaginary friends, or in the case of villains & anti-heroes people we love to hate. In time such characters make an impact on our lives and become…within their fictional sphere of influence…somewhat legendary.

 

Conversely, movie characters don’t have the same opportunity to make an impression. Oh sure, we may get to know some over the course of a trilogy or series comprised of  multiple films, which undeniably provides such characters with an advantage in rankings like this, but most get one shot to make us remember them. It certainly helps if the movie itself is good and/or popular and becomes the kind of film that people watch over & over again years after its theatrical run, but even then movie characters have much less of a chance to crawl under our skin & make a lasting impression. For example, Harry Potter led eight films encompassing about 20 hours of screen time, while JR Ewing of Dallas was on television for about 357 hours over 14 years. Now I grant you, movie characters have a much bigger canvas. ..$100 million budgets, special effects, & more freedom to do really cool stuff or go to awesome locations television shows just cannot afford. But let’s face it…dozens of expensive films come & go from our local cineplex every year and disappear into the ether, rarely to be seen or spoken of again by the masses. So I submit to you that it takes a lot more than bucket loads of cash or cutting edge technology to make a movie character stand the test of time.

 

What exactly makes a character memorable?? Well, if I knew the correct answer I’d be pretty wealthy, but I suppose I do have a few opinions.

*It’s all about the writing. A well written character with snappy dialogue is a good jumping off point.

*Let’s not overlook the role of a casting director. I have no idea about the ins & outs of their daily grind, but matching what they read in a script to a performer who can bring those words to life seems like an important piece of the puzzle. Should the part be played by an unknown actor looking for their big break, or is there a beloved big screen icon who’d be perfect for the role?? I am always intrigued by stories written years later about various actors who turned down this or that movie, because it’s really interesting to imagine a different performer playing a character made famous by someone else.

*We cannot look past the costume designer. There is no shortage of fondly remembered movie characters well-known for their signature look, whether it is an accessory they always wear, a uniform they are rarely seen out of, a unique vehicle they drive, or some other visual that becomes an identifier. If kids are dressing up like a movie character at Halloween then someone somewhwere did something right.

*The value of a character’s name cannot be overstated. An Oscar winning actor might give the performance of a lifetime in a movie that makes a bazillion dollars, but if the character is named John Smith or Jennifer Jones they’re behind the proverbial 8-Ball when it comes to being remembered.

*Professional wrestlers play one of two roles…their character is either a babyface (good guy) or a heel (bad guy). Wrestlers want one thing when they perform in front of a crowd…a reaction. Whether a face is getting cheered or a heel is getting booed, as long as the crowd reacts one way or the other it’s all good. The concept is similar with film characters…whether we love them or hate them, cheer for them to overcome the odds or relish in their demise, the key is that moviegoers have some kind of reaction. Indifference is undesirable.

 

As was the case with TV characters, the fact is that my taste in movies is unique & as limited as anyone else’s, therefore universal agreement on this list is unlikely. There are allegedly great movies that I’ve never seen or didn’t particularly enjoy. You will not see Indiana Jones here because I have never watched one minute of any of those films. Y’all should know by now what kinds of movies I prefer, so don’t expect to see many action heroes or psycho killers from slasher flicks. Another thing you won’t see are characters from Christmas films because Santa Claus & George Bailey received love from me a few years ago.

 

A couple of things surprised me while working on this project. First of all, I’ve always heard actresses complain about lack of great roles for women, and I’ve got to admit that they may have a point. There are just over a dozen ladies on the list, and a few of those are part of a couple. It is likely that, as a guy, my attention leans in the direction of male roles, but I think there’s more to it than that. Secondly, as big of a sports fan as I am I couldn’t help but notice that only a few characters from treasured sports movies felt worthy of inclusion, which I never would’ve guessed at the outset.

 

I’ve decided to dive in by giving you just a small sample of what is to come, so we will begin with the first ten names to make the cut.

 

 

 

 

100   James Bond (various films)

Full disclosure: I have never actually watched any of the two dozen Bond films produced in the past sixty years. However, I feel like I have enough of a grasp of the character’s essence, and that he is a such a significant part of the pop culture zeitgeist that I cannot in good conscience leave him off the list. A British secret agent is a rather epic launchpad, and it doesn’t hurt when guys like Sean Connery, Roger Moore, & Pierce Brosnan bring him to life. Author Ian Fleming was an avid birdwatcher and borrowed the character’s name from a real life ornithologist who was an expert on birds of the Caribbean.

 

Quotes

“Bond…James Bond”

“A martini…shaken, not stirred”

 

 

99     Shooter McGavin (Happy Gilmore)

Golf villains aren’t really a thing, right?? I suppose Caddyshack and some other movies have portrayed country club types as uptight snobs, but that’s usually as far as it goes. Shooter McGavin takes things to a whole new level, albeit in a comedic way. He’s the top pro on the PGA Tour and has zero respect for oddball newcomer Happy Gilmore. A rivalry quickly develops, with Shooter buying the repossessed house of Happy’s grandmother at an auction & hiring a deranged fan to run over Happy with a car.

 

Quotes

“I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!”

 

 

 

98     Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct)

With a single crossing of her leg Sharon Stone became an overnight sensation. History would prove the actress to be little more than a flash in the pan (pun unavoidable), but coldblooded sexpot Catherine is unforgettable. There was a sequel produced fourteen years later, but it was a box office bomb.

 

Quotes

“Killing isn’t like smoking. You can quit.”

“I’d have to be pretty stupid to write a book about killing and then kill somebody the way I described it in my book. I’d be announcing myself as the killer. I’m not stupid.”

“I finished my book. Didn’t you hear me? Your character’s dead. Goodbye. What do you want…flowers? I’ll send you an autographed copy.”

 

 

 

97     Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (Apocalypse Now)

The cast of Apocalypse Now is incomparable. Marlon Brando. Martin Sheen. Dennis Hopper. Harrison Ford. Lawrence Fishburne. GD Spradlin. But in my humble opinion it is Robert Duval’s Kilgore that pops off of the screen.

 

Quotes

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like . . . victory. Someday this war’s gonna end.”

 

 

 

96     Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest)

Joan Crawford was a real life actress in mid-20th century Hollywood, but I think it is a fair assessment that nowadays she is probably best remembered for the memoir written by her adopted daughter Christina that painted Crawford as an alcoholic & an abusive mother. The book was adapted into a film in 1981, with Faye Dunaway in the lead role. I cannot pass judgment on the veracity of what Christina Crawford wrote, but if Joan Crawford was even half as crazy as what is portrayed in the movie it is difficult to imagine growing up in that household. Dunaway won a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress and made entire generations of people unable to look at wire hangers the same way ever again.

 

Quotes

“NO… WIRE… HANGERS! What’s wire hangers doing in this closet when I told you NO WIRE HANGERS, EVER?! I work and work ’til I’m half-dead, and I hear people say, ‘She’s getting old.’ And what do I get? A daughter… who cares as much about the beautiful dresses I give her as she cares about me! WHAT’S WIRE HANGERS DOING IN THIS CLOSET?! ANSWER ME! I buy you beautiful dresses, and you treat them like they were some dishrag! You do! $300 dress on a wire hanger?”

