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.

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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.

 

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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.

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

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

100 Favorite Movies…..16-20

As the cream rises closer and closer to the top you, my dear reader, get another set of examples illustrating my eclectic tastes. Today’s group includes a musical, a drama, an action-adventure, a comedy, and of course my favorite…the Christmas film. Enjoy.

 

 

 

20 Grease

Grease is the word. It’s got groove, it’s got meaning. Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion. Grease is the way we are feeling. Or atleast it’s the way I am feeling at the moment. Released in 1978 but set in the 1950’s, Grease is another one of those films that has a certain timeless quality. Not all of us constantly broke out into song in high school but the issues faced at that time in our lives…the cliques, peer pressure, the snarkiness, bittersweetness of innocent love, rebellion against authority, the absolute need to be cool…are universal. 21st century teens are faced with modern problems…drugs, STDs, gun violence…that make those dealt with in Grease seem innocent in comparison, but anyone who remembers high school knows what a huge deal those seemingly innocent obstacles feel like at the time. Based on a 1971 play that I have admittedly yet to see but hope to someday, Grease has long been one of my very favorite movies. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John star as star-crossed lovers who met over the summer and now end up at the same school. Travolta’s Danny Zucco is a leather jacket wearing bad boy and leader of The T-Birds, a fairly innocuous “gang” by today’s standards. Newton-John’s Sandy is the girl-next-door goody-two-shoes who isn’t quite edgy enough for the school’s female cool crew, The Pink Ladies. They and their friends engage in assorted hijinks like mooning a national TV audience when an American Bandstand-esque show broadcasts live from Rydell High, going head to head with a rival gang in a supposedly dangerous car race, and various breakups, arguments, and reunions. It’s all quite tame but nonetheless entertaining. The soundtrack is catchy and memorable. As a 3rd grader back in the early 80’s I once sang the song Sandy in a talent show. I was supposed to do it with two pals, but they no showed and I did it alone. I don’t think there is enough money or booze in the universe capable of getting me on a stage like that all these years later, but it is a fun memory. Grease still pops up on television quite frequently and has withstood the test of time quite well. I am shocked that someone hasn’t attempted to do a remake, and I sincerely hope that never happens. A sequel was made in 1982 starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Adrian Zmed, but it bombed at the box office and is usually mentioned in conversations about the worst sequels of all time. Personally I don’t hate it all that much, but there is no doubt that it doesn’t come close to stacking up against its predecessor. Olivia Newton-John never again attained the success she reached with Grease, and other than Saturday Night Fever it is Travolta’s signature role. I suppose other films may surpass it on my list as time passes, but I have no doubt that Grease will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

19 The Fugitive

Some movies are like wine…they get better with age and repeated viewings. Such is the case with The Fugitive, a film I liked when it first came out but have steadily grown fonder of as the years have passed. Based on a 1960’s television series, it is the story of an Indiana doctor who is convicted of murdering his wife and goes on the run (thanks to a train crash while en route to death row) to escape the death penalty, all the while maintaining his innocence and searching for the real killer who he claims is a one-armed man. In the TV show Dr. Richard Kimble pops up in a different small town each week with a fake name and doing odd jobs. Invariably his medical expertise is required and since he is a good guy he puts his efforts to remain under the radar aside and comes to the aid of people in need. This always attracts the attention of police Lieutenant Gerard who is doggedly pursuing Dr. Kimble across the fruited plain. The movie doesn’t stray too far from its origin story. Dr. Richard Kimble is portrayed by Harrison Ford with a mixture of pathos, street savvy, fear, courage, anguish, and determination. Gerard, now portrayed as a U.S. Marshal with gritty determination and sardonic wit by the exemplary Tommy Lee Jones, begins the chase. He and his posse don’t have to go far, as Dr. Kimble never leaves his hometown (although it is Chicago instead of a small Indiana hamlet). Kimble is hell-bent on finding the one-armed man, and Gerard is just as resolute in his mission to track down the convict. The cat & mouse game, the close calls, and the daring escapades of Kimble, who is concurrently pursuing and being pursued, gives the viewer a heart pounding edge-of-your-seat thrill ride while always remaining within the realm of plausibility and never straying from writing that is nothing short of excellent. The Fugitive is that rare action film with a well laid out plot. It does not rely on phony looking special effects and mindless explosions and gunfire for no apparent reason. The bus wreck/train crash that sets the chase in motion by facilitating Kimble’s escape is one of the more memorable scenes in recent movie history and kudos should be given to the folks who pulled that off. The climax is exciting though convoluted. The details of who really killed Kimble’s wife and why are secondary to the fact that it wasn’t him, he confronts the real culprit, and Gerard is thrown into the mix as a wild card whose actions are unpredictable. The one-armed man is sort of a MacGuffin, as he may have actually committed the crime but he was just a hired hand (pun very much intended). Tommy Lee Jones has flourished as a non-traditional leading character actor despite having to serve time as Algore’s roommate at Harvard in the 60’s, and he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his effort in The Fugitive. To be honest he is just as much the star as Ford though. Both men are pivotal to the success of the film. Could The Fugitive have been made with two different actors?? Sure. Would it have been anywhere near as good?? I have serious doubts. My affection for this film has been surprising to me, as it isn’t at all the type of movie I usually enjoy. And it is far and away one of the best movies based on a television series. I think the secret lies in the restraint exercised by both actor and director alike. There is action, but not the typical cartoonish violence we see in a lot of movies. There is drama and suspense, but the performances aren’t forced or over-the-top in any way. The Fugitive sneaks up on you, and I’m not complaining.

