90’s Film Frenzy: Wicked Round 2

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Shawshank Redemption

 

Release:    9/23/94

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins

Directed By:        Frank Darabont (The Green Mile)

 

vs.

 

Doc Hollywood

 

Quotes

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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Mrs. Doubtfire

 

Release:    11/24/93

Starring:     Robin Williams, Sally Field

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

 

vs.

 

That Thing You Do

 

Quotes

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scent of a Woman

 

Release:    12/23/92

Starring:     Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell

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

 

vs.

 

The Blair Witch Project

 

Quotes

 

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “F” is used word 154 times.

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

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

_________________________

 

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

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

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

 

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The Lion King

 

Release:    6/15/94

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

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

 

vs.

 

Lethal Weapon 4

 

Quotes

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

Your baby is having my baby!

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

___________________________

 

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

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

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Deep Impact

 

Release:    5/8/98

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni

Directed By:        Mimi Leder (The Peacemaker)

 

vs.

 

October Sky

 

Quotes

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

 

____________________

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

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

 

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Wayne’s World

 

Release:    2/14/92

Starring:     Mike Myers, Dana Carvey

Directed By:        Penelope Spheeris (Black Sheep)

 

vs.

 

The Big Lebowski

 

Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dude abides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

________________

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

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

 

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Tommy Boy

 

Release:    3/31/95

Starring:     Chris Farley, David Spade

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

 

vs.

 

Glengarry Glen Ross

 

Quotes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Truman Show

 

Release:    6/5/98

Starring:     Jim Carrey, Ed Harris

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

 

vs.

 

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

 

Release:    12/6/91

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

Directed By:        Nicholas Meyer (The Day After)

 

vs.

 

Ghost

 

Quotes

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

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

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

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________

 

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

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

90’s Film Frenzy: Fly Round 2

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forrest Gump

Release:    7/6/94

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

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

 

vs.

 

Presumed Innocent

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

_______________________

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

The Fugitive

Release:    8/6/93

Starring:     Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones

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

 

vs.

 

Joe Versus the Volcano

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

______________________

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Billy Madison

Release:    2/10/95

Starring:     Adam Sandler

Directed By:        Tamra Davis (Half Baked)

 

vs.

 

The American President

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

___________________

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

 

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

 

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

 

Grumpy Old Men

Release:    12/25/93

Starring:     Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann Margret

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

 

vs.

 

Mr. Saturday Night

Quotes

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

Billy Crystal’s directorial debut.

 

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

_________________________

 

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

 

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

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Father of the Bride

Release:    12/20/91

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

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

 

vs.

 

City Slickers

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

This was Jake Gyllenhaal’s film debut.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Office Space

Release:    2/19/99

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

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

 

vs.

 

Hook

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Gwyneth Paltrow appears briefly as the teenage Wendy.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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The Wedding Singer

Release:    2/13/98

Starring:     Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore

Directed By:        Frank Coraci (The Waterboy, Blended)

 

vs.

 

Edward Scissorhands

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

___________________________

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

 

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

 

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Die Hard: With A Vengeance

Release:    5/19/95

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

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

 

vs.

 

Goodfellas

Release:    9/19/90

Starring:     Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci

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

 

vs.

 

Twister

 

Quotes

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

 

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

 

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

 

Odds & Ends

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

____________________________________

 

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

 

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

100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 3

 

Television is chewing gum for the eyes.  –  Frank Lloyd Wright

 

 

 

 

My father & I occasionally hearken back to the late February day 18 years ago when we laid my mother to rest. We always recall how blessed our family was with such a beautiful sunny day, because on top of our grief it would have been that much more difficult to go thru the whole process in the midst of rain, snow, & chilly temperatures. We’ve been fortunate to once again have had some unseasonably temperate days here in West Virginia lately, and since I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder and know I’ve had issues with Vitamin D deficiency in the past I have taken the opportunity to award myself some much needed sunshine therapy this week. Alas, now we are back to the cold & wet climate more typical of this time of year, but the good news is that means that we can move forward with this project. If you aren’t up to speed with previous entries then by all means check them out here, here, & here. After you are all caught up come back and enjoy what’s next with the rest of us.

 

 

 

 

50     Beavis & Butt-Head (Beavis and Butt-Head)

In my final year of college I finally escaped dorm life and got my first ever Bachelor Palace off campus. It just happened to be a few blocks away from our favorite watering hole(s), so oftentimes my buddies would stop by to hang out before we headed to those establishments. It was during this time that MTV premiered a crudely animated sitcom in which two dimwitted delinquents wander around their town causing chaos in between sitting on the couch commenting on music videos (which MTV still aired occasionally at that time). It’s a show with a narrow focus and I assume a very specific target audience, which explains why I wasn’t nearly as interested once I graduated and segued into adult life. However, I have really great (though a bit fuzzy) memories of that year. Some things are special because it is a shared experience, and I am so glad that Beavis & Butt-Head were a memorable part of that era in my life. A feature film was released in 1996 in which the moronic duo go on a quest to find their stolen TV and somehow end up at the White House hanging out with President Clinton. The movie is alright, but not great. A few years ago I got excited when a revival of the show was announced, but I must admit that I never watched the one season return.

 

49     Lenny & Squiggy (Laverne & Shirley)

Speaking of idiots…

Wacky neighbors are a dependable television trope, so while the titular twosome (who had been introduced on Happy Days) were the focus of the show and the ladies swooned over “The Big Ragu” Carmine Ragusa, oftentimes it was Lenny & Squiggy who got the laughs. Lenny Kosnowski & Andrew Squigman live in the apartment above Laverne & Shirley and are truck drivers for the same brewery at which the ladies are bottlecappers. They frequently pop in to annoy the gals, and fancy themselves as tough, cool, desirable 50’s greasers, when in truth they are just a couple of goofballs that don’t appeal to women at all.

 

48     Matt Foley (Saturday Night Live)

It is an inescapable fact that Chris Farley’s weight was used as part of the joke in most everything he did, from SNL to the films in which he appeared. But since Farley himself seemed to be okay with that I suppose no one else should be offended. By far his best SNL contribution was Matt Foley, a raucous motivational speaker who is “35 years old, eating a steady diet of government cheese, thrice divorced, and living in a van down by the river!”. Foley isn’t as much a motivator as a cautionary tale since he is unkempt, belligerent, rude, pessimistic, & apparently a failure, hence the humor, and he usually ended up somehow hilariously crashing thru a piece of furniture. The character was the perfect showcase for Farley’s unique brand of physical comedy, and it is unfortunate that he passed on before Matt Foley could be brought to the big screen.

 

47     Opie Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)

These days Ron Howard is best known as an award-winning director of films like Apollo 13, Splash, & A Beautiful Mind, and many affectionately recall his role as awkward teenager Richie Cunningham in the retro sitcom Happy Days. However, way back in the 1960’s little Ronny got his start portraying the precocious son of the local sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show. We literally get to watch Opie grow up from an adorable six year old to a young teenager. Father-son interactions provide some of the most uplifting moments on TAGS, but Opie has plenty of entertaining scenes with many other inhabitants of Mayberry as well. Two of my favorite TAGS episodes…Season 3’s Mr. McBeevee and Season 4’s Opie the Birdman…showcase Opie and give an indication of just how great of an actor Ron Howard could have been if that would have been his passion.

 

46         The Riddler (Batman)

Batman is my favorite superhero, and while his comic book origins are indeed dark…an aesthetic that most renditions of the story stick with…one notable exception is the beloved goofy 1960’s TV show. Episodic television allowed a different villain to invade Gotham City each week, including the already established “rogue’s gallery” of Batman baddies as well as some pretty hysterical adversaries created exclusively for the show. I’m a traditionalist, so I prefer the bad guys we all know & love to hate, and my favorite has to be The Riddler. Edward Nygma likes to tease The Caped Crusader with riddles that are clues to his location and/or the crime he is about to commit. Riddler wears a garish green costume peppered with question marks, and has an irritating laugh.

 

45     Balki Bartokomous (Perfect Strangers)

ABC had a penchant in the late 80’s into the 90’s for churning out silly sitcoms that, by any objective measure of quality, shouldn’t have made it more than a season or two, but somehow became cherished by the masses. It is an interesting lesson that modern television executives should learn. Not everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for the next gritty, studious, sanctimonious, ripped-from-the-headlines show. Sometimes we simply crave pointless escapism that tickles our funny bone. At any rate, Balki is a sheepherder from the Mediterranean island of Mypos. He comes to Chicago to stay with his tightly wound cousin Larry, and boom…you have a fish-out-of-water story that’s also an amusing take on the Odd Couple formula. Balki’s misunderstandings about American culture are comical, as are Larry’s exasperated attempts to clear up any confusion. When anything good happens the two engage in Balki’s Dance of Joy, which kind of looks like something folks do at a Greek wedding.

 

44     Frank Costanza (Seinfeld)

In addition to the hysterical main cast, Seinfeld also had a ton of memorable guest stars and several great recurring characters. Frank is the obnoxious father of George. He is a temperamental traveling salesman best remembered for inventing Festivus, a non-commercial Christmas alternative that features feats of strength & airing of grievances.

