90’s Film Frenzy: Dope Round 1

So what exactly are we trying to accomplish here?? Are we seeking the best movie of the 1990s?? Not really. Are we looking for my favorite movie?? Well, yes and no. Is this about zeroing in on the signature film of the 90’s that most represents the decade?? That would be ideal but I’m not sure it’s possible. I suppose I am ultimately looking to “have my cake and eat it too”. It has always fascinated me that movies that make a ton of money are oftentimes loud, obnoxious, unintelligible games of chicken in which studios spend mind blowing amounts of cash and directors have fun with impressive technological toys all to tell a story that makes no sense, has no intellectual or emotional resonance, & people rush to theaters to see but forget about ten minutes after it’s over. Meanwhile, critics like to heap praise on erudite, pretentious snoozefests that Joe Sixpack in flyover country has no interest in seeing. Can a movie be successful critically AND commercially?? The 1970’s produced several such films: Jaws, The Godfather, Star Wars, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Apocalypse Now, All the President’s Men, & Young Frankenstein all spring to mind as being both popular and acclaimed. I’m okay with liking “bad” films…we all have our guilty pleasures. However, for the purposes of this competition what we are hoping to find are good movies that normal folks like you & me actually enjoy.

 

If you have not checked out first round action in the Fly and Phat divisions please do so, but for now we move forward. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Swingers

Release:                       10/18/96

Starring:                        Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn

Directed By:                 Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)

vs.

Batman & Robin

Release:                       6/20/97

Starring:                        George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone

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

 

One may make an assumption that Batman & Robin is included in this competition for the same reason films like Showgirls & Very Bad Things have been thrown a bone…because they are so dreadful that their sheer awfulness prompted a level of negative buzz that warrants discussion (kind of like how Cabbage Patch Dolls were considered so ugly they’re cute). That is partially true. However, as a huge fan of all things Batman I must also opine that it’s not really as bad of a movie as many seem to think. In 1995 Joel Schumacher took the reins of the franchise after Tim Burton was asked to step back from the director’s chair because the studio wasn’t happy with the box office for Batman Returns in 1992. Schumacher had already done St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, & the John Grisham adaptation The Client, so there was reason to believe that he wasn’t a decent choice, and 1995’s Batman Forever did little to dissuade that notion. But then, after Val Kilmer decided not to reprise his one stint as The Caped Crusader for various reasons, George Clooney got the job. Clooney was still doing the TV show ER but had begun his movie career as well. Schumacher wanted to pay homage to the kitschy 1960’s Batman television show, so he decided the tone of his films would be more colorful & humorous than its predecessors, and though no one seemed to have much of an issue with the more cartoonish vibe of Batman Forever, it seems to be a point of contention when it comes to Batman & Robin. On paper the cast is top notch…Clooney, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, Silverstone…but critically it bombed & commercially didn’t fare as well as the previous films in the series. I remember seeing it in the theater with my best buddy Greg and thinking that it was aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses. However, when watching Batman & Robin on video…in the comfort of one’s own home where you can control the volume & the lighting…it’s much more palatable. In hindsight the movie suffered from comparisons with its forerunners, and as the fourth film in a series with two directors and three leading men there was a lack of stability that fans found unsettling. In a game of “One of These Things Isn’t Like the Others” it sticks out like a sore thumb…but on its own merits it is harmless cinematic fluff that is acceptably entertaining. Swingers was written by Jon Favreau, and was the first starring role for both he & Vaughn. The plot isn’t necessarily as important as the vibe, with the story revolving around a group of underemployed actors in 1990’s Los Angeles, a period when 60’s era swing music was experiencing a revival. The soundtrack is top notch, with tunes from the likes of Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bobby Darin, & Sammy Davis Jr. There is a portion of the film that takes place in Las Vegas, and y’all know that tickles my fancy. Swingers isn’t a thought-provoking masterpiece that will cause one to ponder deep & philosophical questions of life, but it oozes cool and is quite quotable. Critic Roger Ebert called it “sweet, funny, observant, & goofy”, and I concur.

 

The Verdict:       Swingers. Batman & Robin has a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was the 12th highest grossing film of 1997, although it must be noted that it is the least successful of any Batman film ever produced. When compared to 1989’s Batman ($250 million), 1992’s Batman Returns ($163 million), and 1995’s Batman Forever ($184 million), Batman & Robin’s $107 million is the very definition of The Law of Diminishing Returns. The franchise probably should have been given a rest after Forever, especially when faced with casting & creative changes. The viewing public obviously had Gotham City fatigue, and the absolute mauling given to the film by critics certainly didn’t help. Swingers has an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score, and ranked 155th at the box office in 1996. However, given the fact that it made $4.5 million on a $200k budget and its cast was a bunch of unknowns at the time the financial situation is relative. The film has become a cult favorite and its cast all went on to varying degrees of fame & success. It is a simple case of expectations vs. reality. Hollywood continues to make the mistake of giving huge budgets to movies with mega stars, dazzling effects, & over-the-top plots, when oftentimes it is a small budget, obscure but talented performers, & a well-written story that stands the test of time.

 

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Father of the Bride Part II

Release:                       12/8/95

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

Directed By:                 Charles Shyer (Baby Boom,          I Love Trouble)

vs.

What About Bob?

Release:                       5/17/91

Starring:                        Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss

Directed By:                 Frank Oz (The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)

 

FotB 2 is a remake of a sequel from 1951 called Father’s Little Dividend starring Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor, and a sequel to 1991’s Father of the Bride. Martin returns as the titular father who must deal with the concurrent pregnancies of his daughter and middle-aged wife. Martin Short is given a bigger role in the sequel after an amusing turn as an eccentric wedding planner in the first film. FotB 2 ranked 17th at the box office in 1995, ahead of some well-regarded movies like Braveheart, Clueless, Casino, Dead Man Walking, The Usual Suspects, & Leaving Las Vegas. It holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critic Roger Ebert opining “movies like this butter us up so well that we’d feel like a grouch criticizing them”, adding that the movie is “warm & fuzzy, and has some good laughs & a lot of sweetness” before concluding that “I had the unmistakable feeling, toward the end of this film, that they may be reaching the end of this particular road and that there may be new horizons to investigate”. Other critics said things like “Short is trotted back out for more of his mincing shtick…a pretty feeble way to keep his character in the story”, “starts off weak but finishes strong…wacky & weepy, silly & sweet”, and “the strengths of these films are not so much laughs as sincerity & heart”. What About Bob? is a dark comedy about a psychiatric patient who stalks his therapist on vacation and befriends the doctor’s family, which upsets the arrogant shrink to the point that he becomes unhinged & ends up in a catatonic state. Bill Murray apparently doesn’t work & play well with others in real life, and nearly two decades after the film was released Richard Dreyfuss said of Murray “Terribly unpleasant experience. We didn’t get along, me and Bill Murray, but I’ve got to give it to him…I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.”, which kind of sums up my feelings about Murray. I’m not a huge fan, but I give credit where it is due in that he is a talented actor who has been in some memorable movies. I’m just not sure that What About Bob? is one of them. It was the 19th highest grossing film of 1991 and holds an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Washington Post  proclaiming it “one comic session strung to feature-length breaking point”, while Entertainment Weekly states that it “begins as a rambunctious satire…but turns into little more than a pleasant one-joke movie.”