 

18 Dead Poets Society

Carpe Diem. If you do not know what that means then you have never watched Dead Poets Society and you need to get yourself to a video store or on Netflix ASAP. I am a big fan of Robin Williams the comedian and Robin Williams the actor. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for Good Will Hunting, but in my mind he should have received a statue 9 years earlier for this performance, a contest he lost to Daniel Day-Lewis who starred in some movie all of a dpsdozen people ever gave a damn about. The movie itself was also nominated for Best Picture, as was a movie you will see later on in this list, Field of Dreams. Both lost out to Driving Miss Daisy. These two travesties of justice prove just how little the Hollywood award shows really matter. Anyway, Williams stars as John Keating, an English teacher at a stuffy New England prep school in the 1950’s. His teaching methods are rather…unconventional, which suits his students just fine but raises some eyebrows amongst the school’s old fashioned elitist hierarchy. Keating teaches his students about more than just what their books say…he teaches them life lessons. He implores them to “suck the marrow out of life” and to make their lives extraordinary. A small group of boys in his class discover that when Keating was a student he was part of a secret society that would sneak out at night, meet in a cave, and read poetry. That sounds innocent enough by 21st century standards, but in the time this story is set it has an air of mystery and danger. The boys revive this Dead Poets Society and begin to buy into what Keating is selling, challenging authority and refusing more and more to conform to others’ expectations. One of the students, Neil, defies his overbearing father by performing in a play. The father expects Neil to matriculate to Harvard and become a doctor. The burden of this battle eventually persuades Neil to commit suicide. An investigation is launched, and somehow Keating is blamed for Neil’s death and loses his job. I know it sounds depressing, and the school, its faculty, and the obtuse parents are depressing. But Keating is the type of inspirational teacher we all wish we’d had more of in school. Williams’ performance is extraordinary. He throws in some of his trademark humor, but for the most part reigns in the manic schtick and is rather understated and nuanced. I wish he would make better choices with his roles, because when given good stuff to work with like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Good Morning Vietnam he knocks it out of the park, making it all the more disappointing when his ample talents are wasted in crap like Toys, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man, and Death to Smoochy. The group of boys who are the main focus of the story are portrayed by young actors who I thought might become a bit more successful, with the most famous among them being Ethan Hawke in what was only his 2nd film. Dead Poets Society has aged well and has that timeless quality that I seem to gravitate toward. It is a bittersweet viewing for me these days. When the movie came out over 20 years ago I was on the verge of attending college and had my whole life in front of me. The advice given by Keating resonated deeply. Two decades later and I realize just how much I did not seize the day and just how unextraordinary my life has been. Dead Poets Society should be shown to all high school seniors or college freshman, with the directive to take the road less travelled, contribute a verse to the poem of life, and live up to what we are fully capable of with passion and vigor all being given special emphasis. Carpe Diem indeed.