 

 

95     Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction)

Well, there may not be enough great roles for women in Hollywood, but as long as the “crazy chick” trope is alive & well they’ll have a few solid opportunities. Alex is the nutjob that Michael Douglas has sex with in an elevator, who then becomes obsessed with him & stalks his family. Ever hear the term “bunny cooker”?? It originated with Fatal Attraction & Alex Forrest.

 

Quotes

“We were attracted to each other at the party…that was obvious. You’re on your own for the night…that’s also obvious. We’re two adults.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan!”

 

 

94     Napoleon Dynamite (Napoleon Dynamite)

Perhaps I’m too old, or maybe just obtuse, but I don’t really get this movie. Having said that, the titular character as portrayed by Jon Heder is so…unique…that he does make me chuckle, and he has a few quotable scenes that have withstood the relentless march of time.

 

Quotes

“Sorry I’m late. I just got done taming a wild honeymoon stallion for you guys.”

” I caught you a delicious bass.”

“Pedro offers you his protection.”

 

 

93     The Hanson Brothers (Slapshot)

Paul Newman may be the star of Slapshot, but three dimwitted hockey goons steal the show. The plot centers around a minor league team on the verge of folding, so an idea is hatched to put all that winning & losing stuff aside and focus on entertaining the crowd with violence. Enter the fierce trio with shoulder length hair & horn-rimmed glasses. Their “look” contrasted with the aggression they display on the ice and their childish demeanor off the ice is an amusing blend, and I think it helps that the young men portraying the characters were real hockey players, and more importantly not professional actors.

 

Quotes

“Hey ya think they show Speed Racer here?”

 

 

 

92     Max Goldman & John Gustafson (Grumpy/Grumpier Old Men)

Walter Matthau & Jack Lemmon famously brought Neil Simon’s Odd Couple duo of Oscar Madison & Felix Unger to the big screen in 1968, but a quarter century later they reunited as two old codgers in the frozen tundra of Minnesota who have been frienemies since childhood. Max & John insult each other, play ultimately benign pranks, & have similar taste in women. It’s delightful family fun, and one can’t help but like these guys.

 

Quotes

“Hypothermia’s a bitch. It ain’t quick like a stroke.” (Max)

“Morning, dickhead.” (Max)   “Hello, moron.” (John)

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

“I am the gangster of love” (Max) “Gangster, huh? So tell me, was it more of a hold up than a stick up?” (John)

 

 

 

91     Peter Gibbons & Bill Lumbergh (Office Space)

A shoutout to my former colleague Brad, who introduced me to Office Space a year or two after its fairly uneventful & mostly unprofitable theatrical release. The movie is populated with colorful characters, but two stand out. Anyone who has ever had a mundane, soul sucking, white collar job can identify with Peter, a guy who is drowning in misery until a session with a hypnotist goes awry, leaving him with the newly tranquil philosophy “it’s not that I’m lazy…it’s that I just don’t care”. Lumbergh is how many people perceive their boss…mostly oblivious, slightly dense, & completely unappreciative, focused solely on forcing underpaid employees to sacrifice their lives for the company. Obviously the movie is satire…most employees aren’t quite as despondent as Peter, and most supervisors aren’t a total dufus like Lumbergh. However, I believe that a big reason that Office Space found new life on home video and became a “cult classic” is that there are strains of truth running thru the film, and we see a bit of our own professional lives reflected in such a way that we get a good laugh out of it.

 

Quotes

“Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements!” (Peter)

“Ah, ah, I almost forgot… I’m also going to need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too. We, uhhh, lost some people this week and we sorta need to play catch-up. Mmmmmkay? Thaaaaaanks.” (Lumbergh)

“I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be.” (Peter)

“If you could do that, that would be great.” (Lumbergh)

“I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.” (Peter)

“I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.” (Peter)

“Oooo…yeahhhh, ummm…I’m gonna have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you there. Yeah, uh, he’s been real flaky lately, and I’m just not sure that he’s the caliber person that we would want for upper management. He’s also been having some problems with his TPS reports.” (Lumbergh)

“That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.” (Peter)

 

 

 

That’s all you get for now!! We’ll be back soon with the next installment of our countdown.

90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 2

As we wrap up Round 2 of 90’s Film Frenzy let me take this opportunity to hearken back to my childhood in the 70’s & 80’s and say a melancholy Happy Trails to legendary actor Burt Reynolds. For a brief time when I was about ten years old Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world. At the time I was really into movies like Smokey & The Bandit, Hooper, The Cannonball Run, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  Actually, I suppose I still prefer those kinds of films. Of course Reynolds had meatier roles in stuff like Deliverance and The Longest Yard, and in later years he had sporadic success with Boogie Nights and…well…that was pretty much it. The 21st century hadn’t been particularly kind to him. In the late 80’s he often appeared on a game show that he produced called Win, Lose, or Draw, and in the early 90’s he starred with Marilu Henner, Hal Holbrook, Michael Jeter, Charles Durning, & the sublime Ossie Davis in a delightful yet underrated sitcom called Evening Shade. Throughout the decades Burt Reynolds remained in the pop culture consciousness and made frequent appearances on various chat shows. Even the bad movies he was in…like Striptease and the big screen adaptation of The Dukes of Hazzard…gained some degree of credibility because he was part of the cast. Unlike so many of today’s movie stars Burt Reynolds seemed to simply embrace being a famous actor and didn’t fancy himself an activist or an arbiter of morality for the masses. Oh sure, he went thru a very public & quite bitter divorce from WKRP in Cincinnati actress Loni Anderson in the early 90’s, but those things happen. Nobody’s perfect, right?? At the end of the day I assume that most actors would prefer their legacy to be the work that they did, and in that regard it is undeniable that Burt Reynolds provided us with more than his fair share of treasured entertainment.

If you’d like to go back and check out second round action in the Fly, Phat, & Dope divisions please follow the links and do so at your leisure.

 

 

 

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption

 

Release:    9/23/94

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins

Directed By:        Frank Darabont (The Green Mile)

 

vs.

 

Doc Hollywood

 

Quotes

Listen doctor, I’ve got a boy here in cardiac crisis. You can’t treat that with Coca-Cola or Bisquick. We’re gonna have to use real medicine this time.

Southern women…well, they require a substantial commitment. You might have to stay here six months.

I suspect your version of romance is whatever will separate me from my panties.

 

Odds & Ends

The movie was filmed in Micanopy, FL, a small town of 650 people just south of Gainesville.

The makers of the Disney/Pixar film Cars have been accused of plagiarizing its plot from Doc Hollywood.

The city thru which Michael J. Fox is driving in the opening credits is Richmond, VA.