 

The Verdict:       Father of the Bride Part II. Several years ago I had a co-worker who enjoyed sour candies like Skittles, Lemon Heads, & Sweet Tarts, while I am all about chocolate. I am reminded of that comparison now because some folks like edgy, dark, cynical entertainment, while others…like yours truly…prefer what I call “comfort food cinema” that leans heavily toward sentiment, a few good laughs, a pleasant cast, & a low-key vibe. I suppose it also comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of Murray, Dreyfuss, Martin, or Short. I gravitate toward the latter duo.

 

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Lethal Weapon 3

Release:                       5/15/92

Starring:                        Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joes Pesci, Rene Russo

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

vs.

Airheads

Release:                       8/5/94

Starring:                        Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Joe Mantegna

Directed By:                 Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk)

 

The only issue I have with the Lethal Weapon series is that it is easy to get the plots confused. They all star Mel Gibson & Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched cops fighting nefarious criminals, with the latter two films adding Rene Russo as a love interest for Gibson and 2, 3, & 4 having Joe Pesci as an annoying reformed criminal. In the third installment Riggs & Murtaugh track down a dirty cop who has become an arms dealer. A subplot involves the budding romance between Riggs and internal affairs officer Lorna Cole. LW3 was the fourth highest grossing film of 1992 and had the best box office of any film in the series. It has a 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert opining that “we miss the sense of invention that brightened the earlier movies…this one falls back on experience & craftsmanship”, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling the film “mediocrity wielded by experts”. Those are fair assessments in that we don’t necessarily keep going back to series like Lethal Weapon for innovative storytelling or fresh ideas…we have developed a deep fondness for familiar characters and the actors who portray them. Airheads is an example of the earlier work of guys like Sandler, Buscemi, Fraser, & Mantegna. It is a mildly entertaining tale about an unsuccessful garage band who takes an L.A. radio station hostage in an effort to get their demo tape played. It has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and ranked 138th at the box office in 1994, which was atleast better than something called Spanking the Monkey.

 

The Verdict:       Lethal Weapon 3. I’m not usually a buddy/cop movie kinda guy, but I adore the Lethal Weapon series. Airheads is a fun little movie, but there’s really no competition here.

 

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Man on the Moon

Release:                       12/22/99

Starring:                        Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti

Directed By:                 Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus)

vs.

 

In the Line of Fire

Release:                       7/9/93

Starring:                        Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo

Directed By:                 Wolfgang Petersen (The NeverEnding Story, The Perfect Storm)

 

I love a good biopic. Let’s face it…if a movie is being made about a person’s life story it is a fair assumption that the person & their life was noteworthy and/or interesting. Whether the movie tickles one’s fancy largely depends on the level of curiosity about the subject, and I am old enough to have some degree of fascination with Andy Kaufmann. I am not a big Jim Carrey fan, but do recognize that he has a fair amount of talent when given the right material. Man on the Moon derives its title from a 1992 song by alt-rock band REM that was written as a tribute to Kaufman. The movie follows Kaufman’s rise from struggling night club act to infamous sitcom star thru his death from cancer at age 35. There are some questionable decisions made (like the cast of the sitcom Taxi portraying their 1970’s selves fifteen years later) that negatively impact one’s overall impression of the film, but praise for Carrey’s performance as Kaufman is nearly universal, to the point that he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the Line of Fire is a criminally underappreciated movie about a guilt ridden Secret Service agent whose failure to save JFK’s life has messed with him for three decades. The agent gets another chance when a deranged former CIA assassin threatens the current President. The conclusion is somewhat predictable, but the ride getting there is lots of fun. I’ve never been a bigtime Eastwood fan simply because he typically stars in westerns & cop films that aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but for some reason I find this particular movie compelling.

 

The Verdict:       In the Line of Fire. Rotten Tomatoes scores Man on the Moon at 63% and it was the 58th highest grossing film of 1999, which seems far too low for an Andy Kaufman biopic starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time. Movies like Stuart Little, the god awful Wild Wild West with Will Smith, & Deuce Bigelow: Male Jiggolo did better at the box office. In the Line of Fire was the 7th highest grossing film of 1993 and has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t help but wonder if Man on the Moon was a huge missed opportunity that might have fared better with a better script and a different director.

 

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Grumpier Old Men

Release:                       12/22/95

Starring:                        Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Sophia Loren, Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ann Margret

Directed By:                 Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful)

vs.

Fools Rush In

Release:                       2/14/97

Starring:                        Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek

Directed By:                 Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch)

 

I think we’ve established the fact that I have a type. If I am in vegg mode and doing some couch potatoing on a lazy afternoon I gravitate toward breezy comedies with pleasant characters and a charming plot. That’s my jam and I’m not sorry. Grumpier Old Men is a follow-up to the 1993 original and finds our two favorite cantankerous geezers resuming hostilities in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. Things have calmed down between John Gustafson & Max Goldman, with John now happily married to Ariel (who moved into the neighborhood in the first film) and the two men’s offspring…Gustafson’s daughter Melanie and Goldman’s son Jacob…set to get married. But an alluring Italian divorcee moves into the neighborhood and all hell hilariously breaks loose once again. The cast is terrific, proof that not everyone has to be a gorgeous 20something for a movie to be good. Old-timer Burgess Meredith is the unsung hero once again, stealing the show at 87 years of age. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1995 but only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. By 1997 hit TV show Friends was only in its fourth season (not even halfway thru its decade long run) but the cast was already beginning feature film careers. Matthew Perry’s first leading man role was Fools Rush In, about a NY City architect who has a one night stand in Vegas while he is there supervising the construction of a night club. The vivacious young lady shows up at his door a few months later with a bun in the oven, and simply wants to introduce him to her close-knit & very traditional Mexican family so that when she breaks the news about her pregnancy she’ll be able to tell them they’ve met the baby’s father. The city boy is enchanted by the beautiful woman and her family ties, and in short order the two have a quickie wedding and move in together. Of course the culture clash is inevitable, especially when his snooty parents show up, and as tends to happen in rom-coms the couple fight, break up, & eventually reunite just in time to welcome their child into the world. It’s all very sweet & predictable, but I’m okay with that. Fools Rush In was the 70th highest grossing film of 1997 and has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