 

43     Daisy Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)

I went thru puberty while The Dukes of Hazzard was on the air, so yes…a sexy woman known for wearing super short jean shorts and who appeared in a skimpy bikini in the show’s opening credits every week for seven years definitely frosted my cupcake. Daisy is a hybrid…part sweet southern belle, part tough as nails tomboy. She is said to “drive like Richard Petty, shoot like Annie Oakley, & know the words to all of Dolly Parton’s songs.” She’s not above using her feminine gifts to distract anyone trying to go after her family, and most often does so with charmingly inept Deputy Enos Strate, who has always had a huge crush on her. In contrast to modern shows in which very little is left to the imagination even on network television, Daisy Duke seems like a quaint reminder of a more innocent time.

 

42     Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, & Sophia (The Golden Girls)

I just can’t choose one. The entire ensemble made The Golden Girls work, and even with two Emmys & three Golden Globes I still think it may have been an underrated program. Dorothy Zbornak is a Brooklyn born teacher who is divorced from philandering Stan. She is smart, acerbic, & perpetually exasperated by her roommates, though she thinks of them as family. Blanche Devereux is a well-to-do southern belle and a widow with a healthy libido. Rose Nyland is a naïve & simpleminded widow who is fond of telling pointless stories about her childhood in St. Olaf, MN. She’s really sweet & trusting, and prone to being taken advantage of by others. Sophia Petrillo is Dorothy’s elderly mother. She is sharp as a tack, fearful that Dorothy will send her back to Shady Pines retirement home, & loves to tell stories from her youth in Sicily, though there is a general vibe that most of those stories are poppycock. As opposed to many shows that tend to feature young & pretty people, The Golden Girls proved that “seasoned citizens” can be a lot of fun.

 

41     Otis Campbell (The Andy Griffith Show)

I love any episode of TAGS in which town drunk Otis appears. I suppose nowadays some people would get their knickers twisted about alcoholism being treated as a joke, but thankfully folks were much less politically correct back in the 60’s. Otis actually has a job & a wife, but every Saturday night he goes out and gets snockered on hooch, then locks himself up in the Mayberry jail. Did you know that Hal Smith…the actor who portrays Otis…was a well-known voice artist?? He most notably voiced Goofy in several Disney productions, including Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

 

40     President Jed Bartlet (The West Wing)

I’ve often asked myself if I would vote for Jed Bartlet in an election, but there is no conclusive answer because I don’t believe that anyone like him actually exists. He is a man of high ideals but realistic expectations. He is a Nobel Prize winning economist, but despite being brilliant he’s also empathetic & quite funny. President Bartlet…like everyone associated with the show…is a bleeding heart liberal, but somehow all involved are able to make that look like a good thing, which is probably one of the greatest magic tricks anyone has ever performed on television. Martin Sheen might be a crackpot in real life, but credit where credit is due…he is a brilliant actor. The President was originally intended to be a rarely seen supporting character, with plots revolving around various White House staff members. However, that plan quickly changed, which undoubtedly made for a better program.

 

39     Dr. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap (WKRP in Cincinnati)

When I was a kid I considered becoming a radio DJ when I grew up. Why?? Well, probably because Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap made the job seem so cool & fun. Johnny is a laid back pothead & former 60’s hippie whose career in radio had been successful before he fell on hard times. He had considered WKRP to be rock bottom, but when the station’s format changes from easy listening to rock n’ roll he is energized and becomes a very popular morning drive personality. Venus Flytrap (real name: Gordon Sims) is a Vietnam vet who is hired by his pal Andy Travis, WKRP’s new program director. It is Andy who suggests the pseudonym and also advises Sims to dress cool so he’ll act cool. Unlike Johnny, whose on-air persona is hyper & wild, Venus is tranquil & chill. He is rather conservative and oftentimes acts as an even-tempered voice of reason. These two dudes made being a disc jockey look like an attractive career option to a young boy in grade school back in the day, and it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that it’s actually a really low-paying & unstable gig.

 

38     Norm Peterson (Cheers)

Cheers is the bar where everybody knows your name, and that’s especially true of Norm, who is enthusiastically greeted by the crowd every time he walks thru the door. Norm is an accountant who frequently seems to be between jobs, so he ends up spending a lot of time sitting at the end of the bar drinking beer. He is married to Vera, who we never meet in eleven seasons. Norm doesn’t seem to be particularly unhappy or disdainful of Vera, but neither is he ever in a rush to go home. It’s pretty funny that in an entire decade of watching the guy do virtually nothing except drink beer we never see him even remotely intoxicated, and his huge unpaid bar tab is occasionally the subject of mockery.

 

37     Wayne & Garth (Saturday Night Live)

Party on!! Wayne Campbell & Garth Algar are the hosts of a public access TV show emanating from Wayne’s basement. They are two nerdy juveniles who think they’re cooler than they are because they like heavy metal music & hot women. The sketches introduced a ton of catchphrases that many of a certain age still utilize with some frequency, such as “Schwing!”, “That’s what she said”, “Not!”, “hurl” & “spew”, “Are you mental?”, and “We’re not worthy!”. In 1992 the duo took their act to the big screen in a surprisingly solid film that did well enough to get a sequel just a year & a half later.

 

36     Linus Van Pelt (Peanuts)

Peanuts is interesting. It never spawned a regular comic book or TV show, and creator Charles Shultz was content to simply produce his comic strip for a half century. However, he did allow the characters to be marketed, which resulted in a ton of merchandise that’s still being churned out nearly two decades after Schultz’s death. As I did when writing about my favorite cartoons I am taking advantage of a loophole of sorts in the fact that there have been a plethora of Peanuts animated television specials over the years, a couple of which many of us grew up watching and continue to enjoy annually. Linus is the youngest of the group, a blanket toting, thumb sucking boy who tends to be the most solicitous & sensible out of any of his friends. He’s a great listener and always gives good advice, although his self-absorbed pals continue to overlook & disrespect his insight.

 

35     Captain Hawkeye Pierce (MASH)

Dr. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce is the 4077th’s chief surgeon, a New England bred prankster who deals with the daily grind of being in a warzone by drinking copious amounts of martinis and flirting with every female in camp. He resents being drafted and definitely doesn’t conform to the Army way of life. Despite his irreverence it is Hawkeye that provides many of the series’ more somber moments after it segued into more of a dramedy during the second half of its run. In the series finale he suffers a breakdown and returns home to be a local country doctor after the war ends.

 

34     Bo & Luke Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)

The show’s theme song describes them as good ol’ boys that never mean any harm. Luke is the older cousin and is shown to be smarter & more level-headed. He’s a former Marine. Bo is the younger, more vain & flirtatious pretty boy. He almost always drives the General Lee. The Duke Boys are on probation after being caught unlawfully transporting moonshine, and aren’t legally allowed to own firearms or leave the county, although they frequently do so anyway. They are constant targets of law enforcement, and regularly foil Boss Hogg’s shady schemes.

 

33     Dr. Heathcliff & Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show)

While characters like Fred Sanford, JJ “Dynomite!” Evans, Arnold Jackson, & “Rerun” Stubbs are all entertaining on various levels, I don’t think there’s any way they could be held up as role models. Conversely, The Huxtables are undeniably so. Mom is a perceptive & resolute attorney, while Dad is a fun-loving & considerate physician. Both are educated and have high expectations for their five children. They are strict yet devoted parents, and their marriage is strong. They are affluent but not extravagant, and seem to have solid moral certitude. In other words, Cliff & Claire represent the vast majority of Americans, the sort of stable citizens & contributors to society that are often disregarded & ridiculed by the media & pop culture. The Cosby Show was popular and critically acclaimed, so I’m not sure why the formula hasn’t been duplicated a thousand times over. Of course I suppose any attempt to copy it would just be a poor imitation.

 

32     Fred Flintstone (The Flintstones)

Yabba dabba doo!! The Flintstones is a sneaky show. What do I mean by that?? Well, we tend to focus on the fact that it is animated, and that it is set in The Stone Age (the rock puns are always a treat). However, the truth is that it is simply a traditional sitcom about an average nuclear family and their friendly neighbors. Fred is an overbearing yet kindhearted crane operator. He’s short-tempered & irritable, but he’s devoted to his family & friends. He enjoys bowling, golf, & hanging out at the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos Lodge. When I was a kid I honestly thought that actor Jackie Gleason provided Fred’s voice, but I was wrong…sort of. Gleason may not have been directly involved with The Flintstones, but his Ralph Kramden character from 1950’s sitcom The Honeymooners heavily influenced how Fred was portrayed.

 

31     Dr. Niles Crane (Frasier)

Niles is the neurotic & effete younger brother of the show’s eponymous radio show host. Like his big brother Niles is also a psychiatrist. He’s the kind of pretentious nerd who loves opera, expensive wine, classical music, French food, & theater but knows absolutely zero about sports or pop culture. Niles is definitely a hypochondriac & a bit OCD, and tends to be overzealous in attempts to ingratiate himself into the perceived proper social circles. When we first meet Niles he is married to Maris, who we never see (much like Vera in Cheers), but his descriptions of her are horribly hysterical. They eventually divorce and he ends up marrying his father’s caregiver Daphne, who he’d been infatuated with since the day they met. I absolutely love Niles, and would have really enjoyed a Niles & Daphne spinoff, but sadly that never happened.