_______________________

The Shawshank Redemption is based on a 1982 Stephen King novella and might be the finest adaptation of his work to film. In the late 1940’s banker Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of the double murder of his wife & her lover. He is sentenced to life in prison and there befriends Red, an older & wiser convict who is able to procure items from the outside for his fellow inmates. Andy spends nearly three decades plotting his escape, battling a corrupt warden and encountering other difficulties along the way. But eventually he does break out of prison in the most ingenious way. Not long after that Red is paroled and makes his way to Mexico to reunite with his friend. The movie was 51st at the box office, behind such greatness as Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now, Major League 2, & Richie Rich starring MacCauley Culkin. In retrospect that is a really poor reflection on the collective taste of the viewing public. The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Freeman), but didn’t win any of them (Forrest Gump and Tom Hanks won their respective categories). It holds a stellar 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The NY Daily News called it “an engagingly simple, good-hearted film, with just enough darkness around the edges to give contrast and relief to its glowingly benign view of human nature”, and the NY Times said it is “a slow, gentle story of camaraderie and growth, with an ending that abruptly finds poetic justice in what has come before”. Gene Siskel thought it was “simply marvelous entertainment”, while his cohort Roger Ebert opined that it is “a movie about time, patience and loyalty…not sexy qualities perhaps, but they grow on you during the subterranean progress of this story”. Doc Hollywood got past Liar Liar in Round 1 because I like Michael J. Fox more than Jim Carrey, and Julie Warner emerging naked out of a lake is just the cherry on top. In reading reviews of the film one will run across words like predictable, breezy, formulaic, nice, charming, loveable, & heartwarming, which unintentionally combine to damn it with faint praise. As anyone who has gone thru this process with me knows, Doc Hollywood is precisely the sort of mildly entertaining movie that is in my wheelhouse. It is comfort food cinema that doesn’t break new ground, push any envelopes, or try to convey a message. Fox was never a ultra-cool heartthrob on the level of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Matthew McConaughey, or Johnny Depp, but before Parkinson’s derailed his life & career he had a likeable, boyish charm with just enough of an edge to keep things interesting. He is perfectly cast in this movie, and the rest of the ensemble compliments him well.

The Verdict:       The Shawshank Redemption. Prison movies aren’t normally my thing, but Shawshank isn’t gratuitously violent or depressing, and the performances by Freeman & Robbins are outstanding. It isn’t the kind of lighthearted fare I typically enjoy in vegg mode, but there is something about it compelling enough to have received numerous repeat viewings over the years. Doc Hollywood is a delightful fish-out-of-water story and a solid rom-com, but the competition is just too good.

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

 

Mrs. Doubtfire

 

Release:    11/24/93

Starring:     Robin Williams, Sally Field

Directed By:        Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Only the Lonely, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone)

 

vs.

 

That Thing You Do

 

Quotes

Don’t worry…no one’s going to prison, son. It’s a very common tale.

When was the last time you were decently kissed? I mean, truly, truly, good and kissed?

 

Odds & Ends

Tom Hanks was initially opposed to hiring Tom Everett Scott because of Scott’s strong resemblance to a younger Hanks. He was finally convinced by his wife, Rita Wilson, who thought Scott was cute. It was his film debut.

The four actors playing The Wonders rehearsed as a band for eight weeks to get the feel of performing, but most of their performances in the film were dubbed by other musicians.

The bass player played by Ethan Embry is never explicitly named. All references to him in the film are as, “the bass player”, and in the credits he is listed as “T.B. Player”.

Adam Schlesinger, the bassist of Fountains of Wayne, penned the title song in response to a contest being held by the studio.

The guys are shown drinking Koehler Beer, which was a real brand produced by the Erie Brewing Company on State Street in Erie, PA.

The state fair entertainment circuit of the mid-60s actually existed until the mid-80s. Fair managers would work together on routing and negotiate lowered performers’ fees as a group.

While trying to decide on a name for the band, the names glimpsed in Jimmy’s notebook are: The Dollars, The Lords of Erie, The Pistunes, The Thorns, The Mozarts, The Echoes, The Ticks, The Didoctics, and The Flannels.

____________________

 

In 1993 Robin Williams was several years past career defining roles in Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society, both of which had gotten him Oscar nominations. He had done a couple of good movies…Awakenings in 1990 and Aladdin in 1992…but had also been in films like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Cadillac Man, Shakes the Clown, & Hook that hadn’t really…made an impact. But then came this little gem, a dramedy about a divorced father who goes to the extreme of dressing as an elderly British nanny to spend time with his three children. It was the second highest grossing film of the year, behind only Jurassic Park, and holds a solid 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety called it “overly sappy in places and probably 20 minutes too long”, but also said that it is “a slick surface for Williams’ shtick, within a story possessing broad family appeal”. Newsweek said that “I’ve rarely laughed so much at a movie I generally disliked”, which is an odd comment to say the least. Ebert was underwhelmed, opining that “the film is not as amusing as the premise”. Entertainment Weekly thought that “Williams outclasses the movie”, which seems to be the general consensus…Williams is brilliant, but the movie itself is just okay. That Thing You Do got past Backdraft in Round 1 in a battle of opposites…likeable dramedy versus an effects laden action drama. What has always fascinated me about That Thing You Do is its tone. We all know that one hit wonders are a real thing. We know that bands break up all the time. Egos. Jealousy. Greed. Pride. Differing visions and a mix of personalities. There are dozens of things that can contribute to a group’s implosion. This movie could have easily become a thoughtful, profound, sober examination of such situations, and I have no doubt that all involved would have pulled it off. But instead Hanks, in his role as screenwriter & director, decided to keep things cheerful & fun, and I think it works.

The Verdict:       Mrs. Doubtfire. Another Hanks vs. Williams contest, and this time Williams comes out on top. I actually think That Thing You Do might have benefitted from more onscreen time for Hanks, but instead he has a supporting role and the focus is on the band. I love the movie’s theme song, and if The Oneders were a real pop/rock group I’d probably like their music a lot. Having said that, Mrs. Doubtfire is just too good to ignore. I understand the perspective of the critics’…Williams’ performance stands out more than the movie as a whole. I don’t disagree. But for now that’s more than enough.

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

 

Scent of a Woman

 

Release:    12/23/92

Starring:     Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell

Directed By:        Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop, Meet Joe Black, Gigli)

 

vs.

 

The Blair Witch Project

 

Quotes

 

I just want to apologize to Josh’s mom, and Mike’s mom, and my mom. I am so sorry! Because it was my fault. I was the one who brought them here. I was the one that said “keep going south”. I was the one who said that we were not lost. It was my fault, because it was my project. Everything had to be my way. And this is where we’ve ended up and it’s all because of me that we’re here now – hungry, cold, and hunted.

Okay, here’s your motivation. You’re lost, you’re angry in the woods, and no one is here to help you. There’s a witch, and she keeps leaving shit outside your door. There’s no one here to help you! She left little trinkets, you took one of them, she ran after us. There’s no one here to help you! We walked for 15 hours today, we ended up in the same place! There’s no one here to help you, that’s your motivation! That’s your motivation!

 

Odds & Ends

This film was in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Top Budget: Box Office Ratio” (for a mainstream feature film). The film cost $60,000 to make and made back $248 million, a ratio of $1 spent for every $10,931 made.

Heather Donahue’s mother received sympathy cards from people who believed that her daughter was actually dead or missing.

To promote discord between actors the directors deliberately gave them less food each day of shooting.

In a scene where the main actors are sleeping in a tent at night, the tent suddenly shakes violently and they all get scared. This was unscripted and the director shook the tent. The actors actually were scared.

One of the video cameras used by the actors was bought at Circuit City. After filming was completed, the producers returned the camera for a refund, making their budget money go even further.

Numerous fans were so convinced of the Blair Witch’s existence that they flocked to Maryland in hopes of discovering the legend.