The Verdict:       Grumpier Old Men. This is a tough choice because I really like both movies, even though critics didn’t. Our old pal Ebert called Grumpier Old Men “a big-screen sitcom”, opining that “I would love to see this material transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs”. I am intrigued by that insightful comment, because of course two+ decades later isn’t that what eventually happens to a lot of movies anyway?? Think about it. We go to the local cineplex to watch loud, visually stimulating, effects laden action flicks that provide us with a momentary jolt of adrenaline…but decades later when we’re chillin’ out & flipping thru the channels what kinds of movies stand the test of time and provide a measure of jovial comfort on dreary & tedious days when we need that sort of cozy contentment?? Oftentimes it is exactly the kind of “big screen sitcom” that Ebert describes that has been “transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs” just as he suggested. He was a man ahead of his time. Of Fools Rush In Ebert said “it is a sweet, entertaining retread of an ancient formula, in which opposites attract despite all the forces arrayed to push them apart”, and “Yes, the movie is a cornball romance. Yes, it manufactures a lot of standard plot twists. But there is also a level of observation and human comedy”. It feels wrong that either film has to be eliminated at this point, but Grumpier Old Men has the edge in repeat viewings & legendary movie stars.

 

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Galaxy Quest

Release:                       12/25/99

Starring:                        Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman

Directed By:                 Dean Parisot (Home Fries, Red 2)

vs.

The Bodyguard

Release:                       11/25/92

Starring:                        Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner

Directed By:                 Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Volcano)

 

Galaxy Quest works on multiple levels. It’s a comedy. It’s a sci-fi adventure. And it is a spoof. Allen, Weaver, Rickman, et al portray the cast of a Star Trek-esque TV show that was cancelled long ago but still has a community of hardcore fans that hold conventions & such, many of which the actors attend because they’ve been typecast and aren’t able to make any kind of money otherwise. The “captain” still basks in the glow of his small slice of fame, but the rest of the crew is really just over the whole deal. But then a strange thing happens…they find themselves caught up in an actual outer space adventure when a well-meaning group of aliens mistakenly believes the TV show to be real life and thinks the crew can save their species…or something like that. I suspect that Trekkies & other sci-fi nerds are the only audience that can truly appreciate everything Galaxy Quest has to offer, but perhaps those who just enjoy good popcorn cinema are entertained by it as well. The Bodyguard was a big deal back in 1992 because Whitney Houston was at the top of the music charts and was transitioning into acting with her first film role. Houston portrays a famous singer (not much of a stretch) who gains a former Secret Service agent as a bodyguard after being nominated for an Academy Award and being sent death threats by a mysterious stalker. Unsurprisingly the singer & the bodyguard fall for each other, and naturally the audience loves it because of the undeniable charm and chemistry of Houston & Costner. The Bodyguard has a little something for everyone…mystery, suspense, action, romance, drama…and gave us what…to my knowledge…is still the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.

 

The Verdict:       Galaxy Quest. This one is tricky. Ideally I’d put it up for a vote from The Manoverse, but that doesn’t seem to work for me so I’ll make the tough choice. The Bodyguard was the 7th highest grossing film of 1992, behind the likes of Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of competition such as Wayne’s World, Unforgiven, & White Men Can’t Jump. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with our old pal Roger Ebert opining “the basic situation is intriguing enough to sustain a film all by itself”, but adding that he “felt a little cheated by the outcome”. Other critics were less generous. TV Guide called it “a dreary, turgid melodrama”, while Entertainment Weekly said “it is an outrageous piece of saccharine kitsch…or, atleast it might have been had the movie seemed fully awake.” Ouch. Galaxy Quest was the 30th highest grossing film of 1999, beating out notables like The Thomas Crown Affair, Eyes Wide Shut, Varsity Blues, & Fight Club. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at an impressive 90%, with the Associated Press calling it “alot of wacky fun” and Entertainment Weekly saying it is “a fast, loose, & very funny parody that pulls off the not-so-simple feat of tweaking Trekkies and honoring them, ribbing long-in-the-tooth actors and applauding them, bringing together Star Trek savants and those who couldn’t give a squat about dilithium crystals, and saying ‘See, there’s room on the final frontier for everyone.’” So what this boils down to is one movie that made a bunch of money but generally isn’t viewed as being very good versus a movie that didn’t make as much money but is well-regarded as being good at what it is supposed to be. All too often Hollywood seems to believe that they can take any old schlock and sell it to the masses as long as a big star or two or three is attached. And sadly much of the time they are right. I feel like The Bodyguard was successful because Whitney Houston was such an awesome singer and everybody likes Kevin Costner. That soundtrack that made a ton of money is mostly songs by Houston and probably would have been about as successful if it were just another one of her albums with no film attached, so I don’t think it should factor into the equation. As always I ask myself what I would watch if I were flipping thru the channels, and since I probably haven’t watched The Bodyguard since I saw it at the theater the answer is pretty clear.

 

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Speed

Release:                       6/10/94

Starring:                        Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper

Directed By:                 Jan de Bont (Twister)

vs.

Dazed & Confused

Release:                       9/24/93

Starring:                        Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey

Directed By:                 Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Fast Food Nation)

 

Keanu Reeves first came into our pop culture consciousness in the late 1980’s as Valley Boy slacker Theodore Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But since one can’t portray dimwitted high schoolers forever he moved on to more serious roles in Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. And then came Speed. The thriller about a bus rigged with a bomb programmed to explode if it slows down below 50 mph thrust Reeves into superstardom and also introduced the world to Sandra Bullock. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1994 and has an exceptional 94% Rotten Tomatoes score. Dazed & Confused is a Hindsight Film, meaning that it has remained relevant in large part based on what several of its young stars went on to become…especially McConaughey & Affleck. The movie itself is a slice of life look at the last day of school for a bunch of high schoolers in Austin, TX. It is set in 1976 so there is a lot of pot smoking, cruising, & hazing of younger students…things that wouldn’t fly in our modern PC purgatory, and had even diminished by the late 80’s when I was in high school. Dazed & Confused isn’t as much about a particular plot as it is about capturing a mood and painting a picture of an era, which it does really well. The cast is…obviously…stellar, and the soundtrack (featuring songs by Foghat, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, & Black Sabbath) is terrific. It was only the 121st highest grossing film of 1993 but has become a cult classic in the ensuing years. It has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert referring to it as “art crossed with anthropology” and Rolling Stone calling it “the ultimate party movie…loud, crude, socially irresponsible, & totally irresistible”.

