90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 1

Before we conclude Round 1 of 90’s Film Frenzy please go back and check out first round action in the Dope, Fly, and Phat divisions.

 

You have likely noticed that I consistently use two metrics in my evaluation…box office and critic reviews. I utilize Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics had to say, and I look at Box Office Mojo to see how the movie stacked up financially against its competition. When I was growing up we didn’t have The Internet and movie critics were a rare breed mostly confined to big city newspapers. The big dogs on the block were Siskel & Ebert because they actually had their own television show, so you’re seeing them referenced a lot, mostly out of nostalgia. I also tend to focus on reviews that were written at the time of a film’s release in the 1990s because it is rather bogus and a bit unfair to give credence to something written many years later by a critic who has suddenly jumped on the bandwagon of a cult film that has grown in stature thru the magic of home video. Having said that, neither the box office nor the critics are always an accurate measure of a movie, and something that has achieved cult status for whatever reason shouldn’t be overlooked just because it didn’t make much money or receive critical acclaim two+ decades ago. It’s a delicate balancing act…one I hope that I am doing well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost

Release:                       7/13/90

Starring:                        Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg

Directed By:                 Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, Ruthless People)

 

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Reality Bites

Release:                       2/18/94

Starring:                        Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Renée Zellweger, John Mahoney

Directed By:                 Ben Stiller (The Cable Guy, Zoolander, Tropic Thunder)

 

If there is one film in this competition that might qualify as “quintessential 90’s” I think Reality Bites fits the bill. It’s right there in the title…Reality Bites. Angst-ridden twenty-somethings try to find their footing in the post-graduate jungle that is life. That’s pretty much the idea. The cast is impressive, and the soundtrack is representative of its era, with songs from Crowded House, Lenny Kravitz, Julianna Hatfield, & The Posies. Not exactly mainstream, right?? I feel like the most enduring legacy of Reality Bites is the hit song Stay by quirky Lisa Loeb. This movie came out right after I graduated college and had entered the workforce, but at the time I was also still clinging to the old college life…hanging out with my friends and patronizing familiar watering holes ‘til 3am. Stay was in heavy rotation on the jukebox, and I have a vague recollection of a female acquaintance of mine dancing to the song and stripping down to her unmentionables right in the middle of the bar. Ghost was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two of them. When a banker is shot & killed by a mugger his ghost enlists the help of a shady psychic to warn his grieving girlfriend of impending danger. The enduring legacy of Ghost includes the zenith of Patrick Swayze’s solid career, Whoopi Goldberg when she was still funny and not a political hack, one of Demi Moore’s best performances, a renewed appreciation for The Righteous Brothers’ hit Unchained Melody, & a sudden interest in learning more about pottery.

 

The Verdict:       Ghost. I was precisely the target audience for Reality Bites and still found it dull. It was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1994, behind such stalwarts as Shaquille O’Neal’s Blue Chips, Pauly Shore’s In the Army Now, & Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Timecop. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 66%, with the Chicago Tribune calling it “a good example of an anti-establishment comedy crippled by a seeming desire to infatuate the establishment itself”, while The New Yorker observed that “when the movie is over you don’t feel as if you had shared the experience of a new generation…you feel puzzled and vaguely crummy”. Conversely, Ghost won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Goldberg). It was the second highest grossing film of 1990, behind only Home Alone, and holds a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Gene Siskel declared that “Moore has never been more fetching”, while his buddy Ebert said that the movie “occasionally succeeds in evoking the mysteries that it toys with”.

 

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Glengarry Glen Ross

Release:                       10/2/92

Starring:                        Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey

Directed By:                 James Foley (Reckless, The Chamber)

 

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Striking Distance

Release:                       9/17/93

Starring:                        Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina, John Mahoney

Directed By:                 Rowdy Herrington (Road House)

 

Just glancing at the cast of Glengarry Glen Ross elicits such high expectations that it’d be almost impossible for a film to live up to them. Based on a 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Mamet, the story shows us two days in the lives of aging real estate salesmen desperate to keep their jobs. The corporate office has announced that half of them will be fired in a week, so they must do whatever necessary to get the numbers needed to impress the boss. Lemmon, Arkin, Harris, & Pacino are powerful performers on an individual basis, and as an ensemble they are unmatched. Throw Spacey and a brief but memorable appearance by Baldwin into the mix and what you have is a movie in which the plot is secondary to the performances. In the hands of lesser actors it might be a total yawner, but what we end up with is a masterclass in how to make relatively mundane subject matter absolutely riveting. Bruce Willis was already a big movie star by 1993, with two Die Hards, two Look Who’s Talking films, & less appreciated fare like The Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk, & The Last Boy Scout on his resume. Striking Distance tells the story of a disgraced Pittsburgh homicide detective relegated to river rescue duty after opining that a serial killer might be a rogue cop. When someone begins stalking him the game is afoot and the only person he can trust is his fetching female partner…or so he thinks. Striking Distance isn’t fondly recalled as one of Willis’ best, but with a cast that includes Parker, Mahoney, & Farina and a Pittsburgh backdrop familiar to this West Virginian I believe it is better than many may recall.

 

The Verdict:       Glengarry Glen Ross. I’m not usually into murder mysteries or police dramas, but Striking Distance works for me in a way it doesn’t seem to for many others. It was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1993 (better than Rudy but behind Pauley Shore’s Son-in-Law) and has an abysmal 14% Rotten Tomatoes score. Entertainment Weekly called Willis “morose” and the movie a “flat, dankly lit, grindingly inept thriller”, while Ebert called it “an exhausted reassembly of bits & pieces from all the other movies that are more or less exactly like this one”. Conversely, Glengarry Glen Ross has a stellar Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%, with Ebert saying that “you can see the joy with which the actors get their teeth into these great lines” and ReelViews opining that “for anyone who loves sharp dialogue, compelling characters, and a stinging social rebuke, Glengarry Glen Ross is not to be missed”. It was only the 94th highest grossing movie of 1992, yet we must consider that it isn’t a big budget epic but rather a stage play put on film. The fact that one can still appreciate its prominence nearly three decades later outweighs any perceived box office shortcomings.