 

30     Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)

Andy Griffith was a brilliant actor. Take some time to watch the 1958 film No Time for Sergeants, in which he plays country bumpkin Will Stockdale, who hilariously clashes with his superiors when he is drafted into the Air Force (sounds like a great idea for a sitcom). After that watch 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, in which Griffith portrays drifter Lonesome Rhodes, who turns a random appearance on a radio show into fame & fortune on television then becomes an egotistical bully before his star falls as quickly as it rose. Griffith based Sheriff Taylor largely on Will Stockdale, atleast initially. After the first season of TAGS he figured out that other characters in Mayberry should be the source of humor while he played the bemused straight man, and so he toned down the hillbilly simpleton persona considerably. Sheriff Taylor is the kind of lawman we’d all love to encounter but probably doesn’t exist in reality…not anymore anyway. He doesn’t even carry a gun!! He’s a good friend, a pleasant neighbor, and the type of father all men should aspire to be. Check out the Season 1 episode A Feud is a Feud in which Andy explains Romeo & Juliet to Opie, or the Season 3 episode Andy Discovers America, in which he gives a unique history lesson to a group of boys. Andy is constantly doing everything he can to boost his deputy’s fragile ego, and is usually the voice of reason in the midst of idiocy. In the last few seasons Sheriff Taylor becomes a little too serious, frequently becoming aggravated by the antics of others, which is just one of the reasons that the first five years of TAGS are the best.

 

29     Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Show)   

When The Muppets won the Sammy Award for Favorite Movie in 2011 I said that “Honestly, toward the end when Kermit breaks out into Rainbow Connection I became so swelled with happiness & emotion that if I could have jumped out of my wheelchair and given a standing ovation I swear to God I would have”. It was in that moment that I realized just what kind of impact The Muppets had on my childhood. In his other popular song It’s Not Easy Being Green Kermit laments that “it seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things, and people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky”, which I have always taken as a perceptive nod to the marginalized in society who often feel ignored, disrespected, & taken for granted. I bet you didn’t realize Kermit was so profound.

 

28     Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

There are only two starship captains in the Trek universe that matter. Captain Picard is an alleged Frenchman with singularly British proclivities (“Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!). He is cultured, judicious, & somewhat aloof, though he does care deeply for his crew. He prefers diplomacy over battle, but ultimately does what needs to be done. He is fascinated with archaeology, enjoys fencing, is quite knowledgeable about physics & literature, and loves horses. Captain Picard is a true Renaissance man, even though he was born about 600 years after that period ended.

 

27         Stefano DiMera (Days of Our Lives)

I’ve been watching DOOL since I was about ten years old, and during that time no supervillain in any entertainment genre has been as evil as Stefano DiMera. He came to Salem in 1982 professing to simply be a European business tycoon, but it soon became apparent that he was more of a crime boss. Stefano has a longstanding vendetta against the blue collar Brady family and makes their lives a living hell for the biggest part of three decades. He dies about a dozen times, but is inevitably revealed to be alive, which explains why he calls himself The Phoenix. The actor who portrayed Stefano actually did pass away a few years ago, but the way the storyline was constructed on the show left things open ended, as though The Phoenix could rise again someday.

 

26     Charlie Brown (Peanuts)

Charlie Brown is essentially the animated personification of his creator Charles Shultz. He is the classic loveable loser, always being insulted & ignored by his friends. He’s a shy & mild-mannered kid with a bundle of neuroses bubbling up inside. But as unsuccessful as he tends to be Charlie Brown rarely gives up. He may not be confident about the result (with good reason), but he keeps trying. In the underrated 2006 sequel Rocky Balboa the aging boxer tells his son that “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” That’s a great lesson for all of us, and Charlie Brown embodies exactly that attitude.

 

 

 

Okay ladies & gentlemen…let’s take another break. We’ll return for the exciting conclusion in a couple of days.

100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 2

I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.  –  Orson Welles

 

 

 

Welcome back!! If you haven’t checked out Part 1 yet please do. I think you’ll enjoy it.

As I’ve been working on this project I’ve been amazed just how varied & wide-ranging my television watching habits have been, and the span of time we are covering. I certainly have a preference for comedy and am an undeniable child of the 80’s, but have been fortunate to have been exposed to a wide variety of things in my lifetime. Syndication has helped me to appreciate programs that I may have otherwise been too young to have seen, and I can’t help but think about how kids growing up today have the advantage of streaming, which is cool on many levels. At any rate, we reach the halfway point today. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

75     The Castaways (Gilligan’s Island)

Gilligan’s Island is probably best remembered these days for its catchy theme song, but a funny show has to have more than that, right?? However, that tune does do a great job of introducing us to the group of folks who are aboard the SS Minnow for “a three hour tour” when they become shipwrecked on a remote Pacific island after a tropical storm. The eponymous Gilligan is the ship’s first mate, a bumbling screw-up (FYI…remember Jerry Van Dyke?? He also turned down the role of Gilligan. Oops.). Captain Jonas Grumby…simply known as The Skipper…served in the Navy with Gilligan, who once saved his life. The Skipper often becomes exasperated with the other castaways, especially Gilligan, but he’s also a good friend and big brother figure who affectionately calls Gilligan “Little Buddy”. Thurston Howell III & his wife Lovey are eccentric millionaires who hilariously try to retain their affluent lifestyle despite being stranded on an island. Ginger Grant is a famous movie star clearly based atleast somewhat on Marilyn Monroe. She insists on wearing expensive gowns at all times. Mary Ann Summers is a beautiful Kansas farm girl who won her “three hour tour” in a contest. She is the classic girl-next-door, much more practical & less haughty than Ginger. Professor Roy Hinkley…referred to as The Professor by the others…is a high school science teacher who joined the “three hour tour” to do research for a book about botany. He has a list of college degrees a mile long, and uses bamboo & coconuts to construct all kinds of creature comforts for the group…but can never come up with a way to get them rescued.

 

74     Denny Crane & Alan Shore (Boston Legal)

Boston Legal is an underrated dramedy that aired on ABC more than a decade ago. It was a spinoff of The Practice, which was another overlooked show. Two of the attorneys on Boston Legal are Denny Crane & Alan Shore. This was William Shatner’s big TV comeback after the 80’s cop show TJ Hooker, and James Spader’s initial foray into television after a mildly successful film career that included 80’s classics Pretty in Pink, Mannequin, Less Than Zero, Wall Street, and Sex, Lies, & Videotape. Denny Crane is a senior partner and a self-proclaimed legend in the legal profession. He’s also nuttier than a damn fruitcake, which he attributes to mad cow disease. He has questionable ethics, enjoys shooting a pistol in his office, and loves to say his own name. Alan Shore is a brilliant legal mind who, like his colleague, also has dubious ethical standards. He is neurotic and routinely finds himself in hot water for his unconventional courtroom antics. At the end of each episode Alan & Denny relax on the balcony outside of Denny’s office smoking cigars, drinking scotch, & discussing the events of the day. Alan & Denny are one of the most peculiar duos in television history, but despite the show winning its fair share of awards it never got great ratings and only lasted five seasons. That’s a shame, because even to this day I’d enjoy seeing more of Alan & Denny.

 

73     Jack & Rebecca Pearson (This Is Us)

I am violating my own rule. Usually, when compiling a list such as this, I refrain from being a prisoner of the moment. I typically opine that greatness takes time and we shouldn’t assign hyperbolic superlatives to something that is still in the present, that hasn’t had time to percolate and be viewed thru the unforgiving prism of time. However, if you aren’t watching NBC’s This Is Us…only in its second season…then you are missing out on one of the finest television programs of its generation. The premise is brilliant, the performances reside in their own stratosphere, & the writing is superb. Jack & Rebecca are the parents of three children that we get to know both as children & adults. The show time jumps between different intervals from 1980 thru the present…and on occasion even provides a glimpse of the future. We know that Jack is dead in the present, but in the past he is seen as an ideal husband & father. Yes he does battle alcoholism, but seems to successfully tackle the problem when faced with the prospect of losing his family. Rebecca in the present is reserved & tough, while in the past she is extroverted & approachable. Viewers are just beginning to understand her evolution, which is kind of the point of the whole show. Why are we the way we are?? How do events…big & small…in our childhood/youth/young adulthood shape who we become later in life?? Jack & Rebecca aren’t extraordinary. They aren’t wealthy. They don’t have cool & exciting jobs. They are average middle class parents from Pittsburgh who adore their children and do the best they can navigating the obstacles of life. And that’s exactly why we love them.