 

The Verdict:       Speed. I am hesitant to reward a film based largely on the fact that its casting director did a superb job of finding young unknowns who eventually became famous. Matthew McConaughey’s next project would be starring in A Time to Kill two years later and EdTV (a film ahead of its time) in 1999. Ben Affleck did a few decent films after Dazed & Confused, but in 1997 cemented his status by winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after writing Good Will Hunting with his pal Matt Damon. Dazed & Confused is a fun flick that does an excellent job of creating a snapshot of not just a moment in time but a time in life that just about everyone fondly remembers even if the details vary. Having said that, I cannot overlook the cultural impact of Speed. It was a surprise phenomenon that dominated the summer box office in 1994. Bullock had previously been in a couple of decent films (Love Potion No. 9 and Demolition Man), but Speed made her a star and she’s still making movies two decades later.

 

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The Addams Family

Release:                       11/22/91

Starring:                        Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci

Directed By:                 Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black, Wild Wild West)

vs.

 

Saving Private Ryan

Release:                       7/24/98

Starring:                        Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston

Directed By:                 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)

 

The Addams Family made their debut in a series of cartoons published in The New Yorker beginning in 1938. In the 1960’s the kooky clan came to television for two seasons, and although the show was cancelled due to poor ratings it lived on in syndication, to the point that I was watching it as a kid growing up in the 80’s. The Addams Family finally came to the big screen in 1991 in a tale that finds a greedy lawyer & a con artist scheming to get ahold of the Addams fortune that is hidden deep in the bowels of their creepy mansion. The con artist’s son just happens to look like Gomez Addams’ brother Uncle Fester who has been MIA for 25 years, so there’s your plot. Hijinks ensue and of course the evil plan goes off the rails, all in the midst of the oddball family’s usual weirdness. The cast is superb, the movie is entertaining enough, and critics didn’t completely hate it. The Addams Family was the 7th high grossing film of 1991 and its Rotten Tomatoes score of 63% is fairly solid. The New York Times said that its “aimlessness & repetitiveness eventually become draining”, Variety opined that “despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures as a major disappointment”, and Ebert observed that “there are a lot of little smiles and many chuckles & grins, but they don’t add up to much”. Conversely, the Austin Chronicle gushed that “it’s hard to imagine a better screen adaptation of this queer household….Charles Addams would have been proud”, while the BBC complimented the cast, saying that it “elevates this film from flimsy to sheer delight”. Saving Private Ryan is a totally different kind of movie from its competition. It is a gritty & unflinching look at D-Day and its aftermath when a team of U.S. Army rangers are given the task of finding & rescuing Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have all been killed in the war making him the only son remaining. The mission isn’t easy and there is violence & death along the way. This is not a romantic, sanitized, family friendly war movie, though I don’t feel like it is gratuitous either…it’s just very very candid. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is poignant & impactful. Saving Private Ryan was the highest grossing film of 1998, has an amazing Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, & was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won five of those Oscars, including Spielberg’s second Best Director award. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Shakespeare in Love, which in retrospect might be the biggest travesty in award show history.

 

The Verdict:       Saving Private Ryan. I’ve got to be honest…I only watched Saving Private Ryan once twenty years ago and don’t have the desire to ever watch it again. That’s not because it’s a bad move (obviously), it’s just that on a lazy day of couch potatoing violent war films aren’t my thing. Having said that, I cannot in good conscience overlook it, not simply because of its pedigree but out of respect for the historical events that inspired the story. It goes without saying that Spielberg is terrific, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better or deeper cast in the entirety of cinema. It is a story that needed to be told, and thankfully it was told really well. The Addams Family is an innocuous & engaging comedy that actually got a sequel a few years later, though I must admit that I’ve never seen it. I am intrigued by an animated Addams movie set to be released in 2019, but all in all I am inclined to stick with reruns of the old TV show.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Eggnog (Round 1)

Welcome back to the continuation of Round 1 of Merry Movie Mayhem. If you have not yet checked out the exciting competition from the Candy Cane Division please be sure to do so. Today we focus on the Eggnog Division and a wide-ranging group of entertaining holiday stories. I hope everyone in The Manoverse has gotten their Christmas shopping started and are keeping warm while the temperatures are frigid & the snow flies outside. Here in West Virginia it has been unseasonably pleasant with no sign of snow, although I’m sure that’ll change soon enough. Stay safe, have fun, & never forget the reason for the season, that being the celebration of the glorious birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story

Released                               11/18/83

Starring                                  Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon

Director                                  Bob Clark (Black Christmas, Porky’s, Rhinestone, Turk 182)

Rotten Tomatoes                  89%

A young boy in 1940s Indiana desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas, but his mother, teacher, & even Santa Claus himself all seem to be deadset against the idea. When A Christmas Story hit theaters in 1983 it wasn’t that successful. As a matter of fact it was released before Thanksgiving and quietly disappeared before the holiday it is named for even rolled around on the calendar. Three decades later, thanks in large part to a 24 hour television marathon that has become a Christmas Eve/Day tradition, it is adored by almost everyone who likes Christmas movies. I have ran into a few detractors here & there, but the marathon has been going strong for about 20 years, which seems to indicate that any negativity is negligible.

 

vs.

 

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Released                               11/14/64

Starring                                  Pia Zadora

Director                                  Nicholas Webster

Rotten Tomatoes                  25%

Regularly considered one of the worst Christmas films ever produced, SCCTM became a “so bad you’ve got to see it” classic after being featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 90’s, thirty years after its initial release. The plot involves Martians kidnapping Santa Claus so he can help their children loosen up & have some fun, which is exactly as terrible as it sounds. I suppose Christmas film aficionados ought to see it atleast once “just because”, but it really is an hour & a half of your life that could be better spent doing literally almost anything else.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Story. I’m tempted to say that this isn’t a fair matchup, but I can’t imagine that Martians would fare well against any competition, so it may as well go down against what has to be considered one of the heavy favorites.

 

 

 

 

White Christmas                                              

Released                               10/14/54

Starring                                  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen

Director                                  Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood)

Rotten Tomatoes                  76%

 

Two WWII Army buddies become a successful song & dance act. They meet up with two sisters in the same business. The foursome heads to Vermont to put on a Christmas show at a cozy country inn that just happens to be owned & operated by the guys’ former commanding officer. Romance, hijinks, and…most importantly…plenty of singing & dancing ensue. White Christmas was conceived mostly to cash in on the success of the wonderful song, first introduced by Crosby twelve years earlier in the film Holiday Inn (which featured romance, hijinks, singing, & dancing at a cozy Connecticut country inn), and whether one views it as sort of corny or wistful reminiscence of a bygone era probably depends on your age and perception of what entertainment should be. I think it is really interesting that the same man directed both White Christmas and Casablanca.