 

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The Big Lebowski

Release:                       3/6/98

Starring:                        Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Tara Reid, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Directed By:                 Joel & Ethan Coen (Raising Arizona, Fargo, No Country for Old Men)

 

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Ten Things I Hate About You

Release:                       3/31/99

Starring:                        Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik

Directed By:                 Gil Junger (Black Knight, If Only)

 

Ol’ William Shakespeare is still inspiring people 400 years after he left this mortal coil, and a big Hollywood trend the past few decades is to take the basic theme of a Shakespeare play and set it in modern times with young & hip movie stars. Ten Things I Hate About You turns Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew into a romantic dramedy about high school students. Stiles, Ledger, Gordon-Leavitt, & Oleynik star as two sisters and the guys attempting to woo them, and the cast also includes Andrew Keegan, David Krumholtz, Gabrielle Union, & Allison Janney. It was the 53rd highest grossing film of 1999 and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 62%, with Variety observing that it “doesn’t even seem certain which decade it’s set in”, the San Francisco Chronicle opining that the movie “wimped out by blanding down the story and the characters to the point where she isn’t really a shrew and he isn’t really a maniac”, and Ebert chiming in that high school films are “running out of new ideas and have taken to recycling classic literature”. The Big Lebowski has grown in stature & popularity in the two decades since its release when it was the 96th highest grossing movie of the year, behind immense competition like Half Baked, Simon Birch, & Bulworth. It is the very definition of a cult film, although with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 82% it seems like critics recognized its greatness long before the masses caught up. Jeffrey Lebowski is known by his friends and refers to himself simply as The Dude. He is the quintessential slacker who enjoys sitting around in his bathrobe, drinking white Russians, and bowling with his pals Walter & Donny. When two thugs assault him in his house demanding money that is owed to their boss it becomes clear that they have the wrong guy…they’re after the other Jeffrey Lebowski – an old, handicapped millionaire. The thugs leave The Dude in peace but take a wiz on his area rug first, which offends him tremendously because the rug “really tied the room together”. When The Dude seeks out the other Lebowski for recompense he ends up getting caught in a complex plot involving kidnapping, ransom, a porn magnate, & a high school kid named Larry. The Cincinnati Enquirer called The Big Lebowski “loopy, unfathomable, profane, & very funny”, while Ebert simply framed it as “weirdly engaging”. There is actually an annual event in Louisville, KY called Lewbowski Fest which, since 2002, has celebrated the film with bowling, trivia, & costume contests, and a “religion” called Dudeism that advocates & encourages “going with the flow”, “being cool headed”, and “taking it easy” in the face of life’s difficulties, which does sound kind of awesome.

 

The Verdict:       The Big Lebowski. No contest. The Dude abides. But well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

 

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October Sky

Release:                       2/19/99

Starring:                        Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Chris Owen

Directed By:                 Joe Johnston (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji)

 

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Four Weddings & A Funeral

Release:                       5/13/94

Starring:                        Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell

Directed By:                 Mike Newell (Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

 

Hugh Grant first became a thing in the early 90’s mainly because of Four Weddings & A Funeral. The plot is pretty simple, as it follows a small group of people whose lives keep intersecting at various social engagements, specifically…you guessed it…four weddings and a funeral. Andi MacDowell is a charming actress who has been in a few films that I’ve really enjoyed but she mostly flies under the radar. I vaguely recall seeing Four Weddings & A Funeral back in college, and what I remember most is a cover of an old 60’s song Love Is All Around that would be co-opted again a decade later for the British Christmas rom-com Love Actually. I think others enjoyed the movie more than me, as Four Weddings & A Funeral was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, holds a 95% Rotten Tomatoes score, & was the 21st highest grossing film of 1994. Gene Siskel observed that it “couldn’t be more psychologically astute in its portrait of a man who defines himself by his bachelorhood”, while Entertainment Weekly raved that its “infectious charm and sunny goodwill can immediately buoy a soul”. Fellow West Virginian Homer Hickam is the subject of October Sky, which is based on his memoir Rocket Boys. We meet Homer as a high school student living amongst the economically and otherwise depressed coal fields of southern West Virginia in the 1950s. Homer and his pals dream of a better live outside of Appalachia, and the launch of Soviet satellite Sputnik into space inspires an interest in building rockets. Unfortunately dreams of success, happiness, & achievement are met with resistance from the redneck masses, and it’s up to the young lads to blaze their own trail and prove everyone wrong. The only person who seems to be in their corner is a kindhearted science teacher, but that’s enough. Homer Hickam went on to become a NASA engineer for nearly thirty years. October Sky was the 63rd highest grossing film of 1999 and holds a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ebert complimented the movie’s “deep values”, while CNN called it “a sensational character-driven story with a strong narrative and great visual style”.

 

The Verdict:       October Sky. In doing my prep work I was surprised to learn that Four Weddings & a Funeral had been nominated for Best Picture. Perhaps the timing is just off for me. Back then I was at the tail end of my collegiate existence and caught up in other things. I remember seeing it once, and in the ensuing decades I don’t think I’ve ever seen it again. I’m sure if I went back and watched it now I’d find it perfectly delightful, but obviously it didn’t really resonate with me for whatever reason. Conversely, I can identify with certain beats in October Sky that few outside of Appalachia could ever understand. This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s first starring role, and he & the rest of the cast are superb.

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Liar Liar

Release:                       3/21/97

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney

Directed By:                 Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams, Bruce Almighty)

 

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Doc Hollywood

Release:                       8/2/91

Starring:                        Michael J. Fox, Julie Warner, Woody Harrelson, Bridget Fonda, David Ogden Stiers, Barnard Hughes

Directed By:                 Michael Caton-Jones (Rob Roy)

 

Jim Carrey is a mixed bag for me. His shtick gets old really quick, and I tired of it fifteen years ago. However, between 1994 & 2003 he starred in a handful of memorable films, and Liar Liar might deserve a spot at the top of the list. Carrey plays a hotshot attorney whose focus on his career and deceitful ways have already ended his marriage and are on the verge of costing him his young son Max, who makes a wish on his birthday that his Dad not be able to lie at all for just one day. Max’s wish comes true and hilarity ensues. Liar Liar was the fourth highest grossing film of 1997 and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 81%. Variety called it “close to an ideal jumping-off point for Carrey”, the Hollywood Reporter opined that “Carrey has never been better, funnier, or more controlled”, and Ebert expressed trepidation that “I am gradually developing a suspicion that Jim Carrey is growing on me”. Doc Hollywood marked Michael J. Fox’s emergence from the Back to the Future niche that he’d been in for over five years, and the results aren’t too shabby. He plays a hotshot Washington DC doctor on his way to Los Angeles to make bank as a plastic surgeon. But when he crashes his classic Porsche in a rural South Carolina town he finds himself marooned for awhile and forced to serve as the local physician for a quirky group of townsfolk. Gradually he starts to mellow and grow fond of his new neighbors, and of course there is a fetching young lady with which he becomes smitten. Doc Hollywood is kind of predictable, but enchantingly so, with a great cast and fun characters. It was the 24th highest grossing movie of 1991, ahead of Bugsy, Thelma & Louise, and Point Break. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at 71%, with Newsweek saying that it “oversells its whimsy and fits its quirkiness into a sitcom formula”, while Ebert called it “a sweetheart of a movie”.