The actors were requested to interview the townspeople, who often, unbeknownst to the actors, were planted by the directors. As a result, the expressions on the actors’ faces were unrehearsed.

The Blair Witch was supposed to be seen in the movie. As the characters were running out of their tent, Heather yells, “Oh my God, what the f*** is that? What the f*** is that?”, the cameraman was supposed to pan to the left where the audience would briefly see a woman wearing a white gown in the distance. But the cameraman forgot to pan to the left and the scene was not reshot.

Before the film was released, the three main actors were listed as “missing, presumed dead” on IMDB.

The 1999-2000 hunting season suffered badly due to this film. The movie was so popular that fans all over the country were hiking into the wilderness to shoot their own Blair Witch-style documentaries. As a result, they kept most of the wildlife scared away from hunting areas.

The “F” is used word 154 times.

One of the first theatrical features to make use of a large-scale viral marketing, which claimed that the three main characters had really gone on a trip to shoot a documentary and were never found again, save for their video camera and the footage they shot. A website was posted on the Internet one year prior to the release to set up the premise of the documentary, complete with detailed reports of the search, the recovery of the trio’s footage within an old cabin, reactions from their families, and expert opinions. The three actors were instructed to refrain from making public appearances. The myth wasn’t debunked until after the movie’s premiere.

Held the record for the highest-grossing independent movie of all time until October 2002, when it was surpassed by My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

_________________________

 

Speaking of great performances that are more memorable than the movie itself…

With all due respect to Chris O’Donnell, Al Pacino almost singlehandedly carries Scent of a Woman, in which he portrays a retired blind Army Ranger who persuades his young caregiver to accompany him on one last adventure before he kills himself. Thankfully it’s not as depressing as it sounds. Lt. Col. Frank Slade is a cynical alcoholic who lives with his niece & her family in New Hampshire. Charlie Simms is a smart but financially challenged student at a nearby prep school. Charlie needs to make some money to afford a trip home to Oregon for Christmas, while Col. Slade’s family is headed out of town for Thanksgiving and isn’t taking him with them. Charlie accepts a job essentially babysitting Col. Slade for a few days, but he gets much more than he bargained for. There is a weak subplot about Charlie possibly getting in trouble over some prank that he witnessed at school, but make no mistake…Scent of a Woman is all about Col. Slade and Pacino’s scene chewing performance. In the hands of any other actor Col. Slade might simply be a bombastic, pitiful, angry windbag, but instead there is nuance & character development. The movie received multiple Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (which it lost to Unforgiven), Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, but the one it took home was Pacino’s first Oscar for Best Actor. He had been nominated on seven previous occasions (for performances in The Godfather & The Godfather Part II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, And Justice For All, Dick Tracy, and Glengarry Glen Ross). Scent of a Woman was the 19th highest grossing film of 1992 and holds an 88% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert thought the movie was a bit formulaic & predictable, but also said that “rarely have we been taken there with so much intelligence and skill”. The Washington Post complimented “a great performance from Pacino” and the “mostly wonderful, edgy script”. The NY Times praised the filmmakers for “turning a relatively contrived situation into a terrific showcase for Mr. Pacino’s talents”. There is a considerable amount of reproach for the film’s 2 ½ hour length, but I don’t mind that a bit if the story is really good. Blair Witch got past A Time to Kill in Round 1 because I feel like the book is better than the movie, and because Blair Witch is such a unique film, both the movie itself and the promotional campaign that made it a surprise hit. So much of what is commonplace today…viral marketing, “reality” entertainment, documentary style horror films…was unique & avant-garde two decades ago. I’m not a horror movie guy, but even I know that The Blair Witch Project helped revolutionize what had become a stale genre. Knowing what we know now and with social media & The Internet being such a big part of daily life, it is difficult to imagine anyone being able to pull off what the powers-that-be did with this film. A sequel was produced just a year later, and while it turned a tidy profit it didn’t come close to having the impact on pop culture as the original.

The Verdict:       Scent of a Woman. Simply put, I like Pacino a lot more than I like horror movies. I watched Blair Witch once when it first came out on home video, but it’s seldom shown on TV and chances are I’d keep right on channel surfing if it was on somewhere. Conversely, Pacino is a magnet that draws one into Scent of a Woman, and it would be rare if I didn’t stop and watch when the opportunity arose.

 

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

The Lion King

 

Release:    6/15/94

Starring:              Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Directed By:            Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little)

 

vs.

 

Lethal Weapon 4

 

Quotes

Oh, I’m a perp? Oh, you see a young brother in the back of a police car, automatically I’m a perp?! Look at my suit! Look at my tie! What do I look like, a fuckin’ Crip’s accountant?! Look at this badge, bitch! Check out the gun!

Your baby is having my baby!

You have the right to remain silent, so shut the fuck up! Okay!? You have the right to an attorney! If you can’t afford an attorney, we’ll provide you with the dumbest fuckin’ lawyer on Earth! But if you get Johnnie Cochran, I’ll kill ya!

Stop turning everything around! You’re so damn touchy! These guys’ll tell ya, we work together, we got a history together! Hey, maybe we’ll work together someday! I’m the bomb, they’ll tell ya, I’m great!

 

Odds & Ends

Not only was this Jet Li’s first American-produced movie, it was also the first time he’d ever played a villain (Jackie Chan turned it down the role because he chooses never to play the villain in a movie). Director Richard Donner had to ask Li to slow down during action sequences because he was moving faster than the camera shutter speed and it wasn’t registering on film.

Riggs’ trailer is in the same place that Jim Rockford’s trailer was during the majority of The Rockford Files’ run.

Murtaugh’s boat is named Code 7, which is the LAPD radio code for a lunch break.

___________________________

 

Okay, confession time. While writing this project (as well as previous things like 80’s Movie Mania and Merry Movie Mayhem) I oftentimes rely on my memory and prior viewings of a movie when opining. Most of the time this hasn’t been an issue because chances are good that I have watched the film fairly recently. After all, repeat viewings are a major element for me, right?? On the rare occasions that my recall is a bit fuzzy it usually isn’t an issue to stream a movie since I’m a night owl, late night TV has lost its luster for me, and my work schedule isn’t too oppressive. However, I have not watched The Lion King in several years and it is not available to rent anywhere on my Roku. Since I am unwilling to pay $15 to buy it I am left with a conundrum. I know that Disney can be a bit weird about such matters, occasionally putting a film in their vault and making it generally unavailable to the public for a number of years. I also realize that they will be launching their own streaming service in 2019 and that a “3D virtual reality” remake of The Lion King directed by Jon Favreau will hit theaters next summer. So, despite its impressive pedigree I have to strike down The Lion King from this competition due to its…inaccessibility. Way to go Disney.

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 4. I suppose winning by default is still winning, right??

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

 

Deep Impact

 

Release:    5/8/98

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni

Directed By:        Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker)

 

vs.

 

October Sky

 

Quotes

My life’s work is teaching. And I believed that if you boys won that science fair, got scholarships, went off and did something great with your lives, somehow my life would have counted for something. You know what? Sometimes you really can’t listen to what anybody else says. You just gotta listen inside. You’re not supposed to end up in those mines. You know why? ‘Cause I think you made other plans. I want you to know something. I’m proud of you.