 

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Serendipity

Released                               10/5/01

Starring                                  John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale

Director                                  Peter Chelsom (Hannah Montana: The Movie)

Rotten Tomatoes                  58%

I love rom-coms, and when you combine that genre with a Christmas film you theoretically should have a winner. The story involves two people who meet each other while Christmas shopping and hit it off, spending a delightful evening together in New York City. They don’t exchange contact information and leave it up to fate as to whether or not they’ll meet again. In a film like this the conclusion is inevitable, but the journey is what’s important, and Serendipity has its charms. John Cusack is an underrated actor that has had a sneaky good career, and this is his wheelhouse.

 

The Verdict:       White Christmas. Now THIS is an unfair matchup. Serendipity would win against many other films in this competition. It is a perfectly enjoyable movie with engaging actors in the two lead roles. But White Christmas…a rom-com before rom-coms were cool…is a masterpiece that is a must watch in my house every December, and on the random occasions when it’s on TV at other times of the year I’ll put aside anything I’m doing if at all possible and watch.

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas                          

Released                                           12/9/65

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus Van Pelt

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Charles Schulz began writing the Peanuts comic strip in 1950, providing over 2000 newspapers with more than 18,000 strips for a half century. Numerous animated Peanuts television specials were produced over the years, with A Charlie Brown Christmas being the first and probably the best. The story centers on Charlie Brown’s struggle to find the holiday spirit, with pals like Lucy, Snoopy, & his little sister Sally being absolutely no help at all. It is sweet, guileless Linus, in one of the more elegantly profound moments in TV history, who finally explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas.

 

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Christmas with the Kranks

Released                                           11/24/04

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis

Director                                              Joe Roth

Rotten Tomatoes                              5%

Tim Allen hit a home run…mostly…with his Santa Clause trilogy, so it is logical that he would return to the land of Christmas movies seeking further success. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work. Allen & former Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis star as Luther & Nora, a middle aged couple whose daughter has joined the Peace Corps. They decide to skip all the usual Christmas hubbub & expense and spend their money on a Caribbean cruise. Things don’t go as planned though, thanks in large part to a group of neighbors who are way too creepy & intrusive. The movie is based on a John Grisham novel called Skipping Christmas. I’ve never read it and doubt I ever will. It is difficult for me to wrap my head around a Grisham book being as bad as this movie.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. Peanuts is a heartwarming classic, while Kranks is a sardonic & sad commentary on what the masses deem entertaining these days.

 

 

 

The Muppet Christmas Carol    

Released                                           12/11/92

Starring                                              Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine, The Great Gonzo

Director                                              Brian Henson

Rotten Tomatoes                              69%

I tend to favor more traditional adaptations of the beloved Dickens novella, but there have been a couple of unique versions that really work. This is an unusual yet surprisingly authentic interpretation, with Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. Those of us of a certain age who grew up with The Muppets as an integral part of our childhood can’t help but get a kick out of it.

 

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Four Christmases

Released                                           11/26/08

Starring                                              Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon

Director                                              Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief)

Rotten Tomatoes                              25%

Countless movies & TV shows have embraced…even celebrated…the evolving definition of “family” due to contemporary issues like divorce and the…fluid…characterization of marriage. Hollywood likes to be hip & cool like that. Here we have Vince Vaughn & Reese Witherspoon as a couple whose failure to successfully skip town for Christmas means that they are forced to visit all four of their divorced parents for the holiday, with each part of these families being dysfunctional. The movie isn’t without its charms, mostly because of the appealing charisma of the two leads, but despite a star studded supporting cast (Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Kristin Chenoweth) it just falls flat.

 

The Verdict:       The Muppets. I like Vince Vaughn, and I know family chaos is a favorite holiday film trope, but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be laughing. The Muppet Christmas Carol puts a new spin on a classic that is fun for kids of all ages…even the grown up ones.

 

 

 

 

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Released                                           11/20/92

Starring                                              Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern

Director                                              Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire, Night at the Museum)

Rotten Tomatoes                              24%

After the monster success of Home Alone a sequel was inevitable, and honestly the set up isn’t that far-fetched (or atleast it wasn’t in the pre-9/11 era). Lost in New York finds little Kevin…a bit older & wiser than in the original yet still a bemused child…all alone in The Big Apple while his family has jetted off to Florida. There he runs into his old adversaries The Sticky…nee Wet…Bandits, and must stop them from robbing a toy store on Christmas Eve. The subplots aren’t as engaging as in the first film, but the follow-up does actually work to a surprisingly entertaining degree.

 

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Free Birds

Released                                           11/1/13

Starring                                              Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler, Woody Harrelson

Director                                              Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

I’ve become a fan of animated feature films in recent years, although the quality is admittedly inconsistent. Free Birds is a time travel yarn about two turkeys going back to 1621 in an effort to prevent their brethren from ever becoming the traditional main course for Thanksgiving. It’s a fun story, but hasn’t had the…stickiness…of other holiday movies. I saw it once at the theater and have never watched it again.

 

The Verdict:       Lost in New York. It may not retain all the magic of its predecessor, but the second Home Alone film is more than adequate entertainment. Repeat viewings are a big part of what makes these holiday classics so special, and in the few years since its initial release Free Birds has shown no signs of becoming the kind of film we’ll still be watching in a decade or two or three.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Released                                           12/14/70

Starring                                              Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              81% (a)

1934 saw the release of a song that has been messing with the fragile psyches of young children ever since. Whether one considers telling kids that Santa “sees when you are sleeping & knows when you’re awake” a little creepy or an effective Jedi mind trick is a matter of personal opinion, but it’s a tune that has long since become an ingrained part of secular Christmas tradition. A few decades later Rankin-Bass borrowed the title for this charming origin story explaining how everyone’s favorite jolly old elf came to exist, including his battles with the surly Burgermeister Meisterburger and romance with schoolteacher Jessica, the future Mrs. Claus. Town might get a bit lost in the shuffle amidst the abundance of animated holiday specials, and its outdated “technology” certainly seems quaint nowadays, but they still show it on TV every single year, so that says a lot.

 

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 The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

Released                                           11/3/06

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Martin Short

Director                                              Michael Lembeck

Rotten Tomatoes                              15%

The third leg of the Santa Clause trilogy finds Scott Calvin, aka Santa, expecting a baby with Mrs. Claus, dealing with the in-laws, & battling Jack Frost for control of the North Pole. The cast is amiable & talented, but they just don’t have good material from the screenwriters. Escape Clause is a little too…manic…for my taste and isn’t nearly as good as its two predecessors.

 

The Verdict:       Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Despite the ample talent of its cast and a premise that isn’t that terrible The Escape Clause tries to pack too much zaniness into one movie. Conversely, Town presents a low-key, entertaining, & delightfully plausible Santa Claus origin story.

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1999)                         

Released                                           12/5/99

Starring                                              Patrick Stewart

Director                                              David Jones

Rotten Tomatoes                              no score

It isn’t a feature film. It isn’t animated. It isn’t modernized. 1999’s made-for-TV presentation of A Christmas Carol is a straightforward, somber, mostly faithful telling of the tale…just as Dickens would have wanted. The attraction here is Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Stewart had finished his run as Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation a few years earlier, and has mostly escaped being typecast in the years since. TNT still shows this version of Carol a few times each December, and I recommend giving it a whirl.