 

The Verdict:       Doc Hollywood. There is a scene in Doc Hollywood involving the exquisite Julie Warner emerging from a lake that rivals Phoebe Cates infamously exiting a swimming pool a decade earlier in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I can’t get that scene out of my head when pondering the film. I’m a sucker for stories involving big city types being beguiled by easygoing small town life, and the cast pulls this version of the formula off to my satisfaction. I am not swayed by the box office for Liar Liar and like Fox better than Carrey.

 

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Lethal Weapon 4

Release:                       7/10/98

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li

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

 

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Can’t Hardly Wait

Release:                       6/12/98

Starring:                        Ethan Embry, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Charlie Korsmo, Jason Segel, Donald Faison, Selma Blair, Sara Rue, Jenna Elfman, Jerry O’Connell, Melissa Joan Hart, Breckin Meyer

Directed By:                 Deborah Kaplan (A Very Brady Sequel)

 

Fans of the Lethal Weapon series have been anxiously awaiting a fifth installment for twenty years, and though I’m usually a “never say never” kind of guy I believe at this point that it’s too little too late and I’m okay with that. The fourth & final Lethal Weapon finds Riggs reluctant to marry his very pregnant girlfriend Lorna, Murtaugh dealing with the pregnancy of his eldest daughter by a mystery man, and the long in the tooth duo investigating an illegal Chinese immigrant smuggling situation. Rock joins the cast as an overzealous detective who is more than he lets on, and of course Pesci is back as fast talking ex-con Leo. Lethal Weapon 4 was the 11th highest grossing film of 1998, though it was also the most expensive of the four films to produce. It holds a 52% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Time referring to it as “mindless, sadistic violence juxtaposed with rote sentimentality”, while the New York Times generously pronouncing that it “turns out to be one of the nicer blow-’em-ups around”. Can’t Hardly Wait is another Hindsight Film, full of young actors who have stuck around long enough to be known for other things. It is also a classic high school film, set at a conventional graduation party and deconstructing all of the requisite high school archetypes. It was the 74th highest grossing movie of the year, ahead of Rushmore and A Simple Plan but behind Bride of Chucky and A Night at the Roxbury. It holds a 40% Rotten Tomatoes rating, with Entertainment Weekly calling it “a high-spirited, synthetically raucous house-party comedy” and Ebert saying that it “lumbers ungracefully from romantic showdowns to deep conversations to bathroom humor”.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 4. Though rumors of one last movie persist I think 4 provides a fitting conclusion to a very entertaining series. Perhaps the powers-that-be could learn a lesson from Die Hard, a franchise that should have stopped after three installments but has subjected the masses to two additional films with a sixth one possibly on the way. Sometimes it’s better to end on a high note and leave the memories alone. Back in the days of Party of Five I had a huge celebrity crush on Jennifer Love Hewitt, so I’m all in on Can’t Hardly Wait. However, in a sub-genre that has produced so many memorable movies the past few decades it really doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

 

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Backdraft

Release:                       5/24/91

Starring:                        Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay

Directed By:                 Ron Howard

 

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That Thing You Do

Release:                       10/4/96

Starring:                        Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry

Directed By:                 Tom Hanks

 

Every uniformed profession…policemen, the military, doctors, lawyers (hey…a three piece suit is kind of a uniform)…seems to get their own movie or TV series eventually. After all, life or death situations provide plenty of theatre. Backdraft is an ode to firefighters that tells the story of a wave of suspicious fires in Chicago, with a little family drama, political intrigue, & romance thrown into the mix. Ron Howard is a terrific director and the all-star cast is impressive, helping to make it the 14th highest grossing film of 1991, just behind Fried Green Tomatoes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II but ahead of JFK and The Prince of Tides, and has a solid 74% Rotten Tomatoes score. Gene Siskel called it “a spectacle worth observing”, Ebert feebly praised it by saying “the scenes involving fire are so good they make me recommend the movie anyway, despite its brain-damaged screenplay”, and the Washington Post said “Backdraft is sure to do for fire what The Poseidon Adventure did for water”, which may have been meant as a compliment…possibly. That Thing You Do was written & directed by Hanks and tells the story of a small town band that quickly rises to fame in the early 60’s on the popularity of an infectious pop hit. Hanks plays a supporting role, while the real stars are the band along with a fetching young female groupie. As with many actual bands egos & personal agendas quickly get in the way and torpedo the group’s success, making the movie a more insightful than expected examination of why one hit wonders are what they are. It was the 60th highest grossing film of 1996 (better than Fargo and Sling Blade) and has a stellar 93% Rotten Tomatoes score. Variety calls it “a sweet, likeable tale”, the New York Times dubbed it “rock-and-roll nostalgia presented as pure fizz”, & Rolling Stone framed it as “a brightly entertaining blend of humor and heartbreak”.

 

The Verdict:       That Thing You Do. This matchup illustrates a few things. First of all, my personal tastes are on full display, with a breezy, lightweight, fun movie beating out an effects laden, action packed melodrama. Secondly, I think it points to the dichotomy that we see even more today than two decades ago when it comes to movies…the action film packed with explosions and A-List talent that inspires awe on the big screen versus the frivolous guilty pleasure that we watch over & over again on television years after its release. And finally, if the material is written well enough then sometimes it’s okay to cast a few under-the-radar performers and help them pull it off with catchy tunes and a good director. Tom Hanks also wrote & directed 2011’s Larry Crowne, so he isn’t infallible…but I’d be willing to give anything he wrote & directed a whirl based on That Thing You Do.

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A Time to Kill

Release:                       7/24/96

Starring:                        Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland

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

 

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The Blair Witch Project

Release:                       7/14/99

Starring:                        Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Directed By:                 Daniel Myrick (Believers, The Strand)

 

In 1999 The Internet was still in its infancy and “going viral” was a new concept. Social media wasn’t a thing yet, but that worked out well for The Blair Witch Project. The movie was highly anticipated before it even hit theaters because of its ingenuous marketing campaign. Reality television wasn’t on anyone’s radar yet either, so many folks were easily duped into believing that the movie was actual lost footage of a student documentary gone terribly awry. One kind of longs for those halcyon days when we weren’t so jaded & cynical. The movie itself follows three student filmmakers investigating an urban legend called The Blair Witch. I’m not a horror film aficionado, but I recall thinking that the movie isn’t really that scary, that it is more fascinating as an examination of the trio’s descent into madness. It was the tenth highest grossing film of 1999, earning more than The Green Mile, Oscar winning Best Picture American Beauty, and the first American Pie movie. That feat is even more impressive when you know that The Blair Witch Project had a budget of only $60k and earned almost $250 million. It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 87%, with the Associated Press pointing out that “the thought that it might just might be real makes it much scarier”, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune calling it “a no-excuses horror show with an emotional wallop like falling headlong into a bear trap”, and the Washington Post saying it is “not the goriest, the grossest, the weirdest, the eeriest, the sickest, the creepiest, or the slimiest movie…just flat out the scariest”. A Time to Kill might be John Grisham’s best book…even better than The Firm…maybe. The movie takes a few liberties in telling the story of a Mississippi lawyer attempting to defend a black man who murdered two white men that raped & beat his young daughter. McConaughey is superb as the stressed out attorney, and Jackson gives one of his most nuanced performances as the distraught & vengeful father. The main issue I have is that the part of the female law student helping the defense team is beefed up considerably from the book because Sandra Bullock was cast in the part, but I realize that probably only bothers fans of the novel. A Time to Kill was the tenth highest grossing film of 1996, ahead of Scream but behind The Nutty Professor. It has a 65% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Rolling Stone called McConaughey “dynamite in a performance of smarts, sexiness, scrappy humor, and unmistakable star sizzle”, while Ebert thought the movie “a skillfully constructed morality play that pushes all the right buttons and arrives at all the right conclusions”.