 

72     Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)

HIMYM and I suffered a bad break-up. Many fans were angered & felt misled after the series finale in 2014. I vowed to never watch a rerun and have abided by that, which is a damn shame because it was a cool show up until that horrific dénouement. Having said that, I will reluctantly give proper credit. Viewers of a certain age may remember Neil Patrick Harris for his early 1990s portrayal of Doogie Howser, a prodigious 16 year old doctor, but Barney is no Doogie. He is a thirtysomething bank executive in a clear state of arrested development, described by his best buddy as a high functioning sociopath. He’s a suit wearing, catchphrase spewing, manipulative & self-absorbed ladies’ man who fancies himself an expert on women. In reality most people would hate a guy like Barney, and within the context of the show even his friends aren’t too sure about him. However, as a sitcom character his outlandish shtick is entertaining, and NPH’s performance is all the more remarkable given the fact that he is actually a flaming homosexual in real life.

 

71     Coach Ernie Pantuso & Woody Boyd (Cheers)

Cheers had a true ensemble cast so it is difficult to choose some characters over others. However, each is so different that it seems natural that fans would have their favorites. One of the cool things about the show is that even when there were departures new arrivals plugged right in and kept the laughs coming for 11 seasons, making Cheers one of the longest running sitcoms of all time. Coach is an original cast member. He is a former baseball coach & current bartender who is an amusing blend of senile & naïve. Nicholas Colasanto passed away after Season 3, therefore Coach also died and was replaced with the equally simpleminded Woody, an Indiana country boy whose charming innocence is in direct contrast to the neurotic cynicism of his colleagues. Whether intentional or not casting directors pulled off a neat trick. They filled the void left by Coach’s death with a character who is by no means a carbon copy but nevertheless retains many of the quirky traits that fans loved about his predecessor.

 

70     Dan Fielding (Night Court)

Smarmy. That’s the word that comes to mind about Dan Fielding, the night shift prosecutor for Manhattan’s criminal court. Dan is a greedy, narcissistic horndog who looks at his colleagues & the criminals they all encounter on a nightly basis with contempt. Dan is always quick with an insult and constantly seeking opportunities to make easy money or score with easy women. He’s the kind of guy few would want to deal with in real life, but as a sitcom character he adds a layer of joviality to what is obviously meant to be good old-fashioned slapstick.

 

69     The Church Lady (Saturday Night Live)

Her name is Enid Strict. Did you know that?? Dana Carvey’s interpretation of an elderly, sanctimonious, pejorative congregant has its basis…like all of the best impersonations…in truth, or atleast our preconceived notions of it. Thankfully most churchgoers I’ve known in my life aren’t quite as harsh as The Church Lady, but one can choose to see the character as a cautionary tale. The sketch…in which Enid hosts a show called Church Chat…also serves as a vehicle to poke fun at various celebrities with dubious scruples & the assorted scandals they find themselves in. I’m a little surprised that there was never a Church Lady movie, but that’s probably just as well. Too many SNL based films have proven that a little bit goes a long way, and I’m glad the legacy of this particular character wasn’t besmirched that way.

 

68     Toby Ziegler (The West Wing)

Toby is the Communications Director in the Jed Bartlet White House. He is a soft-spoken, morose, idealistic, prickly man with a profound sense of morality and extremely high standards. He is one of the President’s most trusted advisors and rarely backs down from an argument. I’m not sure I could be friends with Toby because we would likely clash over contrasting bedrock principles and he’s way too tightly wound for my taste, but he’s the kind of person one can’t help but deeply respect.

 

67     John Walton Jr. (The Waltons)

One of the cooler aspects of The Waltons that many might forget is its framing device. The series is essentially a reflection of the past by John Walton Jr….aka John Boy…whose older incarnation does a rather lyrical opening & closing narration for each episode. Depression Era John Boy is who we see onscreen, and he is the eldest of six siblings that live with their parents & grandparents at the foot of a mountain in rural Virginia. John Boy is quietly ambitious and eventually leaves Walton’s Mountain to pursue a career in writing. Amongst the most endearing traditions in television is the end of each episode when all of the various family members lay in their beds in the darkness and tell each other goodnight. To contrast wholesome, sentimental shows like The Waltons with much of what passes for entertainment nowadays is like comparing filet mignon to scrapple. Goodnight John Boy…thanks for the memories.

 

66     Arnold Horshack (Welcome Back Kotter)

Who remembers Welcome Back Kotter??

Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh!! I do!!

Horshack is the nerdiest Sweathog, the class clown always ready with the perfect one-liner. In contrast to the others, who like to believe they’re way cool & above it all, he is kind of whiny and not really a hallmark of machismo, but that’s okay because he’s seems genuine and, rather than beat him up like tough guys usually do nerds in high school stories, at James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, NY Horshack is just one of the guys.

 

65     Howard Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory)

I suppose I’m going against my own philosophy again, but since TBBT is in its 11th season I think it’s fair to say that we have a big enough sample size for a knowledgeable analysis of the character. Out of everyone on the show Howard is the one who has undergone the greatest amount of growth, evolving from a clueless lecher, mama’s boy, & wannabe ladies’ man to a devoted husband & father. Oh sure he still has quirks (I don’t understand why any man would voluntarily wear a dickey) and he’s still one of the most idiosyncratic & comical parts of the ensemble, but I like the fact that he has developed & matured instead of playing the kind of oblivious buffoon that never grows up. With TBBT certainly in its last couple of seasons I would be all in on a Wolowitz spinoff.

 

64     The General Lee (The Dukes of Hazzard)

Yes, I know…it’s a car. Yet I submit to you that The General Lee is just about as important as any other character on The Dukes of Hazzard. I was part of one of the key demographics…pre-teen boys…that made the show successful back in the early 80’s because guys love fast cars, especially ones that can leap over things like Superman. Plus it had that really cool horn!! And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s the car and only the car that has made the show “controversial” the past few years, decades after its original run. There is absolutely nothing else that anyone can point to about The Dukes of Hazzard as being “offensive” since it is about the least provocative television program ever produced. I read somewhere that 300+ General Lees were used in the course of seven seasons, and that only about 17 still exist. PGA golfer Bubba Watson owns one of the 17, but during the “controversy” a few years ago he indicated that he was going to paint the American flag over the Confederate flag. I don’t know if he actually followed thru or was just saying the politically correct thing in the midst of the storm, but either way he’s a moron that I haven’t cheered for since and never will again.

 

63     Dwayne Schneider (One Day at a Time)

One Day at a Time was a preachy sitcom…sporadically funny, but the kind of show that took itself way too seriously, an afterschool special with a laugh track about a single mother starting over in the big city with bratty teenage daughters. Of course I was in grade school when it was on, so it’d be reasonable to assume that I just didn’t “get it”. At any rate, levity (and testosterone) was provided by building super Schneider, whose pornstache & tool belt make him look like the love child of Clark Gable & Batman. He’s an affable windbag, the kind of neighbor that can be annoying but you miss him when he’s not around.

 

62     Felix Unger & Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple)

The Odd Couple is a 1968 Neil Simon play that begat a 1968 feature film starring the incomparable Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau. The concept came to television for five seasons beginning in 1970, with Tony Randall & Jack Klugman in the lead roles. Though its original run ended before my 3rd birthday the magic of syndication allowed me to appreciate Felix & Oscar throughout my childhood. Felix is a persnickety fussbudget who works as a professional photographer. Oscar is a laid-back disheveled sportswriter. When Felix gets tossed out by his wife he shows up at Oscar’s door needing a place to live. The two are oil & water…they couldn’t be more different. The word sitcom is short for situation comedy, meaning that the laughs are theoretically generated by the situation, but it is clear to anyone who’s ever watched much TV that characters matter more than the situations they are put in, and The Odd Couple is a prime example. The legacy of Felix & Oscar is a formula that screenwriters for television & movies have been trying to copy for decades, but it really is difficult to measure up to the original.

 

61     Sam Malone (Cheers)

The foundation of Cheers is bar owner Sam, a former Boston Red Sox relief pitcher and recovering alcoholic. He is supposed to embody the dumb jock stereotype, but doesn’t appear to be all that unintelligent. He’s a somewhat vain ladies’ man who uses his fading celebrity to score with women. The first five seasons of the show focused largely on Sam’s antagonistic romance with erudite waitress Diane Chambers, and her departure freed him up to grown ever so slightly in the latter half of Cheers’ decade+ on the air. In hindsight one may choose to look at the show’s regulars as kind of sad…losers who waste away hours of their hollow & futile existence in a bar. Sam is their pack leader, a lonely man desperately holding on to remnants of past glory and trading in alcohol for sex to satisfy an unhealthy addiction. However, since I was a teenager the majority of the years Cheers was on I remember it as a funny, well-written show and recall Sam Malone as a cool & amusing guy who is good to a group of friends with whom he engages in humorous hijinks.

 

60     Larry, Darryl, & Darryl (Newhart)

Vermont isn’t typically the first place that comes to mind when one ponders rednecks, but three of the funniest to ever appear on television lived there…and two of them never uttered a word in 8 seasons (until the legendary series finale). They always introduce themselves the same way…”Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.” I believe the characters were supposed to be a one shot deal, but were such a hit with the audience that they became a regular part of the cast, even running the neighborhood café. They remind me a little bit of The Darling Family, who guest starred in several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show back in the 1960’s.