 

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Rise of the Guardians

Released                                           11/21/12

Starring                                              Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman

Director                                              Peter Ramsey

Rotten Tomatoes                              73%

What happens when a few of childhood’s most cherished characters team up to save the world?? Guardians presents Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, & The Sandman as a group of ass kicking superheroes who recruit Jack Frost to help them stop The Boogeyman from ruining childhood…or something like that. For those that are paying attention there is a bit of almost profound social commentary about childhood, dreams, fear, & feeling invisible, but it doesn’t feel preachy. Guardians hasn’t latched onto the pop culture consciousness in the years following its release, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. This is actually a tough decision. It’s not the best Carol adaptation, but it does remain faithful to the book and it does have Patrick Stewart. That’s enough for me.

 

 

 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Released                                           12/8/74

Starring                                              Joel Grey, George Gobel

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              no score

A century & a half after the poem from which it borrows its title was written came this animated tale about an anthropomorphic mouse who ticks off Santa Claus by publishing a letter stating that the townspeople don’t believe in him anymore. An idea is hatched to placate ol’ Kris Kringle by having the clock in the town square play him a tune on Christmas Eve. Chaos ensues. The story has very little…if anything…to do with the beloved poem.

 

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Prancer

Released                                           11/17/89

Starring                                              Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman, Abe Vigoda

Director                                              John D. Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly)

Rotten Tomatoes                              67%

Anytime you can get Sam Elliott, Abe Vigoda, & Cloris Leachman in the same cast I’m intrigued. The story is about a little girl who befriends a reindeer that she believes is one of Santa’s famous flock. Drama ensues. Honestly, Prancer is a bit of a downer in comparison to other holiday entertainment. I feel like the story had possibilities but is dragged down by poor directing & cinematography.

 

The Verdict:       Serendipity. Wait…what?!??? What just happened?? Well, this is my concept and I make the rules, so I’m calling an audible and giving a wildcard victory to Serendipity. I can count on one hand the number of times in almost 30 years that I’ve watched Prancer. I just find it visually unappealing and tedious on a variety of levels. TTNBC is pleasant enough, but amongst all of the greatness that Rankin-Bass produced it just doesn’t measure up. It isn’t easy to find on television, and if I miss it I don’t really notice or care. You’re welcome John Cusack.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Candy Cane (Round 1)

Welcome to Round 1 of Merry Movie Mayhem!! Over the next few weeks we will be looking at 64 of the most notable holiday films & TV specials. Obviously Christmas is the focus of this particular genre, but there have been some prominent stories told about Thanksgiving & Hanukkah, so I am including them as well to round out the field. Most of what you’ll see here is pretty familiar…stuff you’ve watched on TV every November & December your whole life. While that may be an indictment of modern creativity, it is also a testament to the enduring affection that fans have for quality entertainment that soothes the soul, tickles the funny bone, & warms our cockles in a season that encompasses a range of emotions from joy to sorrow to wistful nostalgia. Don’t hesitate to leave feedback. The statements & decisions you’ll see here reflect my preferences & sensibilities, but sometimes I’m wrong. I would love to know what The Manoverse enjoys, so share your thoughts!! We’ll kick off the competition with the Candy Cane Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Released                                           5/2/47

Starring                                              Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, Natalie Wood           

Director                                              George Seaton (Airport)

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

A cynical retail executive & her precocious daughter befriend the department store Santa that Mom hired. It turns out that Kris Kringle believes he is the REAL Santa Claus, a claim that lands him in court, where he is defended by a lawyer who is also smitten with the jaded Mom.

 

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Silent Night, Deadly Night

Released                                           11/9/84

Starring                                              no one you’ve ever heard of         

Director                                              Charles E. Sellier Jr.

Rotten Tomatoes                              31%

Holidays have been horror movie fodder for decades, with deranged serial killers stalking their prey on Halloween, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, et al. Christmas hasn’t escaped, though the sacred nature of the occasion makes such a film a tricky proposition. This campy classic finds a young boy witnessing the murder of his parents by a thief dressed as Santa Claus. After growing up in a harsh orphanage the youngster becomes a homicidal maniac when he gets a job as a department store Santa. There were a few sequels made in which the younger brother also becomes a psycho Santa, but I’ve only seen bits & pieces of a couple of them. I remember the original mainly because our church youth group once watched it at a gathering at Christmastime. Wrap your head around that.

 

The Verdict:       Miracle on 34th Street. Easy decision. I’m not really a horror movie guy, but even if I was it’s difficult to overlook the awesomeness of Miracle.

 

 

 

Home Alone

Released                                           11/16/90

Starring                                              Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern        

Director                                              Chris Columbus (Only the Lonely, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

A mischievous child is accidentally left behind in Chicago while his family jets off to a holiday getaway in Paris. The boy is then faced with having to defend his house on Christmas Eve against two inept crooks who are looting the entire neighborhood while everyone is out of town. There was a sequel made a couple of years later that is pretty good and will be a part of this project, and then a couple of other “sequels” that may retain the title but have none of the magic of their predecessors.

 

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Mixed Nuts

Released                                           12/21/94

Starring                                              Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Rita Wilson, Adam Sandler    

Director                                              Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail)

Rotten Tomatoes                              7%

An all-star cast makes this blip on the pop culture radar somewhat memorable. The story revolves around employees of a suicide hotline that’s about to go under right at Christmastime. There are a lot of interconnecting storylines in a madcap adventure that…on paper…should work, especially given the amount of talent involved. Unfortunately it’s a hot mess and has appeared on various Worst Movies Ever lists.

 

The Verdict:       Home Alone. A no-brainer. I assume I’m not alone in adoring the work of many of those involved with Mixed Nuts, but all of those ingredients thrown together inexplicably results in something that I suppose has fans somewhere, but they are surely few & far between. Conversely, Home Alone has become a beloved Christmas tradition.

 

 

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Released                                           12/18/66

Starring                                              Boris Karloff, Thurl Ravenscroft   

Director                                              Chuck Jones

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

Dr. Seuss wrote Grinch in 1957, and a decade later it was turned into a 30 minute animated special featuring the voice talents of horror icon Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscoft, known better as the original voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. The story is about a bitter cave dwelling creature who hates Christmas and decides to “steal” it from the delightfully optimistic & cheerful villagers in Whoville. We’ve been watching The Grinch every holiday season for over a half century, and it is adored by multiple generations. A live action film was made in 2000 starring Jim Carey as the titular character, and while I am aware that it has its fans I do not count myself among them. I’ll stick with the treasured original.