 

The Verdict:       The Blair Witch Project. Wow, this is a very difficult decision. Neither film is the kind of breezy couch potato escapism to which I am typically drawn. However, evaluated on their own merits the choice becomes a bit clearer. I am not a big Sandra Bullock fan. There is just something about her that annoys me for no apparent reason. Given that fact, I was more irritated than usual when her character was magnified in the movie far more than she had been in the book. Secondly, while the novel A Time to Kill is probably a better book than The Firm I am not sure that is true when comparing the two movies. I am not at all into horror movies and probably won’t ever watch The Blair Witch Project again, but I cannot overlook its uniquely astounding success and the fact that it was most certainly a product of its time…probably a little ahead of it.

90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 1

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

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

 

 

 

 

Twister

Release:                       5/17/96

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

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Speed)

 

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Very Bad Things

Release:                       11/25/98

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Edward Scissorhands

Release:                       12/7/90

Starring:                        Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Weist

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

 

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Mallrats

Release:                       10/20/95

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

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

 

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

 

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

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Honeymoon in Vegas

Release:                       8/28/92

Starring:                        Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Caan

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

 

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Presumed Innocent

Release:                       7/25/90

Starring:                        Harrison Ford, Bonnie Bedelia, Greta Scacchi

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Hook

Release:                       12/11/91

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

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

 

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Joe Versus the Volcano

Release:                       3/9/90

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan

Directed By:                 John Patrick Shanley (Doubt)

 

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

 

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

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City Slickers

Release:                       6/7/91

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

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

 

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Hocus Pocus

Release:                       7/16/93

Starring:                        Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

Directed By:                 Kenny Ortega (Newsies)

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

 

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

 

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Batman Forever

Release:                       6/16/95

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

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

 

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Sister Act

Release:                       5/29/92

Starring:                        Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy

Directed By:                 Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing)

 

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

 

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

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Boogie Nights

Release:                       10/10/97

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

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

 

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The American President

Release:                       11/17/94

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Scream

Release:                       12/20/96

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

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

 

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Mr. Saturday Night

Release:                       10/23/92

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

Directed By:                 Billy Crystal

 

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

 

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

 

Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 1)

Today we finish the first round of Merry Movie Mayhem. If you need to go back and catch up on the results thus far just click on the links to see what went down in the Candy Cane, Eggnog, & Mistletoe Divisions. I’m pleased with the pace we’ve set so I think we’ll take a break for a few days before moving on to Round 2. If you didn’t see your favorite holiday film in the competition don’t hesitate to leave me a comment asking “What up with that, dawg??”…or something to that effect. There is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for its exclusion. Or maybe I just completely overlooked it. Who knows??

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life                             

Released                                           12/20/46

Starring                                              James Stewart, Donna Reed                                

Director                                              Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

I feel like I’ve written just about everything there is to say about IAWL in the years since the inception of The Manofesto, but allow me to offer a brief refresher. The story was conceived by a Pennsylvania Civil War historian named Philip Van Doren Stern. The Greatest Gift was not accepted for publication for whatever reason, so Stern simply included it in his annual Christmas card mailings. Someone on his Christmas card list must have liked the short story, because it was subsequently published in 1944. A film producer saw the story and it eventually ended up in the hands of director Frank Capra. IAWL was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, & Best Director. A clerical error prevented the copyright from being renewed in 1974, so due to it being in the public domain the movie became a popular late night staple during the holidays on local TV stations throughout the 70’s & 80’s until 1993 when the copyright was restored to Republic Pictures, who then licensed it to NBC in 1996. For the past two decades NBC had shown it only a couple of times every December (early in the month & again on Christmas Eve), but starting in 2016 USA Network (which is owned by NBC/Universal) added a few additional airings. Of course with streaming & other home video options none of that really matters anymore.

 

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Love Actually

Released                                           11/14/03

Starring                                              Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth. Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley

Director                                              Richard Curtis (Four Weddings & a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary)

Rotten Tomatoes                              63%

Personally I am more unconvinced of Love Actually’s claim to being a Christmas film than I am Die Hard, but I’m feeling generous. This is one of those movies…like New Year’s Eve, He’s Just Not That Into You, & Valentine’s Day…with a huge, very British, very talented ensemble cast involved in multiple stories that all seem to intersect by the end. There are those who love Love Actually, and maybe they are right. Perhaps I’m missing something or just being obtuse.

 

The Verdict:       It’s A Wonderful Life. Believe it or not there are people that hate IAWL. Some people say “How can a movie about suicide be a heartwarming Christmas classic??”. Others remember when it used to be on TV a bazillion times every December and still hold a grudge, even though a) that hasn’t been the case for over twenty years, & b) there are other movies these days that are shown just as much as or more than IAWL used to be and those same people love those other movies. I guess folks just like what they like, and I happen to adore IAWL. If it’s not your cup o’ tea we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Love Actually is a perfectly delightful film, but not only is it severely overmatched here, it’s also a movie that I just haven’t watched often at all & can take or leave.

 

 

 

 

The Polar Express                                

Released                                           11/10/04

Starring                                              Tom Hanks                                 

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

Zemeckis is back!! Actually this was his first foray into motion capture technology…and perhaps one of the earliest feature films utilizing it. The story is based on an award winning 1985 children’s book about a group of kids who ride a magical train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Tom Hanks plays a half dozen different characters. I’m totally into motion capture and think it’s cool, but I understand that others find the animation disturbing for whatever reason. I am far beyond the age of believing in Santa Claus, but I’ll be darned if this movie doesn’t make me REALLY want to believe once again.

 

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Deck the Halls

Released                                           11/22/06

Starring                                              Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick

Director                                              John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              6%

The Rotten Tomatoes score seems harsh, but I get it. With a title borrowed from the beloved Christmas carol you’d expect this movie to be a bit more uplifting, but it’s not. The story follows two neighbors who end up going to war during the holiday season when one of them decides to put up an elaborate light display that “can be seen from space”. I have to assume that the plot is inspired by those shows you see on The Travel Channel this time of year called Crazy Christmas Lights or something like that, and I think those shows & those types of gaudy displays may have been inspired by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Personally I prefer elegant & tasteful Christmas lights and can do without the rock music accompaniment, but to each their own. Anyway, in my opinion this movie isn’t as bad as the critics might indicate, if only because of the talented cast.