If I win at Indianapolis, maybe I can go to college, maybe even get a job at Cape Canaveral! There’s nothing here for me! The town is dying, even the mine is dying. Everybody knows that but you!

Homer once said you love the mine more than your own family. I stuck up for you because I didn’t want to believe it. Homer has gotten a lot of help from the people in this town. They’ve helped him build his rockets. They’ve watched him fly ’em. But not you, John. You never showed up, not even once. I’m not asking you to believe in it, but he’s your son, for God’s sake!

 

Odds & Ends

The location of the slag dump where the Rocket Boys actually tested their rockets still exists. It is now a large grassy field. It is located in the actual town of Coalwood, WV. The town of Coalwood celebrated the Rocket Boys with the October Sky Festival, but by 2012 the town had lost so many residents that the event was moved to Beckley, WV due to the lack of able-bodied volunteers remaining in Coalwood.

The boys rarely tested a single rocket per day. They often manufactured several rockets and tested them in sequence. The rocket that hit Homer’s father’s office during their early testing, when they were launching rockets near the mine, was actually the last rocket of several they launched that day.

Homer H. Hickam Jr. helped design and build the cannon that is used during the Virginia Tech Hokie football games.

Much of the filming took place in Petros, TN, which is a tiny little town just outside of Oak Ridge, TN. Oak Ridge is known as The Secret City because it was built specifically to help develop nuclear weaponry during WWII. It is home to the Y-12 nuclear plant, still active today.

 

____________________

You will recall that in 1998 two movies about an asteroid heading toward Earth were in theaters just months apart from one another. Armageddon made it to the second round in the Phat Division before being eliminated, but I’ve always thought Deep Impact is a better film. There are a few subplots, including a young MSNBC reporter who stumbles upon the story about the asteroid and who must repair relationships with her estranged parents before the world ends. As with Armageddon there is a crew sent up in a space shuttle in an effort to destroy the asteroid, but this crew is far different. The conflicts and storylines are much more cerebral & emotional, and the action toned down a bit, though there are still plenty of explosions and lots of destruction. The cast isn’t nearly as cool as that other movie, but whenever you have Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States that’s pretty awesome, and young star Elijah Wood would go on just a few years later to portray Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Deep Impact was the 8th highest grossing film of 1998 but has a subpar 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. People Magazine opined that it is “neither deep nor impactful”, but said that it “goes well with popcorn”. The Washington Post called it a “lightweight melodrama” that presents “lackluster imitations of real life”. Variety thought it was “spectacular enough in its cataclysmic scenes of the planet being devastated by an unstoppable fireball”, but “far from thrilling in the down time spent with a largely dull assortment of troubled human beings”. October Sky upset Oscar nominated Four Weddings & a Funeral in Round 1 because that’s how I roll. I am probably a little bit biased toward movies about and/or filmed in West Virginia. We tend not to have as many famous faces or outright heroes that hail from our humble state, so we warmly embrace the handful of folks that have made us proud. Homer Hickam surely deserves that kind of respect, and his story is effectively told. Chris Cooper might be one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, and his portrayal of Hickam’s father really rings true to the kind of quiet pride, dogged work ethic, & unspoken melancholy that I’ve witnessed in so many Appalachian men.

The Verdict:       Deep Impact. This is a tough call. Despite what most of the critics say I really like Deep Impact. The casting director may have dropped the ball (with the aforementioned Freeman as a notable exception obviously), but I have to give credit to a screenplay that tries to focus on the humanity as much as the special effects. Both of these films are kind of a downer (despite happy endings), but I think Deep Impact is just more entertaining.

 

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

Wayne’s World

 

Release:    2/14/92

Starring:     Mike Myers, Dana Carvey

Directed By:        Penelope Spheeris (Black Sheep)

 

vs.

 

The Big Lebowski

 

Quotes

Look, let me explain something to you. I’m not Mr. Lebowski. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m The Dude. So that’s what you call me. That, or His Dudeness … Duder … or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. Alotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber.

Well, sir, it’s this rug I had. It really tied the room together.

Saturday, Donny, is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t drive a car, I don’t ride in a car, I don’t handle money, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as shit don’t roll!

Nihilists! I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Believe me. There are ways, Dude…you don’t wanna know about it, believe me. Hell, I can get you a toe by 3:00 this afternoon, with nail polish.

The Dude abides.

Lady, I got buddies who died face-down in the muck so that you & I could enjoy this family restaurant!

Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!

The Chinaman is not the issue here, Dude! I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand! Also, Dude, “Chinaman” is not the preferred nomenclature. “Asian-American,” please.

Smokey, this is not ‘Nam. This is bowling. There are rules!

Were you listening to The Dude’s story, Donny?

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

 

Odds & Ends

In an early draft of the script, The Dude’s source of income was revealed. He was an heir to the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, which would have also made him Hungarian in turn. It was Joel Coen’s idea to drop this plot point.

Jeff Bridges met with the Coen Brothers after reading the script and asked them “Did you guys hang out with me in high school?” referring to The Dude’s easygoing surfer persona.

The Dude tells Maude he was a roadie for Metallica on their (fictional) “Speed of Sound” tour and refers to the band members as a “bunch of assholes”. Metallica themselves were flattered to be referred to in a Coen Brothers movie, with guitarist Kirk Hammett once noting in an interview that they’d tried to think of a way to incorporate that scene into their live shows.

The Dude’s line, “The Dude abides”, is a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:4: “one generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the Earth abides forever.” It is a reference to how the Dude, much like the Earth, can weather change and chaos around him, but still remain the same.

Glenn Frey was reportedly so dismayed about The Dude’s hatred of The Eagles in the movie that he once angrily confronted Jeff Bridges when they met at a party.

White Russian: two parts vodka, one part Kahlúa, and one part cream. Served with ice in a low ball glass.

The “F” word or a variation of it is used 292 times. The word “dude” is used 160 times.

The man shown bowling in the picture on The Dude’s wall is President Richard Nixon. Nixon was an avid bowler, and the photo is a well-publicized shot of Nixon in the bowling alley underneath the White House.

 

________________

Films based on Saturday Night Live characters & sketches don’t have the best track record…to say the least. The Blues Brothers (winners of 80’s Movie Mania) is the gold standard, but then you have stuff like Coneheads, A Night at the Roxbury, & The Ladies’ Man that are total bombs. Turning a ten minute skit featuring only a character or two or three, one set, & a narrowly focused scenario into a two hour big screen motion picture with an actual plot and everything that goes with it can’t be easy, and the old saying that “a little goes a long way” oftentimes holds true. Having said that, Wayne’s World…unlike so many of its counterparts…actually does achieve success on a Blues Brothers level. We know from SNL that Wayne Campbell & Garth Algar are young adults who host a public access TV show filmed in the basement of Wayne’s parents’ house in Aurora, IL. Wayne & Garth are total nerds trying desperately to be cool, and the movie finds them selling their show to a production company headed by a sleazeball portrayed by Rob Lowe. Wayne also falls for a hot female singer and has an on again/off again relationship with her. The ending is kind of odd, but the movie is solidly entertaining, and it finished 1992 as the 8th highest grossing film, sandwiched between The Bodyguard & Basic Instinct (schhhwiinngg!!). Rotten Tomatoes gives Wayne’s World a rating of 86%, with Empire Magazine calling it “a classic comedy of its time”, Entertainment Weekly complimenting its “pleasing daftness”, and Ebert saying that it “works on its intended level and then sneaks in excursions to some other levels, too”. The Big Lebowski easily got past Ten Things I Hate About You in Round 1 and has a solid 82% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Since it is the quintessential cult film I thought it might be fun to venture off the beaten path and look at some audience reviews instead of what the critics had to say. “Eugene” says that it’s “a simple story that requires no over-analyzing to delve into its narrative and concept” and calls it an “effective, humorous and overall a wacky classic”. “Julie”  observes that The Dude’s “sole purpose in life is to laze around in his room smoking pot or go bowling with his strange friends” and calls the movie “a bizarre, offbeat tale of mistaken identity & revenge”. “Kevin” credits Bridges for “the most notable role in his career” and thinks Goodman is hilarious, but feels like Buscemi is “was kind of just there” and Julianne Moore in a small role “has been much better in almost everything else”. “Demesa” says that The Big Lebowski “will make any bad day go away…the crafty, nonsensical-ness of the plot is perfect and the cinematography is beautiful”, while “Aaron” praises it for being “without a doubt one of the most clever and funniest movies that I’ve ever watched in my life”.