 

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Christmas Every Day

Released                                           12/1/96

Starring                                              Erik Von Detten, Robert Hays      

Director                                              Larry Peerce (The Other Side of the Mountain)

Rotten Tomatoes                              40% (a)

This was a made-for-television film shown on The Family Channel (aka ABC Family, now known as Freeform). I’m not typically a fan of made-for-TV movies. The production values are usually subpar and the writing isn’t always that good. Hallmark shows a ton of Christmas films every December that are mildly entertaining but ultimately forgettable, and Freeform, thru its many incarnations, has made contributions to the sub-genre. This movie is one of the few examples of such entertainment that has tickled my fancy and remains on my radar. The story revolves around a bratty teenage boy who relives the same Christmas over & over until he gets it right. Essentially it is a Christmas version of Groundhog Day, sans the talent of Billy Murray & Harold Ramis. I’m not sure why I like it, but I do.

 

The Verdict:       The Grinch. Another easy decision.

 

 

 

The Ref    

Released                                           3/9/94

Starring                                             Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Glynis Johns           

Director                                             Ted Demme  (Blow)

Rotten Tomatoes                              71%

A thief on the run on Christmas Eve kidnaps a bickering couple and hides in their house while cops comb the town looking for him. Things are further complicated when the couple’s delinquent son comes home from military school and the dysfunctional extended family drops by for dinner. Kevin Spacey is phenomenal in almost everything he does, and standup comic turned actor Denis Leary is perfectly cast as the acerbic criminal. In contrast to Mixed Nuts the cast of The Ref takes an otherwise pedestrian script and spins it into comic gold.

 

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Fred Claus

Released                                           11/9/07

Starring                                              Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks           

Director                                              David Dobkin            (Wedding Crashers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              21%

Vince Vaughn stars as Fred, the slacker brother of Santa. When Fred runs into money problems his brother agrees to bail him out only if he pops up to the North Pole to help during the Christmas rush. Hilarity ensues. The conceit here is that Santa, because he is a saint, has been able to make his family ageless, so there is a time travel element that is sort of cool though sadly glossed over. Paul Giamatti is one of my favorite actors, and he puts a unique spin on a character that has been portrayed numerous ways in countless movies. Vaughn plays the same loveable loser that he portrays in almost all of his films, but that’s alright because it’s a formula that seems to work for him. Critics despise Fred Claus, and it didn’t do that great at the box office, but it is a pleasant enough diversion on a cold winter’s night.

 

The Verdict:       The Ref. There is a really funny scene in Fred Claus involving Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, & Stephen Baldwin, all guys with brothers more famous than them. Outside of that Fred Claus is a rom-com wannabe that just doesn’t stick to one’s ribs, although it isn’t nearly as terrible as you might have heard. The charms of Vaughn & Giamatti are considerable, though not quite enough to make the movie anything close to memorable. Conversely, The Ref is an underrated gem that deserves to be shown on TV a plethora of times every December, but it’s never quite achieved that level of popularity.

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1938) 

Released                                           12/16/38                                                        

Starring                                              Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart

 

Director                                              Edwin L. Marin

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

There is no shortage of A Christmas Carol adaptations out there, and we’re going to be discussing several of them. The 1938 version is a jovial take on Dickens’ novella that omits some of the more macabre aspects of the story and takes other liberties in altering or expanding the plot. I’m not a huge fan of needlessly changing a book’s narrative for the film, but I must admit that this one works.

 

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Bad Santa

Released                                           11/26/03

Starring                                              Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham

Director                                              Terry Zwigoff

Rotten Tomatoes                              78%

Department store Santas provide a convenient jumping off point for Christmas movies, and this one puts a…unique…spin on that particular element. Reflecting a 21st century move toward defining vulgarity as funny, the Santa Claus here is a hard-drinking, profanity spewing horndog who also happens to be a thief. He & his partner-in-crime, a “little person” who can conveniently portray Santa’s elf, are using the holiday season to case a shopping mall that they plan to rob on Christmas Eve. Things get complicated when Santa gets a girlfriend and befriends a strange young boy. Critics…surprisingly…really like the film and Billy Bob Thornton was even nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. I know there are those that absolutely love Bad Santa and laugh hysterically at every F-Bomb. I don’t consider myself a prude by any stretch, but I do try to be a Godly man and also pride myself on having a somewhat sophisticated entertainment palate. This movie is targeted toward teenagers & 20-somethings with a serious case of arrested development. A sequel was made in 2016, and it’s equally as….ehhhh…let’s just be nice and say neither film really frosts my cupcake.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. This is purely a personal choice for me. If you love Bad Santa I won’t judge you, and if you dislike this particular version of A Christmas Carol I completely understand & might even agree with some of your reasoning. That being said, if I’m flipping thru the channels on a lazy Saturday in December and both of these movies are on TV I know which one I’d choose to watch.

 

 

 

Scrooged

Released                                           11/23/88

Starring                                              Bill Murray    

Director                                              Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, the Lethal Weapon franchise)

Rotten Tomatoes                              68%

I was a little late to the party when it comes to Scrooged, having not ever watched it until atleast a decade & a half after its release. It is a modern, strange, yet oddly faithful retelling of the Dickens tale, with Bill Murray as a greedy television executive who is verbally abusive to his employees and still pines for a lost love. It has become a cult classic that’s not necessarily thought of as being on the same level as other holiday favorites, but three decades after its release it is still shown on television annually and seems to have grown in reputation in the past several years.

 

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Love the Coopers

Released                                           11/13/15

Starring                                              Marisa Tomei, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton

Director                                              Jessie Nelson

Rotten Tomatoes                              19%

There seems to be a growing trend in the holiday movie genre of putting together a large cast of well-known and highly regarded performers in a story that usually revolves around family angst. I get along great with my nuclear family as well as other relatives like aunts, uncles, & cousins, so I can’t really relate to such anxiety. Our Christmas gatherings are normally quite pleasant. However, I assume such dysfunction does actually exist. Love the Coopers is a newer entry into the mix, and though I really like the actors involved, at the end of the day it is a completely forgettable movie that I’m not sure I’d bother to watch again unless I was really bored.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooged. Citizens of The Manoverse will recall that I consider repeat viewings an essential indicator of a good film. If it’s being shown on television years after its initial theatrical run and if I’m still being entertained by it after I’ve seen it dozens of times then somebody somewhere did something right. Scrooged fits that description…the competition does not.

 

 

 

The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause        

Released                                           11/1/02

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell        

Director                                              Michael Lembeck

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%

All three of Tim Allen’s Santa Clause movies are included in Merry Movie Mayhem, and I feel like this one gets shortchanged. You may have noticed that the original film and the third entry in the trilogy show up on TV often enough, but this second film is frequently skipped over. I read somewhere that the notion that Santa must find a wife to keep his job is considered by some to be old-fashioned or even misogynistic, which is utterly ridiculous logic. Elizabeth Mitchell, known by some for her work on the television show Lost, is radiant & enchanting. The biggest issue with The Mrs. Clause is that it came out eight years after its predecessor, which was probably 4 or 5 years too late.