 

The Verdict:       The Polar Express. I adore this movie. It is the very definition of holiday magic. Wouldn’t we all like to retain that childlike wonder that allowed us to believe in something as enchanting as Santa Claus?? Of course we would. Deck the Halls is better than a rotten 6% rating…but not much better.

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles 

Released                                           11/25/87

Starring                                              John Candy, Steve Martin            

Director                                              John Hughes           (Mr. Mom, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck)

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Here we go…back to Thanksgiving. However I think this is probably superior to any other Thanksgiving movie or show. It’s actually a road trip/buddy comedy that happens to be set at Thanksgiving. I’m a huge John Hughes fan. He wrote/produced/directed so many wonderful films. And the pairing of Candy & Martin?? Inspired. Brilliant. Comedy gold. I only wish they would have made more movies together. Thanksgiving is a unique holiday that is difficult to besmirch with commercialism. People don’t want gifts or candy or flowers. It’s not an excuse to party or blow things up. All that most folks want on Thanksgiving is to be at home with loved ones and enjoy a nice meal. This movie captures that desire in such a subtle & funny way that it kind of sneaks up on you.

 

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Arthur Christmas

Released                                           11/23/11

Starring                                              James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie

Director                                              Sarah Smith

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

A lot of the movies & shows you’re reading about here have been around for awhile…25 years, 35 years, 50 years, 75 years. This is one of the new kids on the block. It hasn’t had time to really ingratiate itself into our pop culture consciousness. It may or may not ever achieve that goal, but does merit inclusion in this exercise. Arthur is Santa’s youngest son, and he’s kind of the black sheep of the family. The North Pole is depicted as a high tech command center, Santa’s sleigh is the sort of ultramodern vehicle that NASA dreams about, & the annual Christmas Eve flight around the world is an intricate operation that’d make the U.S. military envious. The mantle of Santa Claus is passed from father to son, with the current titleholder, Malcolm, on the verge of retirement and his eldest, Steve, preparing to take the reins soon. But this particular Christmas Eve something goes awry and it’s up to Arthur, inept but resolute, to save the day. Arthur Christmas takes familiar territory and adds a futuristic spin, but instead of being cynical itself it is more of a fun commentary on Christmas cynicism.

 

The Verdict:       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. I like Arthur Christmas well enough. It’s fresh, creative, & entertaining. But the competition is just too much. It has become almost as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey, football, & the Macy’s Parade.

 

 

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Released                                           12/7/69

Starring                                              Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon          

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              60%

“Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, just one year after his Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer hit #1 on the charts. But it wasn’t until 1969 that CBS first broadcast the animated special based on the song. Nearly a half century later it is still a beloved annual tradition. While the song is a winter carol that has become tangentially associated with Christmas despite the holiday only being mentioned at the very end, saying “he waved goodbye saying ‘don’t you cry…I’ll be back on Christmas Day!’”, the special is set on Christmas Eve and features Santa Claus “resurrecting” Frosty after he’s been locked in a greenhouse by Professor Hinkle and melted.

 

 

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The Family Stone

Released                                           12/16/05

Starring                                              Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Clare Danes

Director                                              Thomas Bezucha

Rotten Tomatoes                              52%

Dysfunctional family dramedy has become a common theme in holiday films. I really can’t relate because I’ve always gotten along with my family and look forward to visiting with them on holidays. At any rate, there are several subplots in The Family Stone, as everybody seems to have some kind of issue. They scream, they cry, they argue…but familial love wins in the end, as it should. The cast is phenomenal, from the sublime Diane Keaton & elegantly low-key Craig T. Nelson to the wittily charming Luke Wilson & radiant Rachel McAdams. The movie ends on a bit of a downer, which unfortunately impacts one’s lasting impression. The story stays with you for awhile, but not necessarily in a good way.

 

The Verdict:       Frosty. Come on…was there any doubt?? Look, I realize that Christmas can be very sad for many people, and Hollywood feels compelled to address that aspect. I get it…I really do. I will admit that…mostly because of the talented ensemble and nimble writing…The Family Stone has gotten its fair share of repeat views from me. However, at the end of the day I still choose for Christmas to be a joyous occasion despite the harsh realities of life. Maybe someday I’ll be the guy sitting alone in a dive bar on Christmas Eve nursing my whiskey and raging at the jolly masses while wondering why my life has gone so horribly wrong, but thankfully I’m not there yet. Frosty the Snowman is something I grew up with, and for a short time every December I get to bring my inner child out to play, which is awesome.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Inn                           

Released                                           8/4/42

Starring                                              Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire 

Director                                              Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee)

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

Did you know that the Holiday Inn chain of hotels got its name from this movie?? Well you do now!! Bing Crosby stars as a song & dance man who decides to escape the bright lights of New York and open a quaint Connecticut inn that will only be open on holidays. There is singing, dancing, romance, & hijinks, all centered around familiar celebrations on the calendar. Holiday Inn is mostly remembered for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, but there are memorable performances throughout. They don’t make movies like this anymore, which is a shame.

 

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All I Want For Christmas

Released                                           11/8/91

Starring                                              Ethan Embry, Kevin Nealon, Thora Birch

Director                                              Robert Lieberman (D3: The Mighty Ducks)

Rotten Tomatoes                              0%

1991 will be forever be remembered by the masses as the year that launched the fabled career of actor Ethan Embry. And while he went on to star in cinematic masterpieces like Vegas Vacation, That Thing You Do, and Can’t Hardly Wait, it is this little holiday gem that might outlast everything else. The basic gist of the story is that two kids whose parents are divorced hatch a scheme on Christmas Eve to get them back together (spoiler alert: it works). For such an overlooked film the cast is actually quite stellar, including Thora Birch (who would go on to more notorious roles in American Beauty and…well…American Beauty is pretty much it), Leslie Nielsen as Santa Claus, SNL funnyman Kevin Nealon, & the legendary Lauren Bacall. All I Want For Christmas was a box office bomb that the critics didn’t like, but found new life for awhile popping up on television, which is where I first discovered it. It’s not a great movie, but it is delightful enough.

 

The Verdict:       Holiday Inn. I am eternally indebted to my friend & brother The Owl for introducing me to this movie back in college. I pride myself on having good taste, and films like this display a level of class generally absent from the vast majority of modern entertainment. Would it even be possible to maintain a business that is open less than a dozen times per year?? I have no idea. But the concept sure does make a terrific foundation for this movie.