 

59     Major Frank Burns (MASH)

Frank Burns was originally portrayed by Robert Duvall in the 1970 film, but I think the character is actually funnier on the TV series. Frank is an uptight & inept surgeon who doesn’t appreciate the sophomoric antics of some of his colleagues, and he is on the receiving end of a lot of insults & practical jokes. He carries on an allegedly secret affair with Hot Lips Houlihan that pretty much everyone at the 4077th knows all about. When she gets married to another soldier Frank has a nervous breakdown and is discharged from the army, eventually landing an administrative gig at a veteran’s hospital in Indiana. After Frank’s departure at the end of Season 5 I feel like MASH lost much of its wit and became a little more sanctimonious than originally intended.

 

58     Vinnie Barbarino (Welcome Back Kotter)

It is really easy to blur the lines between character and actor, especially when that actor is a megastar. Kotter is responsible for launching John Travolta’s career into the stratosphere. His role in the show led to being cast in Saturday Night Fever, which of course led to Grease. The rest is history. Vinnie is the apparent leader of the Sweathogs. He’s cool, good looking, confident, popular with the ladies…and dumb as a box of rocks. After Travolta’s film career took off he didn’t completely leave the show, but was only in about a third of the final season’s episodes. High school shows are tenuous anyway because eventually the characters are no longer credible as teenagers, but many such programs have found a way to evolve. However, losing Travolta meant losing Vinnie, and Kotter couldn’t survive without him.

 

57     George & Weezie Jefferson (The Jeffersons)

The Jeffersons was a spinoff of All in the Family that approaches racial issues from a slightly different perspective. George is a prosperous businessman who owns a chain of dry cleaning stores, and his success allows he & his wife Weezie to move from their house in Queens to a swanky penthouse apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan. They even have a maid. George is a fast-talking smartass, while Weezie is the classic exasperated wife who understands her husband’s faults and is often irritated by his antics, but loves him anyway.

 

56     Gordon Shumway (ALF)

The titular Alien Life Form from the planet Melmac has a name…Gordon Shumway. The show is a unique fish-out-of-water story, and Gordon is a sardonic yet good-hearted jokester who looks like some sort of Dr. Seuss/Jim Henson mashup. He’d really like to eat the family cat, but of course never does, and is purportedly working on fixing his spaceship so he can return home, but that process takes the entirety of the show’s four seasons. In what ended up being the series finale we get a cliffhanger in which Gordon is captured by the government before he can escape to Melmac, which is a pretty crappy conclusion for a memorable character.

 

55     Johnny Drama (Entourage)

By far my favorite HBO series was Entourage, about a Queens, NY born actor and his buddies living the high life in Hollywood. The movie star in the show is loosely based on the life of Mark Wahlberg, aka early 90’s hip-hop rapper Marky Mark, who of course went on to star in movies like Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm, & The Departed. You may recall that Mark has an older brother named Donnie, who achieved success as part of 80’s boy band New Kids on the Block but then fell into relative obscurity before starring in the TV show Blue Bloods, which has been a modest hit at best. It is fair to say Mark’s stardom eclipsed that of his older brother long ago. The older brother on Entourage is Johnny Chase, aka Johnny Drama. He found success starring in a sci-fi fantasy show called Viking Quest, but then his career stalled as his little brother Vince’s star rose, and now he is ostensibly employed as Vince’s personal chef & bodyguard. Johnny outwardly displays bravado & confidence in his ability as an actor, but he is obviously insecure and all too aware that his brother is much more talented. He loves Vince and isn’t really jealous of his success, but hilariously seizes every opportunity to ride his coattails. Johnny, as my grandmother used to say, has more BS than a Christmas turkey, so while everybody likes him no one really takes him seriously.

 

54     Dick Loudon (Newhart) & Dr. Bob Hartley (The Bob Newhart Show)

How can anyone not love Bob Newhart?? He is quietly & subtly hilarious, as opposed to many loud & obnoxious comedians. He essentially played himself…or comparable versions of his stage persona…in two different sitcoms. In the 70’s he was Dr. Bob Hartley, a mild-mannered psychiatrist dealing with a zany group of patients & colleagues. In the 80’s he was Dick Loudon, a mild-mannered writer & innkeeper dealing with an entire town of eccentric oddballs. I think I like the second show a little more than its predecessor, but that’s probably because I was a little older when Newhart was on and remember it better.

 

53     Latka Gravas (Taxi)

Andy Kaufman was more of a performance artist than a stand-up comedian, and he definitely marched to a different drumbeat than everyone else. His most enduring creation is a character called Foreign Man, a staple of his comedy club act. That persona was the basis for Latka, a timid mechanic at the Sunshine Cab Company who has multiple personalities, a concept that allowed Kaufman to portray different characters. Kaufman was famously reluctant to sign on for Taxi and didn’t really enjoy playing Latka, but nevertheless created an enduring character that was a welcome addition to the ensemble.

 

52         Dawson Leery & Joey Potter (Dawson’s Creek)

I am not ashamed to admit that I loved Dawson’s Creek!! High school shows are a tried & true television staple, and occasionally they appeal to age groups other than teenagers. The early seasons of Dawson’s Creek overlapped with the final years of the ostensibly cooler and unquestionably glitzier Beverly Hills 90210, a program to which I never really became all that attached. The kids in Capeside, MA seemed much more relevant & grounded than their left coast counterparts, and the writing was crisp & astute. The eponymous Dawson is an aspiring filmmaker whose hero is Steven Spielberg. Joey (a female for those not in the know) is the beautiful yet shy & awkward girl next door. Their relationship is the cornerstone of the show, and it’s one of those on again/off again will they or won’t they deals. Ultimately Joe ends up with Dawson’s best friend Pacey (and boy did that relationship cause some angst), while Dawson finds happiness with his true love…a writing gig in Hollywood.

 

51     Jack Tripper (Three’s Company)

Could you imagine a show like Three’s Company in the 21st century?? It would never fly. First of all, a guy and a couple of women living together is something most people wouldn’t raise an eyebrow about these days. And secondly, the idea that Jack has to lie to his landlord and say that he is gay to be allowed to stay in the apartment wouldn’t be politically correct now, no to mention the reactions of Mr. Roper & later on Mr. Furley to Jack’s alleged orientation. But this was four decades ago and the world was a different place. At any rate, Jack is the comedic cornerstone, an aspiring chef who hangs out with his lascivious pal Larry down at The Regal Beagle (a local watering hole), but respects the boundaries set within his living arrangement with roomies Janet & Chrissy (and later Cindy then Terri). Jack is a clumsy screw-up whose pratfalls provide many of each episode’s laughs.

 

 

 

Let’s take a break. We’ll dive into Part 3 tomorrow. Or the next day *lol*.

Superfluous 7 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians

My man Michael Wilbon recently posted a video commentary…for no apparent reason…on comedythe PTI Facebook page about his Top 10 stand-up comics. Because Wilbon, as erudite as he seems on TV, is subconsciously a militant black man and a throwback 60’s radical his list was, shall we say, just a little bit prejudiced. It wasn’t too terrible I suppose, but it had Wanda Sykes for God’s sake, a woman who is only mildly amusing at her best, while leaving off 2 or 3 certified comedy legends. My dismay with this absurd display of racially biased poppycock has inspired me to create my own ranking. I have made a concerted effort to eschew the kind of poor taste & obvious sociopolitical slant shown by Wilbon, but to be fair we are all a product of our background, bound to be influenced by the time & place in which we were raised and the things to which we were or were not exposed. I’m about 15 years younger than Wilbon, was raised in small town WV as opposed to Chicago, and watched way too much TV as a kid. I am a child of the 80’s (with fond memories of the late 70’s) and became an adult in the 90’s. I do think my rankings are better & more reasonable than the list that motivated this effort, but others may disagree. So be it.


comedy2In pondering this idea I had a lot of names pop into my head. It became necessary to create parameters. The focus here is on stand-up comedy…just a guy (or lady) on stage with a microphone in front of a live audience. Many of the best comedians have gone on to star in TV series or become movie stars. That’s fine, but that’s not what this is about. Jimmy Fallon may have once done stand-up comedy, but in my mind he is an SNL alum who went on to do a few forgettable films and now hosts the Tonight Show. Same deal with David Letterman. To me he is a talk show host that has been a centerpiece of late night television for ¾ of my life. At any rate, even with those self-imposed boundaries the list was overflowing, so we will begin with some Honorable Mentions that didn’t quite make the cut for one reason or another.

 

Honorable Mention

Tim Allen
His stand-up routines landed him a successful sitcom which he parlayed into a mediocre film career, so I think of him primarily as a comedic actor.

Billy Crystal
I LOVE Crystal, but to me he is an actor & awards show host.

Bob Newhart
His standup career was before my time. I remember him as the star of two of TV’s more underappreciated sitcoms.

Don Rickles
He’s funny, but his career trajectory plateaued before I was born.

Johnny Carson & Jay Leno
I know them primarily as two long time hosts of the Tonight Show.

Bob Hope
An undisputed legend, but one whose career peaked long before I was born and who I fondly recall as hosting the occasional variety show special on TV.