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. This is a tough call because I do feel like Wayne’s World is a great 90’s snapshot and really captures the essence of an era. However, for those of us that still slip in the occasional “We’re not worthy!!”, “Not!”, “Party on!”, or “Are you mental?” into casual conversation I think we owe that space carved out in the pop culture retention area of our brain to the SNL sketches as much as or more than the movie. Conversely, The Big Lebowski is like that acquaintance we had in grade school but barely paid attention to, then one day they become our best friend, and eventually we fall madly in love & realize our soulmate has been standing right in front of us for decades. From barely being a blip on the cinematic radar two decades ago it has steadily grown into something that multiple generations embrace & enjoy repeatedly.

 

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

Tommy Boy

 

Release:    3/31/95

Starring:     Chris Farley, David Spade

Directed By:        Peter Segal (Anger Management, 50 First Dates)

 

vs.

 

Glengarry Glen Ross

 

Quotes

 

You ever take a dump that made you feel you’d just slept for twelve hours?

Put that coffee down! Coffee’s for closers only. I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Mitch and Murray. And I’m here on a mission of mercy.

All of you’ve got just one week to regain your jobs starting with tonight. Starting with tonight’s sit. Oh…have I got your attention now? Good. ‘Cause we’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture? You laughing now?

You drove a Hyundai to get here. I drove an $80 thousand BMW. That’s my name!

Only one thing counts in this life: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me, you fucking faggots? A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always. Be. Closing.

A guy don’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy. They’re sitting out there waiting to give you their money. Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it? What’s the problem, pal?

That watch costs more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much did you make? You see, pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here – close! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don’t like it, leave. I can go out there tonight with the materials you’ve got and make myself $15,000. Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Go and do likewise. Get mad you son of a bitches! You want to know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes brass balls to sell real estate. Go and do likewise, gents. Money’s out there. You pick it up, it’s yours. You don’t, I got no sympathy for you. You wanna go out on those sits tonight and close…CLOSE. It’s yours. If not, you’re gonna be shining my shoes. And you know what you’ll be saying – a bunch of losers sittin’ around in a bar. ‘Oh yeah. I used to be a salesman. It’s a tough racket.’ These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. They’re for closers. I’d wish you good luck but you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you got it. And to answer your question, pal, why am I here? I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to. They asked me for a favor. I said the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass, because a loser is a loser.

You can’t think on your feet, you oughta keep your mouth closed.

I subscribe to the law of contrary public opinion. If everyone thinks one thing, then I say bet the other way.

If you tell me where the leads are, I won’t turn you in. If you don’t, I am going to tell the cop you stole them. Mitch and Murray will see that you go to jail. Believe me, they will. Now, what did you do with the leads? I’m walking in that door. You have five seconds to tell me, or you are going to jail.

When you die you’re going to regret the things you don’t do. You think you’re queer? I’m going to tell you something: we’re all queer. You think you’re a thief? So what? You get befuddled by a middle-class morality? Shut it out. You cheat on your wife? You did it, live with it. There’s an absolute morality? Maybe. And then what? If you think there is, go ahead, be that thing. Bad people go to hell? I don’t think so. If you think that, act that way. A hell exists on earth? Yes. I won’t live in it. That’s me.

So I wasn’t cut out to be a thief. I was cut out to be a salesman. And now I’m back.

 

Odds & Ends

The single largest cost of production was for the rain effects throughout the first half of the film.

Jack Lemmon said the cast was the greatest acting ensemble he had ever been part of.

David Mamet’s screenplay considerably expanded his script for the play, providing more context for the pressure placed on the salesmen. Notably, Alec Baldwin’s introductory speech was added as well as Jack Lemmon’s phone calls to clients and the hospital, plus his sales call to the man with the fishing rod. Many consider the screenplay to be superior to the text for his Pultizer-winning stage play. The film version is often transcribed to stage now.

The “F” word & its derivatives are uttered 138 times.

The title refers to Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms, two properties mentioned in the movie.

David Mamet based his original play on his own experience working in a real estate office in the 1970s when he was a struggling playwright. He was the office manager who gave out sales leads and handled the paperwork.

____________________

 

Tommy Boy isn’t a Saturday Night Live film per se, but it may as well be since its two stars…Farley & Spade…were two of the biggest contributors to that television show’s success in the early 90’s. Farley was ostensibly fired from SNL (along with Adam Sandler) in 1995, while Spade stuck around for one more season and was still appearing on TV when this movie premiered. Tommy Callahan is the inept, socially awkward, accident prone son of Big Tom, the owner of an auto parts company in Ohio. When Big Tom dies unexpectedly at his wedding reception it’s up to Tommy and his buddy Richard to save the company from being sold by the new stepmother & stepbrother, who aren’t what they seem. Tommy Boy is a classic buddy/road film and is the perfect showcase for Farley’s distinctive frenetic humor balanced with Spade’s droll wit.  It was the 54th highest grossing film of 1995, behind stalwarts like Judge Dredd, Man of the House, & The Brady Bunch Movie, and holds a feeble 43% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert called it “an assembly of cliches and obligatory scenes from dozens of other movies”. The Washington Post calculated that “as an SNL sketch it would have been a tour de force” but didn’t like the movie. Entertainment Weekly called Farley “a mastodon in a china shop” and said the movie “by any reasonable standard…is stupid, disreputable junk” and left the reviewer “wishing I’d never have to see anything quite like it again”. In Round 1 Glengarry Glen Ross easily beat Bruce Willis’ Striking Distance, a movie I like…but not THAT much. My observation about Glengarry Glen Ross was that “the plot is secondary to the performances”, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. It isn’t unheard of for a great performance to carry an otherwise average story to new heights. That’s why these actors get paid the big bucks, and a few of them actually deserve it. To have half a dozen bona fide legends at the top of their game in the same movie is almost unheard of, and I can’t imagine that any of those guys did this project for the money. Having said all that, here is the issue. When one watches Glengarry Glen Ross are you watching the movie…or are you watching Pacino, Baldwin, Spacey, Harris, Lemmon, & Arkin?? If someone asked you the plot of the film or the names of any of the characters would you have the right answers?? Most people can probably quote the biggest part of Baldwin’s cameo at the beginning, but can you remember what happens afterward?? I feel like these are legitimate questions and I’m not sure the answer reflects well on the film.