 

 

 

 

 

The Santa Clause

Released                                           11/11/94

Starring                                              Tim Allen                  

Director                                              John Pasquin (Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous)

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

There was a brief moment in 1994 when Tim Allen starred in the top rated show on TV (Home Improvement), authored the best-selling book in the country (Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man), & played Santa in the #1 film at the box office. The Santa Clause was the first of a (unplanned…I assume) trilogy, and is indisputably the best of the three movies. It is an origin story suggesting that Santa is a character inhabited by different men at different times. In this case Scott Calvin…a divorced toy executive who has consistently disillusioned his young son…inherits the job when the current Santa falls off his roof and I guess dies…a morbid fact that is mercifully glossed over. Scott & his boy Charlie deliver gifts around the world and spend a night at The North Pole, but the real fun begins the next day when the new Santa thinks it was all a dream…until he slowly begins to morph into The Jolly Old Elf over the next few months. I’m a fan of Santa Claus origin stories, and this is one of the best.

 

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol                   

Released                               12/16/83

Starring                                   Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck                 

Director                                   Burny Mattinson (The Great Mouse Detective)

Rotten Tomatoes                            90% (a)

It’s difficult to tell the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in a half hour, yet it’s been tried several times with varying degrees of success. Taken at face value the Mickey Mouse version is perfectly charming. Disney created the character of Scrooge McDuck in 1947 as a homage to Ebenezer Scrooge, and that tribute comes full circle in this show. Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit is perfect casting, and a few other cartoon favorites make an appearance (Jiminy Cricket, Daisy Dick, Goofy, The Three Little Pigs, Chip & Dale, Huey, Dewey, & Louie, Minnie Mouse). Television aficionados may be interested to know that Hal Smith (Otis Campbell from The Andy Griffith Show) and Alan Young (Wilbur from Mister Ed) provide the voices for Goofy/Jacob Marley and Scrooge McDuck / Ebenezer Scrooge, respectively.

 

The Verdict:       The Santa Clause. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a great introduction to the story for small children, but at a running time of less than 30 minutes it only has time to hit the highlights, which is fine for short attention spans but not all that enticing to adults. There is also an issue with accessibility. I remember it being on TV when I was a kid, but I don’t think it has aired with any kind of regularity for a decade…maybe two. The Santa Clause instantly became a beloved classic twenty years ago. Sure it has some undertones emblematic of somber 90’s cynicism, but that is minimized in favor of Christmas magic. I love Santa origin stories, and though it has a modern spin at the beginning the outcome is decidedly vintage.

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Released                                           12/17/84

Starring                                              George C. Scott       

Director                                              Clive Donner            (The Thief of Baghdad)

Rotten Tomatoes                              74% (a)

I am a traditionalist in most aspects of life, and it has always been my belief that uniquely British characters from British novels should be portrayed by British actors in film adaptations. However, there are exceptions to most rules, and in this case I must admit that Virginia native George C. Scott is a worthy Ebenezer Scrooge. This version of Carol was a made-for-television production that aired on CBS here in America, but it was released in theaters in Britain and certainly has a big screen vibe. Like just about every other adaptation it takes certain liberties with the novel, adding & subtracting little things, but none are deal breakers. If you’re channel surfing and need your Scrooge fix you could definitely do worse.

 

 

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Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Released                                           11/18/94

Starring                                              Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins

Director                                              Les Mayfield (Encino Man, Flubber)

Rotten Tomatoes                              61%

There are no sacred cows in Hollywood. If they’ll remake Psycho, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Pink Panther then apparently all bets are off. This was clear way back in 1994 when a remake of the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street was released. The thing is…it’s not that bad. Macy’s didn’t want to be involved and Gimbel’s was already out of business, so two fictional department stores fill in, but other than that and a few other modern updates the essence of the story remains. Alas, while the underrated Elizabeth Perkins as the jaded mother is luminous, the film itself lacks the innocent magic of the original, replacing it with subtle 90’s era cynicism.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. I don’t HATE the Miracle remake and I don’t LOVE this version of Carol, but I am used to there being a plethora of A Christmas Carol adaptations and accept that each of them tries to put their own unique spin on the story. This one brings a lot of good stuff to the table. 1994 wasn’t the first time Miracle on 34th Street was remade, but the others were TV movies made in the 50’s & 70’s that are easily ignored. The 1994 movie can’t be ignored and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it just doesn’t measure up.

 

 

 

 

The Lemon Drop Kid

Released                                           3/8/51

Starring                                              Bob Hope

Director                                              Sidney Lanfield (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

Rotten Tomatoes                              73% (a)

My generation remembers Bob Hope as an aging comedian who frequently hosted variety show specials on NBC, including an annual show at Christmastime when he would introduce college football’s All-American Team, and also for regularly heading overseas to entertain American servicemen in places like Korea, Vietnam, & The Middle East. Hope always ended his shows with his signature song Thanks for the Memory, and the Christmas special traditionally featured him singing Silver Bells. But from the 1930’s thru the 60’s he was also a movie star, and Silver Bells became famous in part due to being sung in this film in which Hope plays a fast-talking racetrack hustler known as The Lemon Drop Kid because of his fondness for lemon drop candies. When The Kid inadvertently crosses a well-known gangster in Florida he is given until Christmas Eve to come up with the money he owes or else he’ll face…unpleasant…consequences. The Kid flees to New York, but when his gig as a street corner bell-ringing Santa Claus doesn’t work out he hatches a new scheme to raise donations for a phony old folks’ home. That plan is going alright until another mobster interferes. Hilarity & chaos ensue, but all’s well that ends well in a fun Christmas Eve climax.

 

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Trading Places

Released                                           6/10/83

Starring                                              Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd

Director                                              John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              86%

I wanted to avoid crossover with this project and 80’s Movie Mania, which necessitated a few difficult decisions. At the end of the day that means Trading Places & Die Hard were saved for this competition, while Lethal Weapon was a part of 80’s Movie Mania. At any rate, Murphy & Aykroyd are both SNL alums who went on to bigtime movie stardom in the 1980’s. Their stars have since faded significantly, although they still pop up now & again (Aykroyd has gracefully transitioned into supporting roles, while Murphy still labors under the delusion that he’s relevant). Hot off the success of 48 Hrs. and just before the box office triumph of Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy took this role as a smartass homeless bum who basically switches lives with an erudite stockbroker at Christmastime as part of a social experiment/wager between two wealthy old geezers. The key is that the two guys are set up and not in on the joke. It is essentially a modern take on Mark Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince & the Pauper, and the two leading men really deliver. It is a smart, funny, well-written movie with an immensely satisfying conclusion.