 

17 Bull Durham

If baseball were as fun as Bull Durham makes it look I could totally buy into the whole bit about “the national pastime”. Watching this movie we see nothing about steroids, gambling, or other cheating scandals. The players are portrayed as loveable ne’er-do-wells who aren’t too bright but they sure do know how to have fun. Rather than give us a glimpse of the big leagues, Bull Durham gives us some insight into the minor leagues, where the players aren’t playing for megabucks and being treated like kings. They are renting rooms, riding on buses, and finding ways to combat boredom between games. Kevin Costner stars as Crash Davis, a long-in-the-tooth veteran catcher who is given the task of holding the hand of dimwitted bonus baby pitcher Nuke Laloosh, played by Tim Robbins in his breakout role. They form an odd triangle with Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon), a groupie who chooses one player from the Durham Bulls each season with which to have an affair. Annie is…unique. She has a singular set of values, and views herself as sharing more than just a bed with her chosen beau. It is a strange brew of spiritualism, friendship, poetry, metaphysics, sensuality, and moral support. She tells us, in a voiceover at the start of the film, that she believes in “the Church of Baseball” because she has “tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. There are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring… which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career. Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250… not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds. Sometimes when I’ve got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty. ‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball It’s a long season and you gotta trust. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” When Crash refuses to “try out” Nuke becomes Annie’s boy toy by default. Meanwhile, the relationship between pitcher and catcher is volatile, as world-weary Crash resents the “million dollar arm and ten-cent head” of the wildly goofy Nuke. The supporting cast is chock full of unknowns whose career highlight likely was Bull Durham, but that is just fine. The three main characters along with a strong, well written, amusing script are enough to make this a movie that has stood the test of time. One cannot help but think of it when attending any type of baseball game. Every time I see a “conference” on the mound I wonder if they are really talking about live roosters, jammed eyelids, and how candlesticks make a nice wedding gift. Eventually our trio comes to a crossroads. Nuke is called up to “The Show” and we get an inkling that some of Crash’s wisdom may have actually seeped through. Crash is released from the team once his babysitting task is done and must decide whether or not to call it a career or keep chasing a dream he knows will never become reality. And Annie must face her feelings for Crash. There is a certain sweetness mixed in with the hilarity, and that is a good combination. Writer/director Ron Shelton has done a few other notable films…White Men Can’t Jump and another Costner vehicle, Tin Cup, among them. But Bull Durham is one more case of lightning in a bottle, a once in a lifetime piece of magic that is almost impossible to replicate.

 

16 The Polar Express

So many words come to mind when trying to describe The Polar Express, but over the years I have come to settle on a just a few…whimsical, magical, and hauntingly beautiful. It somehow manages to put a smile on one’s face and bring a tear to the eye at the same time. The Polar Express is the quintessential embodiment of the spirit of Christmas. Does it invoke the name of Jesus or talk about the true reason for the season?? No. But I suppose I have become sort of immune to that type of omission. I understand the forces of political correctness and the fact that Christianity is a target in our modern world. Readers of The Manofesto know of my immense fondness for Christmas movies, and I am at peace with the fact that they either focus on the inherent wackiness of family interaction during the holidays (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Four Christmases, Home Alone), confront commercialization and its many branches (A Christmas Story, Deck the Halls), or tell a variation on the story of Santa (The Santa Clause, Elf, Miracle on 34th St., Fred Claus). I am strong in my faith and don’t need validation from Hollywood. However, I do like stories that, in their own way, talk about things that are representative of the teachings of Christ and exemplify the undefined, you-know-it-when-its-present Christmas Spirit. The Polar Express is based on a 1985 children’s book but did not get the big screen treatment until 2004. A big reason for that is the motion capture technology used, which wasn’t available in the 80’s. I cannot imagine a live action movie being within the realm of possibility, and I am so very glad an ordinary, ho-hum, been there done that animated film was not made. Some find motion capture to be a bit creepy, and it is very distinctive. Personally I find it visually stunning, which probably plays a major role in my affinity for The Polar Express. The story involves a young boy, never named or given an age, but seemingly right at that point in life where his belief in Santa Claus is beginning to wane. As he lay in his bed on Christmas Eve thinking over this very subject, a locomotive screeches down his street. This train if for children exactly like him…kids who are on the verge of putting Santa in the ol’ rear view mirror. The boy boards the train and makes friends with a young girl, a shy boy, and an annoying know-it-all. The trip toward the North Pole is full of action and adventure, but the group eventually makes it safely. Once there they meet Santa Claus and the boy is given the first gift of Christmas for that year, a small sleigh bell. The movie closes with a poignant voiceover that basically says that true believers will always hear the ringing, but most of us eventually lose the ability to hear the lovely sound of the bell. I take that as an allegory, alluding to the fact that most of us don’t see or hear the beauty in the world because we get too busy and caught up in our own drama. We don’t take time to stop and listen. I am 37 years old and long ago learned the truth about Santa, but there is and hopefully always will be a small part of me that yearns for the myth to be true. Jesus tells us in the book of Matthew that we are to be like little children, retaining our innocence and always leaning on Him for guidance. We have a tendency to grow up and shed our idealism in favor of doubt, skepticism, and cynicism. I have never had an issue with Santa Claus as a symbol of Christmas because I think that he represents the purity of childhood, an ideal state that The Lord tells us we need to somehow retain. I think Jesus and Santa would be friends. That statement may be equally offensive to hardcore Christians and agnostic secular types, and that’s okay…to each his own. As for me, I will continue to look forward each Christmas season to watching The Polar Express and being magically transported back in time, to that period in my life when all seemed right with the world.