 

The Verdict:       Tommy Boy. I do my best not to be repetitive, but once again the scenario that runs thru my mind is me laying around on a lazy, rainy day vegging out and watching movies. Which of these films would I watch?? I think there is a distinct possibility that I would begin watching Glengarry Glen Ross with the best of intentions, but after Baldwin’s memorable scene I might be inclined to change the channel to Tommy Boy, and once I was there I don’t think I’d switch back. Some might see that as a damning indictment of my taste in movies, and they might be right, but I am not a film critic. I’m not trying to impress anybody with my first-rate intellect. I’m just a guy who enjoys watching movies, laughing, & having a good time. Your mileage may vary and that’s okay.

 

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

The Truman Show

 

Release:    6/5/98

Starring:     Jim Carrey, Ed Harris

Directed By:        Peter Weir (Witness, Master & Commander)

 

vs.

 

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 

Release:    12/6/91

Starring:              William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols

Directed By:        Nicholas Meyer (The Day After)

 

vs.

 

Ghost

 

Quotes

He’s stuck, that’s what it is. He’s in between worlds. You know it happens sometimes that the spirit gets yanked out so fast that the essence still feels it has work to do here.

It’s all in your mind. The problem with you is that you still think you’re real. You think you’re wearing those clothes? You think you’re crouched on that floor? Bullshit! You ain’t got a body no more, son!

Listen, damn it. You are going to help me. There’s a woman. Her name is Molly Jensen and she’s in terrible danger. The man who killed me broke into our apartment and he’s gonna go back. So you’ve gotta warn her.

I know you don’t think I’m giving this $4 million to a bunch of nuns!

 

Odds & Ends

The role of Oda Mae Brown was not written with Whoopi Goldberg in mind, but Patrick Swayze…an admirer of hers…convinced the producers that she would be right for the part.

The film’s premise is expanded from an old urban legend dealing with a spirit of a recently deceased trying to warn their loved one of an imminent danger.

Patrick Swayze said that the pottery scene was the sexiest thing he had ever done on film.

Molly tells Sam that he “leads a charmed life”. This is a line from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth also claims to lead a charmed life, meaning he cannot be killed. Immediately after making this claim, however, he is killed. Sam is killed after seeing a production of Macbeth.

Patrick Swayze and Vincent Schiavelli, who played the subway ghost, both died of cancer at the age of 57.

__________________________

 

Our final triple threat match pits a beloved sci-fi franchise against two singular dramedies.  The Truman Show was Jim Carrey’s attempt at proving he could actually be a great actor after being known mostly as a clown in movies like Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb & Dumber, and Liar Liar. He mostly plays it straight as Truman Burbank, a thirty year old man who has unwittingly been the star of his own television show for his entire life. Everything in his “world” is phony…the quaint little town he lives in, the weather, his parents, all of his friends & colleagues…even his wife. The whole thing is the brain child of a God-like TV producer named Christof, who controls every aspect of the show, which has aired worldwide 24/7/365 for three decades. But all bets are off when Truman begins to figure out the truth. The Truman Show was the 12th highest grossing film of 1998, ahead of Enemy of the State & Shakespeare in Love (which would win the Academy Award for Best Picture), but behind Rush Hour & Godzilla. It holds a 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for three Oscars…Best Director (Weir, who lost to Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Harris, who lost to James Coburn for his performance in Affliction). It wasn’t nominated for Best Picture and Carrey didn’t get a nomination for Best Actor (won by Roberto Benigni for his performance in Life is Beautiful), which in hindsight both feel like huge oversights. That was a really weird year for the Academy Awards. The NY Daily News thought the film’s premise “both reasonable and ludicrous”, but called “its execution sublime”. Rolling Stone said that it is “a near-miraculous balance of humor and feeling”. The Chicago Tribune thought it “a satire/comedy/fantasy about the future of television and the people caught in its omnipresent electronic net…a supremely intelligent jest”. The Cincinnati Enquirer said that it is “funny, moving, imaginative, and wickedly smart about the addictive power of comfy illusion”. Ghost got past the overly angst-ridden & quite tedious Reality Bites in the first round. It is the rare kind of film that is appreciated by audiences and critics alike, making a ton of money at the box office while also collecting well-deserved awards. Swayze passed away in 2009, and I can’t help but wonder how many entertaining movies we’ve been deprived of in his absence because when one looks at his filmography there is no shortage of awesomeness…The Outsiders, Red Dawn, Dirty Dancing…spanning three decades, I have to assume he would have made more good films if he’d have lived. The Undiscovered Country is the sixth & final movie featuring the cast of the original Star Trek television series. I was a bit late to the Trek party, largely because I hadn’t been born yet when the TV show aired in the 1960’s. However, the six films produced between 1979 & 1991 led to my appreciation of the franchise. The movies are admittedly hit & miss, but The Undiscovered Country is unanimously praised as one of the highlights. With The Federation and The Klingons on the verge of signing a peace treaty Captain Kirk & Dr. McCoy are set up to take the fall for the assassination of the Klingon Chancellor and find themselves imprisoned. Of course Kirk is pretty difficult to defeat, so he eventually gets at the truth and saves the day. The movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 83% and was the 15th highest grossing film of the year. The Hollywood Reporter observed that “the production has a dark, atmospheric sheen that persistently suggest mystery and danger” and said that it is “not the best of the series, but a suitable farewell”. The NY Times credited the cast for “enthusiasm for their material that has never seemed to fade…if anything, that enthusiasm grows more appealingly nutty with time”. The Washington Post thought that the crew “couldn’t have made a more felicitous or more satisfying exit”.

The Verdict:       The Truman Show. I wish that I could push all three contenders thru to the next round, but that’d be a bit much. As much as I love Trek it’s hard to single out The Undiscovered Country for praise when I think that both Wrath of Khan & The Voyage Home were superior films. That’s the thing about long lasting film series…the whole stands above the individual parts. Ghost is a fine film. Swayze was an underrated actor whose talent is more apparent in hindsight that it was in the moment. Demi Moore has rarely been more enchanting. Even Whoopi Goldberg…who has sadly become an insane political hack in recent years…proved herself a talented actress. The only mark against Ghost is lack of repeat viewings. It hasn’t been a movie that I become giddy to see as I’m channel surfing on a cold & lonely night. The premise of The Truman Show was almost prophetic. I can totally see a show like that capturing the world’s attention now. I’m not a fan of reality television at all, mostly because I know there’s nothing real about it and I am almost offended by people like the Kardashians, the Chrisleys, and the idiots on The Bachelor becoming famous for no legitimate reason. But what if the star of the show didn’t realize they were a star??

100 Favorite Movies…..76-80

Today’s selection is pretty…..dramatic. Even the lone comedy in the bunch is more of a poignant “dramedy”. There are a couple 90’s movies, one from the 70’s, one from the 80’s, and one from the 50’s, before I was even born. No one can ever say I discriminate in my movie watching. If it’s good I don’t care when it was made or who is in it, as long as it makes me laugh, makes me think, or both.