Steve Martin
I realize he was a revolutionary stand-up comic in the 70’s, but I know him mainly as a film actor and for his numerous appearances on SNL.

Garry Shandling
Funny, but not quite elite. I recall him as a frequent guest host on the Tonight Show and remember his first sitcom on Showtime in the late 80’s.

Buddy Hackett
He was before my time. I remember him mostly for his guest appearances on Carson’s Tonight Show in the 1980’s.

Sam Kinison
Sadly Kinison was gone far too soon, killed by a teenage drunk driver at the age of 38. Kinison was obnoxious, controversial, & often blasphemous, but he was funny. It would have been really interesting to see how he might have evolved. Would he have softened with age?? Would he have become a caricature of himself, still trying to be the loud, abrasive rebel even as an elder statesman of comedy?? Or would he have just flamed out & faded away once his shtick started to grow old?? We’ll never know, and that’s too bad.

Steven Wright
Wright’s deadpan delivery is unmistakable yet kind of defines him as a one trick pony. Amusing in small doses, but there is a reason he never became a huge star.

Ron White
I gave this spot to White over Jeff Foxworthy because I think he is funnier. His humor seems kind of restricted to a specific southern demographic, which is fine by me but limits his star power and accessibility to the masses.

Gallagher
You know & love him as the prop comedian who busts watermelons with a sledgehammer. It’s a gimmick that has narrowly defined his career for four decades.

Andrew Dice Clay
He’s funny & memorable enough to get a mention, but just too vulgar to be ranked amongst the best.

Andy Kaufman
It is difficult to describe exactly what Andy Kaufman did on stage. He was more of a performance artist than a traditional standup comedian. It seemed as if he was trying to entertain himself more than anyone else, and if that meant offending, annoying, & confusing the audience then that was just dandy. Kaufman is another artist that we lost far too early, as he succumbed to lung cancer at age 35. I remember him mostly as Latka Gravis on the sitcom Taxi, a role that he allegedly despised.

Redd Foxx
To me he is iconic junk king Fred G. Sanford from the 70’s sitcom Sanford & Son. However, before that role he had a long & successful career as a crude & profane stand-up comic. That was in the 50’s & 60’s though…way way way before my time, and in an era when profanity was actually shocking instead of the accepted norm.

 

Okay, so now that the honorable mentions are out of the way it’s time to move to the main attraction. To be honest I wish more of these guys worked “clean”, but it’s rare to find a comedian who does that nowadays. We live in an era in which F Bombs and sexual humor sells, so that’s what many do. It’s not my preference, but for the most part I think my choices would still be funny if they took the road less traveled instead of conforming to low worldly standards. At any rate, sit down, enjoy a cold beverage, and maybe chuckle, chortle, guffaw, & giggle as I present…..

 

 

 

From the home office in Happy, TX…..

 

 

 

My Superfluous 7 Favorite Stand-Up Comedians:

 

 

 

7 Eddie Murphy / Richard Pryor
murphyY’all should know by now, there will be ties. These guys are legends, with Pryor being the trailblazer who heavily influenced Murphy. Pryor’s stand-up career was en fuego in the 1970’s when I was just a baby. By the time I got to the age where I was consciously making entertainment choices and discovering what I enjoy Pryor, like so many others, had segued into acting. It is really interesting that a vast majority of comedians cite Richard Pryor as a huge influence. He really did make it look easy. His comedy was edgy & vulgar, yet accessible to the masses. Perhaps one of the most regrettable byproducts of Pryor’s legacy is that so many comics believe that peppering their act with a plethora of F-Bombs & other profanities is hysterically funny. I suppose it was humorous in a shocking kind of way when he did it, but now it’s just derivative & tedious. Murphy’s career has been all over the place, with a prominent chunk of the early 80’s spent as a cast member on SNL followed by a three pryordecade movie career with some hits (48 Hrs., Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Coming to America) and a lot of misses (The Golden Child, Vampire in Brooklyn, Pluto Nash, Norbitt). In between those gigs, for a brief time in the mid-80’s, he was a comedy rock star that did a few really good HBO specials that became big sellers on home video. Unfortunately Eddie Murphy seemed to buy into the whole movie star fantasy and has become more aloof & pretentious over the years.

 

6 Chris Rock / Dennis Miller
rockI don’t often agree with Rock’s politics, but there is no denying that he is an intelligent, thoughtful guy whose observational comedy is a cut above. Much of his humor has racial overtones, but I’ve rarely found it racist. It is more like a brutally honest, undeniably subjective worldview to which I can’t relate. In contrast, Miller’s philosophies & attitudes are much more in line with my own. He also is a smart & solicitous dude whose comedy was tinged with insightful commentary about life even before he became a regular guest on political talk shows. Miller doesn’t dumb down his comedy for the masses. You either get the odd analogies & obscure references he makes or you don’t, and he’s not going to slow down and draw a picture for you. Both Rock & Miller had notable runs on Saturday Night Live. Rock has gone on to be a run-of-the-mill movie star in mostly pedestrian films, millerwhile Miller has dabbled in the whole talk show host thing (I really wanted him to be the guy to replace Letterman), did a season in the booth on Monday Night Football (not a good fit), & in recent years has become bogged down as a political pundit. I’d love to see him get back into doing stand-up.

 

5 Jim Gaffigan / Bill Cosby
gaffiganOkay…let’s first address the elephant in the room. I am not here to judge what Cosby may or may not have done in his personal life. That’s not my place, and I think the damage that has been done to his legacy speaks for itself. Both of these men do basically work “clean”, which is good. The foundation of their humor is family, marriage, children, & relationships. They tell stories that many folks recognize from their own lives. It’s easygoing & affable. Their comedy isn’t meanspirited, edgy, or brash. Cosby, of course is…or was…a living legend that has done movies & TV shows and has generally been a part of the entertainment landscape for a half century. Gaffigan has been around for about a cosbydecade. He’s a soft-spoken, self-deprecating guy who likes to joke about being fat & lazy, comedy to which I can relate. Young comedians need to study these guys and understand that intelligent, relevant, witty comedy doesn’t need to be vulgar, obnoxious, or malevolent.

 

4 Frank Caliendo / Denis Leary
caliendoBy far my favorite kind of comedian is one who can do spot-on impressions. If I could ask God for any fun & frivolous talent I’d probably choose being able to do impressions over singing, dancing, or playing an instrument. Older generations might prefer Rich Little, but to be honest I was never that enamored with Little. Caliendo hasn’t become the sort of superstar that landed his own sitcom, but he’s done a wide variety of media appearances…MadTV, Fox NFL Sunday, & a ton of radio shows…and is a regular in Vegas. He does awesome impressions of folks like Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman, President George W. Bush, & Robin Williams, as well as a ton of sportscentric impersonations such as ESPN personalities Mel Kiper Jr., Adam Shefter, & Stephen A. Smith, former coaches John learyMadden & Jon Gruden, Charles Barkley, Jim Rome, and Bill Walton. I think Caliendo is brilliant. Leary has segued into acting now, but at one time in the early 90’s he was a chain smoking, fast talking, “angry” comedian…kind of a toned down Sam Kinison…and he was hilarious. His comedy album No Cure for Cancer is classic and helped make dreary days at a tedious job more tolerable for me in the mid-1990’s. Leary was a much better stand-up comic than he is an actor, and I hope he goes back to what he does best someday.

 

3 Jerry Seinfeld
Yes I am aware that Mr. Seinfeld starred in a highly rated sitcom. As a matter of fact I chose Seinfeld as my favorite TV show of all time just a few years ago. However, that show was based, atleast partly, on the observational comedy of its star. Seinfeld was a celebrated comedian throughout the 1980’s, with his casual, conversational style playing really well on television in appearances with Johnny Carson and David Letterman. Seinfeld comes across as a kind of everyman, a guy it’d be fun to have lunch with or go on a road trip. Much like the beloved television show his standup comedy is about the trivialities, conundrums, seinfeldfrustrations, & contradictions of daily life. In contrast to guys like Kinison or Leary he isn’t particularly angry, and unlike Pryor, Murphy, or Dice he is far from profane. I would describe Seinfeld as perpetually bemused by the fickle nature of humanity. People like him just have a whole different way of looking at the world. They see things that most people overlook…and then they tell funny stories & jokes about what they perceive. Thankfully that perception is often quite entertaining. I always thought Seinfeld would end up hosting a late night show, but the stardom he achieved with his sitcom skyrocketed him past that. He doesn’t have to work that hard or often now. He hosts an amusing talk show called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which you can find online, and thankfully he has gone back to doing standup. Maybe one day I’ll get the opportunity to see him perform live.

 

2 Robin Williams
Robin Williams was like Jerry Seinfeld on cocaine. Literally. Sadly we lost Williams last year, but his legacy is rock solid. He, of course, became well-known in the early 80’s on the sitcom Mork & Mindy, and after that starred in a plethora of mostly good films. But Williams began as a standup comedian and never completely left it behind. On stage he did it all…jokes, stories, improv, pratfalls, impressions, observation. It is hard to put him in a box and categorize his williamscomedy. Robin Williams was manic, silly, intelligent, & creative. He was brilliant. His energy was unmatched. He always made me laugh. And not just a light snicker. I’m talking about wall shaking, tears in my eyes laughter that made others think I’d lost my mind. Hindsight informs us that the energy level was often drug induced, and sadly we also know that the comedy that made us laugh hid pain & depression that would ultimately lead to suicide. I don’t really know what to say about all of that. Unfortunately the tragic ending will likely forever alter the opinions of many about Robin Williams. I understand that, but for the purposes of this exercise choose to remember the good times.