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..36-40

It is more than likely after today’s sojourn into cinema that we’ll be taking another little break from this series. There are some other things that The Lord is laying on my heart to write, some that I have already begun such as the Sermon on the Mount analysis and the examination of the Fruits of The Spirit. I do not anticipate that this breather will be a few months like last time…more like a few weeks. Until we pick things back up, please enjoy this entry and take a look around The Manofesto at the other subject matter I attempt to write about with some semblance of intelligence and affection.


 

 

40 Cast Away

Any hardcore sports fan will tell you that success in baseball requires a collective effort, as does football…but in basketball one superstar can put a team on his back and carry them a long way toward victory.  Similarly, in film, occasionally a single performance is so brilliant that it makes an otherwise flawed film great. Tom Hanks is another actor, like Jimmy Stewart & Robin Williams, who seems equally adept at comedy and drama. I tend to prefer his more lighthearted performances, but that is a byproduct of my overall gravitation toward comedy and not really a commentary on Hanks’ abilities. In 2000’s Cast Away Hanks plays Chuck, a globetrotting FedEx systems guru who is constantly called to all corners of the world to put out fires (in a figurative sense). He is on the verge of proposing to his understanding girlfriend Kelly on Christmas Eve when he has to fly off on yet another problem solving endeavor. He tells her “I’ll be right back”, but his plane crashes and he ends up marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere. The plane crash scene is attention-grabbing and disturbingly realistic, but in a good way. A large chunk of the story is then told on the island, as we see Chuck evolve…or maybe devolve…from a harried, Type A, always on the run, white collar yuppie wannabe into a lonely, boney, grizzled survivalist. The island scenes are, in my opinion, sublime. There are long stretches with no dialogue, and it’s only the subtle, skillful craftsmanship of Tom Hanks that keeps us invested. Cast Away should be shown to every acting student in order to teach how a performer can convey so much with their eyes, small gestures, and sheer physicality. I cannot avoid spoiling things by saying that Chuck does find a way off the island after four years and is rescued. His return home is the portion of the film that is a mixed bag. On one hand I applaud the writers and director Robert Zemeckis for not giving into the temptation to give us the trite, happy ending. Kelly has moved on with her life, gotten married and had children, and that is dealt with effectively. And there is a scene where Chuck’s co-workers throw him a welcome back party complete with a smorgasbord that includes crab legs. Chuck picks one up and tosses it aside dismissively, which is absolutely exceptional. The man has just returned from a deserted island where he has eaten nothing but seafood for four years and these thoughtless jackasses put that kind of stuff on the buffet?? It is almost a throwaway moment, but for me it is one of the most memorable scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, the ending leaves something to be desired. Chuck has held onto one unopened package that washed up on the island and delivers it. The note he leaves says “this package saved my life”, which I don’t get. Maybe I am just being thick, or overanalyzing. Then he comes to a crossroads…literally. The film ends with Chuck standing in the middle of a four way road with a slight grin on his face. It’s a very odd ending that I suppose was meant to have a thoughtful, ponderous tone. Instead it just leaves me…every time I watch…thinking “That’s it??”. At any rate, the film’s shortcomings are trumped by Hanks’ unforgettable performance and its “read between the lines” commentary on the value of time and the importance of priorities. I would have liked to have seen more emphasis put on what happens after Chuck’s re-entry into civilization, but that likely would have meant shaving the amount of time spent on the island scenes, which would probably lessen the overall impact.