 

 

 

80 Big

In yet another example of divine timing I caught this movie on HBO just as I was ready to write about it. I love it when a plan comes together. It seems like eons ago that Tom Hanks was a relatively obscure TV star on Bosom Buddies. Flash ahead nearly three decades and he is among the most famous and successful movie stars in the world and has two Best Actor Oscars sitting on his mantle. Though the 1984 mermaid flick Splash was Hanks’ coming out party as a major movie star, 1988’s Big cemented that status. It tells the story of a 13 year old boy who is the wimpy type that gets picked on and overlooked. He goes to a carnival where he uses a fortune telling machine to wish he were big. Lo and behold the next day his wish is granted and he’s been transformed, atleast physically, into a 30 year old man. I state it that way for a reason. Hanks’ performance in Big is brilliant (it earned him his first Best Actor nomination) because he makes it clear that although the character is 30 years old on the outside, on the inside he is still a little boy. His mannerisms, the things he says and the way he says them…..it’s a spot on interpretation of a child by an adult. Able support is given by Robert Loggia and Elizabeth Perkins (a smoking hot, underrated, underutilized actress even now), but Big is all about Hanks. Funny and touching without being overly sweet and sentimental, Big hits exactly the right note, the rare “fantasy” film that is utterly believable.

 

79 Saving Private Ryan

Back to back Tom Hanks?? You bet. Although this is a completely different Hanks vehicle. You won’t see very many war films on this list. I’m just not a big fan. I prefer to laugh rather than do the whole blood and guts thing. But Saving Private Ryan is so powerful, so raw, so realistic in its portrayal of the World War II D-Day Invasion that it simply cannot be overlooked. The cast is stunning…..Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel (showing that he has legit acting chops), and Adam Golberg star, and small cameos are made by Ted Danson, Dennis Farina, Paul Giamatti, and Bryan Cranston. And oh, by the way, the film is directed by Steven Spielberg. The opening scene hits you like a sledgehammer to the nether region, and things don’t really let up after that. The conclusion is so potently memorable and emotional that it takes the movie to another level. Irrespective of the war motif, Saving Private Ryan forces a self evaluation of one’s life, making a person really examine if they’ve made a difference and earned the right to take up space on this planet.

 

78 The Godfather Part III

Many many people disregard this third installment of The Godfather franchise. It’s like the crazy uncle that you keep locked in the basement and pretend doesn’t exist. But I think that’s unfair. First of all, it is the conclusion to one of the all time great movie trilogies. The first two films are generally considered to be among the finest ever made. Secondly, III still stars Al Pacino, and anything that is graced with the presence of Pacino cannot be all that bad. The legendary supporting cast from the first two films is nearly all gone…..only Talia Shire and Diane Keaton remain. In the absence of Brando, Duvall, and Caan we get Andy Garcia and Joe Mantegna, which isn’t necessarily as bad of a trade off as it may seem. Garcia is among the most underrated actors of his generation. The plot is a bit hard to follow and mirrors real life eventsinvolving the Vatican and papal murder & mayhem. Repeated viewings are almost a necessity to really have all the intricacies of the story really sink in, and that may be the biggest mark against III. One really has to invest some effort into completely understanding the story, and only big fans of the first two will likely have the inclination to undertake that endeavor. I personally believe it is worth the time. The Godfather Part III really grows on you and it becomes much clearer how it fits with the first two films. I have come to see it as a logical and almost necessary conclusion to Michael Corleone’s story, although director Francis Ford Coppola has stated that it was not originally intended to be so. He has been up front in saying that the only reason that he made the film was due to the box office failure of Tucker: A Man & His Dream. In other words, he needed the money. It is interesting to note two things about this movie. First, Robert Duvall was supposed to reprise the character of consiglieri Tom Hagen, but didn’t because he wanted a bigger payday. The character had to be rewritten as having died. Also, the character of Mary Corleone was orginally to be played by Julia Roberts and then Winona Ryder. Sophia Coppola, the director’s daughter, got the part only as a last resort after Ryder dropped out. Ms. Coppola’s performance is almost universally at the top of the list of reasons why some dislike The Godfather Part III. So imagine if Duvall had taken part and if either Roberts or Ryder would have played Mary. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but if those two things would have occurred the third installment may possibly have become as beloved as the first two films. As it is, I like the film. I love Pacino, I dig Andy Garcia, and I see the tragic conclusion to Michael Corleone’s tale as being well written and the only logical way it could have ended.

 

77 Rocky II

When people think of the Rocky story I sometimes think they get things a bit mixed up. They forget that at the end of the first Rocky film the titular character lost the fight, the point being that he had gone the distance which was a moral victory in and of itself. It’s not until the end of the second fight that Balboa wins in a dramatic near double countout. I’ve always believed that having Rocky lose at the end of the first fight only to have him actually win at the end of the second was a brilliant idea. I’m not privy to inside information, but I suspect that unlike how things work today, back in 1979 a sequel was not assumed or planned. So one can make an educated guess that the whole moral victory angle was Stallone’s original intent. After the enormous success of the first movie a sequel was demanded, and there’s no way on earth the audience would have stood for the underdog losing again. It is somewhat surprising that this foregone conclusion does not diminish Rocky II’s quality, which I suppose can be attributed to the fine writing and performances. Unlike The Godfather films I do not believe a third (or 4th, 5th, & 6th) movie was necessary to elaborate on Rocky Balboa’s saga. I would have been okay with forever remembering him as the imaginary World Heavyweight Champion and skip seeing him lose everything, fight the Russians, and not-so-gracefully grow old. I suppose we can blame George Foreman for the last two sequels and the Cold War for one of its predecessors. I can think of no logical reason why anyone thought Rocky III was a good idea.

 

76 Twelve Angry Men

Here in 2009 we have short attention spans, and we have been poorly conditioned to expect the wrong things from our movies. Dramas are oftentimes needlessly violent, and comedies constantly try to outdo each other with ever increasing offensiveness. Almost every movie of any genre is fast paced, shallowly written, and an all out assault on our eyes & ears and Hollywood seems to make the assumption that it needs to continuously ramp up the foul language, sexual content, blood & gore, and unrealistic death defying stunts. They are right of course, but onlybecause they have dictated the rules. Most anyone who doesn’t have any grey hair on their head has spent their lives going to movies replete with brutality and debauchery to the point that a film without it is deemed tedious. I say this as a basis for bringing up just such a “boring” movie, 1957’s Twelve Angry Men, a film that comes across more like a play because it was in fact adapted from one. It stars Henry Fonda as the one dissenting voice of a jury that is deciding a murder case. There are no car chases, no explosions, not hot and heavy sex scenes. It is simply 12 men sitting in a room arguing about the case they’ve just heard and whether or not the accused is guilty or not guilty. In my youth I talked of one day becoming an attorney. Though I strayed from that path the law is still something that interests me, which in some small way explains my interest in this film. The other thing that captivates my attention is its simplicity. I am a minimalist, and Twelve Angry Men is the ultimate testament to minimalism in moviemaking. There are no gimmicks…..everything, the whole roll of the dice, rests on the shoulders of fine acting and writing. I only wish that contemporary filmmakers were willing to gamble like that, and even more that modern audiences were capable of appreciating that type of quality.