 

1 George Carlin
George Carlin had a career unlike any other. He began doing standup in the 60’s and was still working nearly 50 years later. He dabbled a little bit in television & movies, but pretty much stuck to being a standup comedian. His observational comedy was a bit more acerbic, and many might say that in later years he bordered on meanspirited & angry. Carlin was a product of the counterculture 60’s and always had a bit of that “I’m smarter than you” attitude. In the 70’s he came up with his well-known routine The 7 Words You Can Never Say on Television, which seems a bit quaint now. I won’t repeat any of the words, but I will say that, as carlinopposed to four decades ago, I think I’ve heard atleast 3 or 4 of the forbidden words on network TV just this week. I didn’t really discover Carlin until the 80’s when he had several specials on HBO. By then he’d started doing a lot more sociopolitical commentary, much of it the complete opposite of my own worldview. However, I can usually overlook such disagreements and still find someone funny. While Jerry Seinfeld seems amused by humanity’s shortcomings they seemed to really tick George Carlin off. Sometimes this was hilarious, sometimes it wasn’t. The stuff I preferred from Carlin were his observations about language. He would talk about how language had evolved, mostly due to political correctness. Battle fatigue has become PTSD. Used cars are now pre-owned. Stewardesses are now flight attendants. Deaf people are hearing impaired & a person isn’t blind but has a visual impairment. I could go on but you get the point. Carlin was at his best when he was dissecting the idiocy of political correctness, something it seems like he hated as much as I do. That alone vaults him to the top of this list, despite everything he believed in that I disagree with.

50 Favorite TV Shows…..10-6

As I sit here writing this I am at work praying for a calm, uneventful night. I am also hoping to distract myself from yet another one of my infamous Facebook debates about sociopolitical issues. Though I refrain from engaging in such “discussions” as much as I used to, there are still times that I just can’t seem to resist. I always hate myself afterward though because I am inevitably left feeling utterly flummoxed by society’s loathing of God and the downward spiral of a once proud & exceptional America that has apparently slipped into the rear view mirror for the time being. At any rate, I can think of no better palate cleanser than to dive into the exciting conclusion of my 50 Favorite TV Shows series. I think, in the interest of readability, it is best to break The Top 10 into two entries, so here we go with the first half.

 

 

 

10     Saturday Night Live

NBC 1975-Present

SNL is the very essence of the term “hit or miss”. Certainly not all of its 35+ seasons have been winners. Even within each season some weeks are memorable and some induce channel surfing. Heck, each individual show has its ups & downs. Some skits are really funny, some are horrible misfires. Some guest hosts rock and some should stick to their days jobs. Different musical guests will obviously appeal to some viewers while being of no interest to others. However, taken as a whole one has to give due credit to Lorne Michaels & NBC for producing a show that has lasted so long and has become thoroughly ingrained in the pop culture fabric of the nation. The show has a built in mechanism to keep it fresh, with a different guest host each week and the fact that the cast never stays static for too long since after a few years the actors inevitably want to move on to sitcoms or movies. Over the course of nearly four decades SNL has launched the careers of people like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Dana Carvey, Gilda Radner, Dennis Miller, Chris Farley, Jane Curtin, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Billy Crystal, Bill Murray, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and Martin Short. Of course it has also given us such forgettable performers as Morwenna Banks, Jim Breuer, A. Whitney Brown, Horatio Sanz, Charles Rocket, Jeff Richards, Ellen Cleghorne, Denny Dillon, Rachel Dratch, Siobhan Fallon, Melanie Hutsell, Tim Kazurzinsky, Cheri Oteri, Mark McKinney, and Finesse Mitchell, as well as people we wish we could forget like David Spade, Rob Schneider, Al Franken, Tracey Morgan, Jon Lovitz, and Janeane Garofalo. Whether they were one shot deals or recurring characters sketches like Wayne’s World, Matt Foley Motivational Speaker, The Church Lady, The Coneheads, Father Guido Sarducci, The Blues Brothers, Leon Phelps The Ladies Man, The Festrunk Brothers (two wild & crazy guys!!), The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Lazy Sunday (Chroni…what?…cles of Narnia!!), Just Pat, Bill Swerski’s Chicago Superfans, Mary Katherine Gallagher, The Spartan Cheerleaders, and Schweddy Balls are fondly remembered many years after they aired. SNL is like a well-worn, comfortable piece of furniture…we could take a chance on something newer, shinier, fancier, and more modern, but we like that old beaten up thing that we’re used to, even with all its scratches, dents, and other imperfections. 

 

 

 

 

9       Family Ties

NBC 1982-89

Are you ready for some Must See TV up in here?? In the 80’s NBC’s Thursday night lineup was quite possibly the best night of television ever assembled. At 8:30pm viewers enjoyed this tale of a Midwestern culture clash between liberal, ex-hippy, baby boomer parents whose roots were firmly planted in the 60’s counterculture and their teenage son who energetically embraced the conservative Reagan Revolution. Such a concept these days would undoubtedly be mean spirited and glorify deviant lifestyles, but 30 years ago it was just a good natured comedy full of family values, love, and an appreciation for all points of view. Michael J. Fox became an overnight sensation playing young yuppie wannabe Alex P. Keaton and eventually parlayed that success into superstardom with his lead role in the Back to the Future movie trilogy. Courtney Cox, way before Friends made her a star, got her start playing Alex’s girlfriend. A young Tom Hanks made guest appearances as Alex’s alcoholic uncle. The writing was smart and the performances were above average for a sitcom. I seem to recall that on occasion serious issues like racism, drugs, and suicide were tackled, but the tone of the show never felt preachy or trite. I don’t have a problem with sitcoms addressing such topics in a thoughtful manner as long as the fact that it is supposed to be a comedy is never forgotten.

 

 

8       Cheers

NBC 1982-93

Right after Family Ties, at 9pm every Thursday night in the 80’s, NBC gave us the story of a Boston watering hole and its quirky band of misfit employees & patrons. Personally my beer swilling days pretty much ended after college and in reality middle aged people hanging out in bars tend to be kind of sad & pathetic, but fortunately the gang at Cheers wasn’t quite as pitiful as actual boozehounds. Ted Danson played bar owner Sam, a former Red Sox pitcher & recovering alcoholic. His employees…sardonic (and fertile) barmaid Carla, dimwitted yet kindhearted bartender Coach, naïve bartender Woody, and pretentiously loquacious waitress Diane…were like a neurotic little family. The group also included bar patrons Cliff Clavin, a bloviating mailman, and Norm Petersen, an unemployed accountant extremely fond of beer and not keen on going home to his wife. The show’s memorable theme song sums up the appeal of the bar and therefore the show itself:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you got

Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot

Wouldn’t you like to get away

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came

You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same

You wanna be where everybody knows your name

If only there were places in the real world that were so fun and welcoming, right??

 

 

7       The Cosby Show

NBC 1984-92

A quick gander at NBC’s 1982 television schedule makes it obvious why the network was struggling at the time. Notable shows produced by The Peacock that year were dramas like CHiPs, Little House: A New Beginning, St. Elsewhere, Fame, Knight Rider, Hill St. Blues, and Quincy. They needed more comedy!! Sure, Saturday nights that year gave us Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, and Gimme A Break, but Saturday nights traditionally don’t produce great ratings since most folks are out & about doing something more fun than watching TV (atleast they were back then). Cheers did premiere in ’82, but it took a couple of years to find an audience. Family Ties also debuted the same year but took some time to gain traction as well. So the suits at 30 Rockefeller Plaza decided to bring in a heavy hitter. They greenlit a sitcom starring Bill Cosby, who was a very popular stand-up comedian and already well known for Saturday morning cartoon staple Fat Albert as well as the 1965 adventure show I Spy (becoming the first black lead actor ever in a TV drama in the process). The show was based on Cosby’s observational stories about family life that had made his stand-up act so successful. The Cosby Show was intelligent, witty, and well written. It rightfully took people of color out of the ghetto and made them educated & prosperous. In some ways it was your usual family sitcom fare, but honestly, to compare The Cosby Show to other sitcoms of its day is like comparing cheap champagne to Dom Perignon. I have to assume that this show, as much as a television shows can do such a thing, provided inspiration to countless minorities that they too could become a doctor, lawyer, or anything their heart desired as long as they read, studied, and stayed out of trouble. It’s not that shows like Good Times, Sanford & Son, and What’s Happening!! weren’t funny in their own way, it’s just that they all painted a stereotypical picture of black folks living a blue color life in the projects, whereas The Cosby Show subtly pointed out the fact that affluence, achievement, and accomplishment are not solely reserved for white people. But beyond all that it was funny, relevant (to all races), and charming (unlike mean spirited, low brow crap like Roseanne, Married With Children, and Family Guy). The Cosby Show was immediately a huge hit and was the #1 show on television for the vast majority of its run. It deserves a spot on the Mount Rushmore of television, and I am so glad it just happened to come along in the midst of my crucial “I watched WAY too much TV” years.