 

39 The Shawshank Redemption

Sometimes I wish Hollywood could figure out a way to put Morgan Freeman in every movie and television show. He automatically makes whatever he is in better. He has a certain something…call it class, or maybe gravitas…that draws the viewer in like a magnet. In 1994’s Shawshank Redemption, Freeman plays Red, a grizzled veteran of prison life and a man with “connections” who is able to get his fellow prisoners almost anything they want, which makes him an important guy. Red becomes good friends with the newly arrived Andy, played by Tim Robbins in his only notable performance outside Bull Durham. Andy has been wrongly accused and convicted of killing his wife and her lover. He begins to become an important guy like Red by tutoring fellow inmates to get their GED and helping the guards with their taxes. The warden utilizes Andy’s skills to launder kickback money. Eventually, after 20 years, Andy escapes in a unique and unforgettable way that involves a rock hammer and a Rita Hayworth poster, exposing the warden’s illegal schemes in the process. Not long after Red is paroled after having spent 40 years at Shawshank for a murder he did actually commit. The ending is all about hope and…well…redemption. But before we get to that ending we get realistically harsh glimpses of prison life, from brutal & crooked guards to gang rape to the suicide of an old convict who has been released but cannot function “on the outside”. The Shawshank Redemption is not light entertainment, and thus it probably ranks lower than many films of lesser quality on this list simply because it isn’t the kind of movie that one watches over and over again on a lazy rainy Saturday on one of the abundantly available cable TV channels. Or atleast it’s not the kind of movie I am going to watch that often. When I do watch stories like this my palate has to be immediately cleansed with something frivolous and optimistic. Nonetheless, Shawshank is a brilliantly written tale with a cast second to none.

 

38 Best in Show

I talked about my affection for mockumentaries when we looked at This Is Spinal Tap, and Best in Show is the funniest yet. Maybe being a dog owner enhances the experience?? I don’t know. There is a group of actors…Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, & Jennifer Coolidge…that have done several of these types of films together, all directed by Guest. The story centers around an eclectic group of dog owners all headed to the same show in Philadelphia. The show itself is a parody of the Westminster Dog Show held every spring at Madison Square Garden and The National Dog Show shown every Thanksgiving on NBC immediately following the Macy’s Parade. The owners portrayed include a redneck hound dog lover, a clueless airhead heiress engaged in the love that dare not speak its name with her dog’s lesbian trainer, an uptight yuppie couple, a middle aged Florida couple who keeps coming across men the wife has had sex with, and a humorously effeminate gay couple. We also get to meet the folks who actually produce the dog show, and the highlight is a clueless, over-the-top announcer that says things like “which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?” and “I went to one of those obedience places once. It was all going well until they spilled hot candle wax on my private parts.” It’s all very absurd and that is kind of the point. There isn’t any message, no moral to the story, no lessons to be gleaned. It’s just a good time. Try this though…watch Best in Show and then watch one of the real dog shows. You will see just how perfectly the movie captures the essence of the actual event, and that’ll make the movie even funnier.