 

The Verdict:       The Lemon Drop Kid. This is a tough call. It’s a great example of what exactly defines a Christmas movie…or not. Both are set at Christmastime. Neither story is dependent on Christmas as a factor in the plot…they both could be set at any other time of the year with few changes needed. However, I think the Christmas timeline plays a slightly bigger role in The Lemon Drop Kid, and we cannot overlook the fact that the movie introduced the world to what has become a very popular Christmas carol. There is an accessibility issue. The Lemon Drop Kid is never shown on television…not even on AMC or TCM, and it’s not available on streaming services. The only way I know to watch it is on YouTube, which is a shame. Trading Places is a great movie…one of the best of its era. But it just doesn’t jump into my mind when pondering Christmas movies.

80’s Movie Mania: Gnarly Round 3

So let’s clean up some leftovers from the last installment, the Tubular Division’s Round 3. I posted a couple of polls, but unfortunately I am still not getting any response. Not poor response. Not underwhelming response. Not disappointing response. ZERO response. HEEEELLLLOOOO…Manoverse…are you there?!?!?!?? I allegedly have a couple hundred followers. Does ANYONE read this stuff?? I would really like to know. At any rate, I am now forced to make a couple of extremely tough decisions. I am giving When Harry Met Sally the victory over WarGames. It’s a purely personal preference for one of the preeminent rom-coms of all time, with a charming cast and a fun story. Also, I am awarding Dirty Dancing the win over Lethal Weapon. Dirty Dancing is one of the time capsule movies of the 1980’s. Meanwhile, Lethal Weapon had a few sequels that maybe didn’t match the originality of the first film, but they certainly came very close in quality. This is a franchise that we liked better with each passing film because of the comfort level we had with the characters. I’m definitely splitting hairs, but unfortunately that is the task being forced upon me. Anyway, let’s move on to the Gnarly Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

Gnarly 3

 

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan    vs.     The Outsiders

khanAllow me to reiterate my philosophy about something. You are not seeing trilogies in this competition. Specifically you aren’t seeing the Back to the Future trilogy oroutsiders the Star Wars trilogy. In both cases two of three films were produced in the 1980’s. However, it is my belief that trilogies need to be looked at as one unique entity. Sure one can break each film down individually, but essentially the whole is greater than each single entry. Conversely, when a film series evolves into four or more parts then all bets are off. There were six Star Trek films made with the original cast from 1979-1991. Of the four films made in the 1980’s two appear in this competition. 1982’s Wrath of Khan is considered by most Trekkies to be the best of the bunch. It is based on a 1967 episode of TOS called Space Seed, in which Khan Noonien Singh, a product of 20th century genetic engineering that is discovered after 200 years in suspended animation and  banished to a faraway planet after trying to hijack the Enterprise. In this film Khan escapes from that planet and is hellbent on revenge. He also seeks to gain control of a terraforming device capable of creating new planets. Ricardo Montalban might be most remembered for his role as Mr. Roarke on ABC’s Fantasy Island, and for Chrysler advertisements in which he trumpeted the vehicle’s “soft, rich Corinthian leather”, but I think it is safe to say that the role that best showcased his acting chops is than of Khan. The Outsiders defeated My Tutor and Weird Science to make it to this point. Everybody knows about the near legendary cast… Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, & Ralph Macchio. However, did you know that other actors that were considered include Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dennis Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Timothy Hutton, Mickey Rourke, Brooke Shields, Adam Baldwin, Heather Langencamp (Nightmare on Elm St.), & Glen Scarpelli (One Day at a Time)?? The casting director certainly had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose.

 

The Verdict:      Wrath of Khan. It’s all about repeat viewings. Plus, I wonder if The Outsiders gets a lot of love simply because of the stellar cast and what they went on to become?? Is the quality of the film obscured or falsely elevated by their star power?? At any rate, this is an easy decision.

 

 

 

 

Footloose            vs.     Say Anything…

footlooseFootloose received byes thru the first two rounds. Released in 1984, it tells the story of a Chicago teenager who moves with his mother to a backwards SAOklahoma town. That alone would be a decent setup, but then add in the fact that the town has banned any kind of rock music & all dancing because of an auto accident that killed the local preacher’s son. That minister (brilliantly played by John Lithgow) is kind of the unofficial ruler of the town for some strange reason. Complicating matters even further…the troublemaking city boy falls for the preacher’s daughter. Footloose made Kevin Bacon a star, a wave he’s still riding three decades later. It was also the big break for Sarah Jessica Parker. And personally I like the character played by Christopher Penn, who is the younger brother of the infamous Sean Penn. Chris Penn died way too soon at the age of 40 in 2006, but his performances in Footloose and All the Right Moves live on in our memories. Say Anything… defeated 48 Hrs. in Round 2 after receiving a first round bye. It was the 52nd ranked film at the 1989 box office, behind…well…pretty much everything, although it did better than notables like Prancer, The Fabulous Baker Boys, & My Left Foot…the film that earned Daniel Day-Lewis his first Academy Award. Say Anything…was Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, and it has a cool soundtrack with songs by Cheap Trick, Living Colour, Joe Satriani, Depeche Mode, and of course Peter Gabriel, whose song In Your Eyes is inextricably linked to the film. It has a stunning 98% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and upon its release Roger Ebert called it one of the best films of the year.

 

The Verdict:      Footloose. It saddens me because Say Anything… deserves a better fate, but it just ran into heavyweight competition.

 

 

 

 

Top Gun    vs.     Airplane!

tgTop Gun shot down Crocodile Dundee in Round 2 after receiving a first round bye. It was the #1 box office draw in 1986, making nearly $177 million. It airplanehas a 55% Rotten rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but an 83% Fresh rating from the moviegoing public…quite a disparity. Our old pal Roger Ebert loved the special effects and all the scenes in airplanes, but had nothing good to say about the rest of the story. I think this is one of those classic popcorn flicks, meant to thrill the audience with smoke & mirrors, convincing us to overlook a thin & unconvincing plot. Most of the time I hate that sort of thing, but on rare occasions it works. Airplane! received a first round bye then took out Beetlejuice in Round 2. It was the fourth highest grossing film of 1980, bested only by The Empire Strikes Back, 9 to 5, & Stir Crazy, but beating out the likes of The Blues Brothers, The Shining, Urban Cowboy, Caddyshack, Mad Max, Raging Bull, & Honeysuckle Rose. That’s quite impressive. Airplane! has a 97% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has ranked as the best comedy of all-time in multiple lists & polls.

 

The Verdict:      I’m going to give The Manoverse advanced warning. If you have a strong opinion about either of these films please express it. Make this choice for me, because if it is left in my hands people are going to be unhappy one way or another.