 

 

6       WWE Raw

USA  1993-Present

I’m gonna get a lot of flack about this one, but I gotta be honest. Yes, I am a huge fan of professional wrestling and have been for about 30 years. As a kid I was gullible and thought it was all real, but that’s okay because back then it was pretty benign stuff. By the time wrestling became more violent & adult oriented I was all grown up and had become what is referred to as a “smart” fan. In other words I knew about the secrets, the storylines, and even occasionally what was going to happen ahead of time. With the invention and proliferation of The Internet in the 90’s smart fans had even more outlets to get the inside scoop. This necessitated a change in the wrestling business. You see, in the old days promotions like the WWF, AWA, & NWA would tape a month or so of television programming all in one night. I actually attended a TV taping once when I was in college, and it was exhausting!! Darn show lasted about 6 hours (although it was worth it since I did get to see Hulk Hogan). Obviously that way of doing things wasn’t going to fly in the Internet Age, so live programming became necessary. WWE recently aired its 1000th episode of Raw, which is remarkable. Long running shows like Gunsmoke, Law & Order, Lassie, & The Simpsons only produced 400-600 shows, and they had summers off. Raw doesn’t get weeks off. It is on every week. I am well aware that wrestling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and my Dad has been telling me for many years “Son…that damn stuff is gonna disease your mind!!”. However, after decades of exposure I feel like I am about as mentally stable as anyone I know, and any neuroses from which I do happen to suffer cannot be blamed on wrestling. I have seen it referred to as “a soap opera for men”, which is about as accurate of a description as any I suppose. In recent years the sexuality and violence has been toned back down a lot, which is a positive thing. I am still not sure I would let children watch it, but that can be said for a lot of other things on TV as well.

Person of the Month – January 2010

Better late than never, right??

I mentioned in The State of The Manofesto Address awhile back my intention to revive a feature that was a part of the old blog on MySpace in 2008. My intention was to post this over the weekend, but obviously that didn’t happen. I could lie and say I was busy, but that’s simply not the case. At any rate, I find myself with a small burst of creative energy (something I have been lacking the past few weeks) and some free time at the moment, so you’re welcome.

The decision of who would receive January’s honor (which comes with no cash prize but the distinguished privilege of receiving attention from my dozens and dozens of readers) was fairly easy. On January 10 NBC announced the “cancellation” of The Jay Leno Show, which had aired weeknights at 10pm for four months. The plan was to put Leno’s show in a 30 minute format at 11:35pm and push back The Tonight Show, which had been hosted by Conan O’Brien since June, to 12:05am. What NBC did not count on was the defiance of O’Brien, who flat out refused to host The Tonight Show at a time when, as someone amusingly pointed out, it would no longer technically be tonight. Conan showed he had a set the size of basketballs and most definitely made of brass. That kind of strength of character is more than enough to make Conan O’Brien our Person of the Month.

It might behoove us at this point to briefly go back in time, first to 1992 then to 2004. In 1992 Johnny Carson shocked the masses by suddenly retiring from The Tonight Show after 30 years. What should have happened was that David Letterman would become Tonight’s new host and Leno, who had been Carson’s regular guest host for several years, get his own show at 12:30. Instead the geniuses at NBC wrung their hands and let both men twist in the wind before ultimately choosing Leno for the gig, which then lead to Letterman getting ticked off and bolting for his own 11:30 show on CBS. To take over their 12:30 show NBC chose a complete unknown, a writer for The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live who had absolutely no on air experience. That unknown was of course O’Brien. The first few years of his show were, if I am being kind, subpar. But something funny began to happen…literally. By 2004 Conan’s contract was almost up and he was suddenly quite popular and in demand. NBC was desperate to hold on to him, so they brokered a deal in which he would take over The Tonight Show in 2009. Leno, perfecting his nice guy act, went along with that plan. There is really no logical reason.

Now let us flash ahead to last year. Leno was the reigning King of Late Night and the idea of pushing him aside for Conan began to look silly to anyone with a brain. However, the powers-that-be at NBC apparently don’t have much going in the brain department, so they forged ahead. The network geniuses began to formulate a plan for keeping both Jay and Conan. The solution was to give Leno a show at 10pm. Not being a big fan of the normal cops and lawyer shows or hospital dramas typically seen at that hour, I personally liked the idea. Unfortunately the masses disagreed, the ratings tanked, and the show was given the heave ho after 4 months. Meanwhile, Conan’s Tonight Show ratings were also less than stellar. That’s when then aforementioned plan…Jay for a half hour at 11:30, The Tonight Show at midnight…was hatched and subsequently crapped on by Conan.

The fallout from all this has been interesting. Leno is returning to Tonight after The Olympics are over, and Conan was given a boatload of money by NBC to go away. Other late night hosts, most notably Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, have interjected themselves into the situation and had a ton of fun at NBC and Leno’s expense. Most agree that Leno has shown his true colors, that he is not the innocent nice guy he usually portrays himself to be. Conan, on the other hand, comes out of all this smelling like a rose. He is the scorned victim who did nothing wrong but lost his job anyway. He received millions of dollars to sit on the sidelines for the next several months, and presumably will land firmly on his feet with an 11:30 show on ABC or Fox in September. And he stood up for something bigger than himself. He did what so many people don’t do these days…..he stayed true to his principles and beliefs.

Some may say that Conan was foolish, that he should have accepted the proposed time slot change and kept his mouth shut. Apparently he felt that such a change would be harmful to the success of both his show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Who knows whether that is the case or not?? No one does really. But I respect a man who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. It is certainly a stark contrast to Leno, who now seems like a used car salesman or a televangelist…someone who will do or say anything to get what he wants and fool the masses into thinking he is a much better person than he is in reality, just another disingenuous poser. In the grand scheme of life late night television does not really have any measurable impact on the importance scale, but for all the laughs the situation provided the past several weeks and because he really does seem like the only honorable player in this dramedy, Conan O’Brien is our Person of the Month.

 

 

 

Random Thoughts 12

I was always taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all. So…..I am withholding comment on the happenings at Michigan involving football coach Rich Fraudriguez…..for now. Let’s see how it all shakes out. I will simply opine at this moment that an upset victory over an overhyped & overrated Notre Dame should not mean possible cheating gets conveniently overlooked.

The older I get the bigger fan I become of normal, solid names like  George, James, Joe, Vince, Paul, and Ike. Unusual and cute names are just irritating.

I refuse to buy baseball caps with Velcro closures.

President Hussein Obama seems hell bent on “convincing” the American public that we need socialized health care. Obama obviously misunderstands the concept of democracy and representative government, which is that we tell you what we want, you do NOT tell us what you want. We don’t care what you want. Your job is to represent the people who are, collectively, a whole lot smarter than you Mr. President. This health care debate needs to end right now, today. We’ve made our opinion perfectly clear…it is the job of those whom we elected to submit to the will of the people.

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates on your record setting 17th season with a losing record, meaning that you really do suck worse than anything has ever sucked before. Everyone associated with the organization must be so proud. I wonder if they had cake…maybe had t-shirts or other mementos made…maybe a special luncheon to mark their accomplishment??

I’d be interested in meeting the inventor of the funnel cake, the person whose idea it was to deep fry dough and top it with powdered sugar, all in an amoeba-like shape. Yum!!

I already had no use for Kanye West. First of all, he’s a “rapper”, a form of artistic expression for which I have absolutely no appreciation. And of course he’s the dude who said a few years ago that President Bush hated black people…..one of the most asinine  statements in the history of asinine statements. Now he’s gone and made an ass of himself once again by hijacking the MTV Video Awards, a harmless little pop culture fluff event. He stole country star Taylor Swift’s winning moment away by spouting some nonsense about how Beyonce should have won. I won’t claim to be a huge fan of either Swift or Beyonce, both of whom sell sexuality rather than musical ability…..but West’s actions prove just what a ghetto thug he really is (no wonder he’s such a fan of the current President), and if MTV had any cahonas whatsoever they’d not only ban him from their frivolous awards shows but ban him and his videos and anything else he’s involved in from their network for life.

I would like to suggest a new twist on sports prognostication. We’ve all see these guys on TV, in the newspapers, on websites, or on the radio who predict a large slate of games. The problem is that no one ever examines their results. I humbly propose that there should be consequences if it is proven that an “expert” is just a bag of hot air with no more expertise than you or me. Anyone predicting more than 2 games that are wrong with more than half of their guesses should be suspended for two weeks without pay.

Saturday Night Live is turning 35 this season. The cast is ever changing but one thing has remained the same for nearly all of SNL’s three decade run: producer Lorne Michaels…..which is probably why the show isn’t all that good anymore. One can’t expect a 65 year old man to still be in touch with what the 18-35 year old target demographic finds entertaining.