 

37 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

The parade of Christmas movies continues. Lost in New York is a sequel to 1990’s Home Alone, which we will discuss down the road. I feel safe in assuming that the vast majority of folks have seen both films. The sequel uses the same formula as the original, only changing the setting. And while that may indicate an all too prevalent lack of creativity, it is also quite logical. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?? The question I had when this film first arrived in theaters in 1992…and I am sure I was not the only one…was “How in the world can these idiotic parents accidentally ditch their kid AGAIN??” The answer is actually rather clever, the only part of the story with any originality. Once little Kevin has been separated from the pack he ends up in The Big Apple and is having a rollicking good time shacked up at the posh Plaza Hotel. But coincidentally the bumbling thieves from the first film end up in New York too, plotting to rob a toy store on Christmas Eve. Kevin discovers the plan and foils the robbery. There is an extended scene of cartoon violence just as in the first film, this time making use of an absent aunt and uncle’s currently undergoing extensive renovations home. Meanwhile the rest of the family is in Florida until the police discover that Kevin has used his Dad’s credit card in New York. The story is completely predictable and we can see the ending a mile away, but I don’t care. This is a funny movie and a holiday tradition. Is it on the same level as some of the more renowned Christmas classics?? No. I would put it a level below most of them. I could have done without the pious subplot involving the homeless pigeon lady, and the preachy toy store owner is a weak but necessary plot device. But those are small points of contention. Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern are once again sufficiently amusing as the crooks, and Rob Schneider & Tim Curry are modestly humorous as maybe the most inept hotel employees in history. The family plays its necessary part. The city itself is always an effective co-star in the myriad movies and television shows set there. I suppose my affection is, in this case, more a function of repeated viewings than possibly any other movie thus far. Lost in New York is inexplicably on random television channels throughout the year, so I have watched it a lot. I am fully aware that it isn’t high art or critically acclaimed, but it is innocuous enough and suits my tastes just fine.

 

36 Halloween

Let us segue from Christmas to Halloween. I am not a big horror guy. I just get no joy out of seeing some deranged serial killer mow through an entire cast of characters with a knife or chainsaw or other sundry instruments of doom. People who seem a bit too fascinated with blood n’ guts have a chemical makeup in their brains with which I cannot identify. That being said, Halloween is the one movie of its genre that I thoroughly enjoy and watch annually (during the appropriate season of course). Just to be clear, I am speaking of the 1978 John Carpenter original and not the fairly recent Rob Zombie “reimagining”. I haven’t seen that one yet and probably never will. Carpenter’s film introduces us to Michael Myers, who stabbed his teenage sister to death when he was six years old on Halloween night and has been in a mental institution for 15 years. He escapes…on Halloween…and returns to his hometown. In hot pursuit is the obsessed Dr. Loomis, who has been treating Michael all these years but at some point gave up because he realized the boy was “pure evil”. We also meet teenager Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in what was her first film role. Michael Myers seems to have an odd fascination with Laurie Strode and stalks her throughout the movie, killing several innocent bystanders along the way. I think one of the reasons I like Halloween is because it really isn’t all that bloody, atleast by today’s standards. The producers didn’t have much of a budget, so they rely mostly on atmosphere and ambiance, and that works really well. Halloween isn’t so much gory as it is eerie and suspenseful. The story is well written and not really all that out in left field. The use of our scariest holiday is inspired and the music is perfect. I particularly enjoy Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis. He is borderline maniacal himself in his dogged hunt for the killer. As with so many other horror films Halloween spawned countless sequels, each one progressively more ridiculous, atleast until Jamie Lee Curtis was brought back into the mix after two decades and participated in two follow-ups that basically ignored all the insipidly silly chapters that preceded them. But even those two movies couldn’t live up to the magic of the original. Sometimes the right mix of circumstances converges and we get lightning in a bottle, and it is nearly impossible to ever repeat. Such is the case with Halloween. I would be remiss if I did not mention Halloween II, which was made 3 years after the first but the story picks up exactly where the first film left off. Michael stalks Laurie in a hospital, slowly killing various nurses and staff. We eventually learn that Laurie is Michael’s younger sister and that’s why he is after her. Michael and Dr. Loomis both supposedly die at the end, but of course death is oftentimes not permanent in the slasher genre. I just cannot put Halloween II in the list, even as a backdoor tie. The violence and gore is increased noticeably and unnecessarily, and there just seems to be something missing. It is certainly much better than the countless sequels that would follow, but not on par with its predecessor. As I said, lightning in a bottle is almost never captured again.