 

 

 

 

Uncle Buck                   vs.     Good Morning Vietnam

buckAfter receiving a first round bye Uncle Buck defeated The Last Starfighter in Round 2. It ranked 18th at the box office in 1989, behind inferior sequels gmvlike Ghostbusters 2 and Lethal Weapon 2, but ahead of worthy competition like Field of Dreams, Do the Right Thing, & Major League. As mentioned previously the film spawned a TV show in 1990 but it didn’t last long. Now they’re trying it again in 2016, trying to appeal more to “urban” viewers. I’m not a big fan of taking a perfectly good concept and making it black, gay, or female just to appease the PC Police, and I’m guessing this latest attempt will fail miserably.  Good Morning Vietnam beat out Biloxi Blues in Round 2 after receiving a first round bye. Director Barry Levinson had already had much Hollywood success by 1987, writing the screenplay for Tootsie and directing Diner, The Natural, & Young Sherlock Holmes. He has since gone on to win the best Director Oscar for Rain Man and helm notable films like Bugsy & Wag the Dog, as well as produce stuff like Donnie Brasco & The Perfect Storm. Although Good Morning Vietnam is said to be based on the life of real life DJ Adrian Cronauer, he has stated that it is really only about “45% accurate”. The screenplay was changed significantly to highlight the comedic talents of Robin Williams, who did a lot of improvisation.

 

The Verdict:      Uncle Buck. What’s that phrase I keep using?? That’s right…repeat viewings. I love Robin Williams, but if I am sitting at home chilling out and in the mood to watch a movie, I am quite sure I would choose Uncle Buck over Good Morning Vietnam 9 out of 10 times.

100 Favorite Movies…..91-95

We continue on our path with a set of five disparate films that show just how eclectic my tastes can be. By now faithful readers are probably gaining some insight into my psyche, atleast so far as what entertains me. Please don’t hesitate to provide feedback, positive or otherwise. I claim no monopoly on defining quality amusement and always welcome the insight of others.

 

 

 

95 Uncle Buck
One of the most regrettable losses in American cinema during the past two decades was the untimely death of John Candy due to heart disease. Not really an A-List star or leading man, Candy nevertheless had an impressive career and brought joy to millions in such films as Spaceballs, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Stripes. And while the majority of his roles were supporting and bit parts, there are two significant lead roles that stand out, one of those being in Uncle Buck. Buck is a slovenly bachelor who is unexpectedly called upon to babysit his nieces and nephew. The kids are a real handful, especially the eldest daughter, a rebellious teenager, but Buck has his own unique brand of parenting and discipline. Hilarity ensues. I’m not usually a fan of overly schmaltzy conclusions…..”heartwarming” mishandled triggers the gag reflex. But Uncle Buck does it right and has fun along the way, without resorting to the foulness so omnipresent in many modern films. It is also a departure of sorts for director John Hughes, known so well for his 80’s teen hits. It seems odd to say, but I believe Hughes is one of the most underappreciated writers and directors out there. This movie also introduced the world to Macaulay Culkin, who would become a 10 year old megastar just a year later in Home Alone.

 

94 Hook
One of my sincerest beliefs in pondering the topic of movies is that the actual movie viewing experience can have a significant impact on one’s opinion. Where the movie is seen, who one is with, what one may be experiencing in life at the moment…..all can enhance (or in rare cases be a detriment to) the enjoyment and long term memory of a particular film. I saw Hook while in college in an old, historic theater with two of my best friends. We were literally the only three people in the theater and we had a blast. It’s one of my fondest memories. The fact that Robin Williams is one of my very favorite actors (and Dustin Hoffman isn’t exactly a slouch) also plays a part in my high opinion. Though not a critical success, and not without some issues (Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell?? please), I find Hook to be a perfectly logical update of the Peter Pan mythology, the story being that he grew up and is now a Type A workaholic that doesn’t spend enough time with his family. It’s a very 90’s kind of theme and it works

 

93 Honeymoon In Vegas
A movie’s setting and its music are two key elements to success. Think Jaws and that haunting theme, Grease and its 1950’s high school motif and awesome soundtrack, The Blues Brothers with its Chicago backdrop and bluesy vibe, or Saturday Night Fever and disco. A perfect example of this vital relationship is Honeymoon in Vegas. Would Honeymoon in Myrtle Beach or Honeymoon in the Bahamas have worked?? Probably not. Now, I must admit that I’m a sucker for all things Vegas and have been planning a trip there for awhile, but looking at it as objectively as possible it cannot be denied that the Las Vegas backdrop just seems to work. Ocean’s Eleven (and Ocean’s 13), Bugsy, Rain Man, Casino, Swingers…..one could compile quite an impressive Vegas filmography (and yes, I’m conveniently ignoring Showgirls…..they can’t all be gems). The cast is superb, headlined by Nicolas Cage and James Caan, with solid performances by the always vivacious Sarah Jessica Parker, Pat Morita of Karate Kid and Happy Days fame, and a group of skydiving Elvis impersonators. Speaking of The King, the soundtrack is made up of Elvis covers done by a variety of artists including Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and John Cougar Cougar-Mellencamp Mellencamp and ain’t bad at all.

 

92 The Ten Commandments
If it weren’t for the ever increasing hatred of Christianity in America I’d say The Ten Commandments is a perfect candidate for a big budget remake. The only problem with the original is the now antiquated special effects. Imagine what CGI and other modern tricks of the trade could accomplish in scenes like the parting of The Red Sea or Moses encountering the burning bush? Of course the other issue (besides liberal Godlessness) would be replacing Charlton Heston as Moses…..certainly no easy task. Anyway, until that day comes…if it ever comes…we have the original and it’s just fine. Is it Biblically accurate? Not exactly. There is a certain amount of poetic license taken by director Cecil B. Demille. But it isn’t offensively out of bounds either. Heston sadly became a caricature in the last couple decades of his life, but at one time he was among the most highly esteemed actors of his generation, and nowhere is he better than in The Ten Commandments. Surprisingly the film continues to be an Easter tradition on ABC television, giving millions an ongoing opportunity to enjoy and embrace its greatness.

 

91 Pride of the Yankees
The story of baseball legend Lou Gehrig is atleast somewhat familiar to even non-fans. This film chronicled his life just a few short years after his death caused by the disease that now bears his name. I first saw Pride of the Yankees in college during a sports films class (yes, such a class exists…and it was an easy A and a lot of fun) and loved it, even though I’m not a big Yankee guy. The real story is touching and emotional, and the movie does it justice. Gary Cooper is perfectly cast, as is Teresa Wright, and actress that never became a big star much to the surprise of anyone who sees her as Gehrig’s chipper wife Eleanor. It is the love story of Lou and Eleanor Gehrig that is the true soul of the movie, and that’s just fine, even in the eyes of a person like myself who doesn’t usually gravitate towards sentimental romance. Some of the scenes involving Lou’s German immigrant parents might seem a bit corny to modern audiences, but that minor infraction can be forgiven. Of course it all culminates with Gehrig’s legendary speech at Yankee Stadium where he declared himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth”. Not long ago I read a superb Gehrig biography by Jonathan Eig entitled Luckiest Man and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys this movie.