 

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Home for the Holidays

Released                                           11/3/95

Starring                                              Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr. 

Director                                              Jodi Foster

Rotten Tomatoes                              62%

Dysfunctional family dramedy isn’t reserved for Christmas…families gather on Thanksgiving too. Another highly regarded ensemble cast is involved, which means that critics praised the film upon its release. It even has a well-known director, a rarity for the genre. I’m pretty sure Robert Downey Jr. was whacked out on cocaine throughout the film, and I find his manic display distracting. Two decades after its theatrical run I don’t feel like Home has really aged well, although it still pops up on TV occasionally around Thanksgiving.

 

The Verdict:       The Santa Clause 2. This matchup would likely generate a spirited debate among film buffs. Home for the Holidays certainly has the stronger cast and is admittedly well-written, but I’ve just never been able to embrace it. Conversely, there are those that consider The Mrs. Clause to be the weakest entry of that trilogy, and it does seem to get shafted as far as being shown on television, yet I find it completely charming.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1970)         

Released                                           11/5/70

Starring                                              Albert Finney, Sir Alec Guinness

Director                                              Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure)

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

I generally prefer movies that stay true to the books they are based on, but I understand that when a story like A Christmas Carol is remade over & over people want to try something new and distinctive to stand out from the crowd. This version of Carol is a musical that is actually more faithful to the novella than one would think. It is a testament to the acting ability of Albert Finney that he was only 34 years old when he portrayed the elderly Ebenezer Scrooge, and he was rewarded with a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

 

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Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/23/88

Starring                                              Rowan Atkinson, Robbie Coltrane          

Director                                              Richard Boden

Rotten Tomatoes                              84% (a)

You probably haven’t seen it and may not have even heard of it. Blackadder is the titular character of a British television series that aired on the BBC in the 1980’s, with comedian Rowan Atkinson starring as Edmund Blackadder, an opportunistic descendant of an unspecified royal family. In this Christmas special Blackadder, in contrast to the traditional portrayal of Scrooge, is “the nicest man in England”, with the twist being that the ghost (there is only one…portrayed by Robbie Coltrane, better known today as Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter films) who visits him on Christmas Eve showing Blackadder that “bad guys have all the fun”, resulting in him waking up bitter, disillusioned, & meanspirited. I am not a huge fan of British humor, but Atkinson is hilarious and this bizarro world take on the familiar story is unexpected fun.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge. This is a tough one, but I lean toward Scrooge a) due to its award winning pedigree, and b) because Blackadder is tough to find if you’re not really searching for it. Scrooge has shown up on American Movie Classics (or maybe it’s Turner Classic Movies) with some regularity over the years.

Sports Films: The 25 Best (IMHO) Part 2

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

100 Favorite Movies…..51-55

Movies have the ability to transport us thru time, whether the plot involves time travel or not. This is done in two ways. First of all, the story itself can be set in a certain time period. There are films about virtually every notable age in history, from Biblical times thru colonial America and The Civil War to the 1950’s and even history that hasn’t happened yet, i.e. the future. Secondly, some films, whether intentionally or not, become iconic symbols of the era in which they were produced, eternally capturing a brief moment in time. Today’s group does a little of both of these things.

 


55 Saturday Night Fever

Disco may be dead, but Saturday Night Fever will live forever. For those too young too remember and for the benefit of all who have purposely blocked it from their mind, disco was a unique dance style music that dominated the mid to late 1970’s. It could conceivably be thought of as a forerunner to techno…a much cooler, less annoying predecessor. But disco encompassed much more than music. It was a lifestyle personified by fashion, rampant recreational drug use, dance clubs with mirror balls, and sexual indulgence. Fever mostly leaves the seedier aspects of the subculture alone and concentrates on the music, the dancing, and the fun. John Travolta, already famous as Vinnie Barberino on television’s Welcome Back Kotter, was vaulted into superstardom by playing Brooklyn dancer Tony Manero. The story concentrates on Tony’s home life and the classic struggle of one’s desire to escape bleak circumstances versus staying within the comfort zone of family and friends. Tony’s only escape is the local disco, where he is The Man. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, featuring several Bee Gees songs, is the best selling movie soundtrack of all time and is essential to the enjoyment of the movie. Fever has aged gracefully over the course of 30+ years, and I anticipate that folks will still be watching it three decades from now. I just hope no one gets the bright idea to do a remake starring Zac Efron or Freddie Prinze Jr.

 

54 Swingers

1996’s Swingers is set in modern day, but it has a distinctly 60’s vibe with a nod to pre-WW2 swing era. I am a huge fan of all things Vegas, and it plays a significant part in this film, even though the majority of the action does take place in Los Angeles. When you combine a 60’s vibe with Vegas that automatically brings to mind The Rat Pack, of which I am also a big fan. The convergence of all these things were no doubt intentional by the filmmakers, and it works. Vince Vaughn, in only his second notable film (he previously had small role in Rudy), burst onto the scene and a decade and a half later is still riding high. Vaughn plays a fast talking charmer whose quest becomes helping his best friend, played by Jon Favreau (who wrote the screenplay), get over an ex-girlfriend. The two men take a road trip from L.A. to Vegas, but that doesn’t help. Back home several other buddies jump into the fray as they go club hopping and do some male bonding. Ultimately the best friend gets his head out of his tookas and asks out a lovely young lady played by Heather Graham. Swingers is one of those movies that either you get or you don’t, you either like it or think it’s kind of stupid. I get it and I like it. The combination of vibe, outstanding cast, witty and memorable writing, and very cool soundtrack melds together to form an undeniably distinctive and non-formulaic experience.

 

 

53 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Space… the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its mission – to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life & new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. And so was the concept of one of the most successful yet shortest lived television shows of all time. Airing on NBC in the late 60’s, it was cancelled after only three seasons. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, and hindsight tells us that the decision to cancel Star Trek was quite possibly one of the dumbest decisions in entertainment history. At any rate, in addition to 4 other TV series based on the Trek universe, the original crew of the starship Enterprise would fly again in 6 feature films from 1979 to 1991. Trekkies will tell you that the even numbered films in that series are the best, while the odd numbered ones are somewhat lackluster. I concur with that opinion, and so you will see “the three evens” on this list. We begin with the final ride for Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov in 1991’s The Undiscovered Country. The plot involves The Federation and The Klingons attempting to make peace, with that effort being thwarted when the Klingon chancellor is assassinated. There seems to be thinly veiled references to The Cold War, with The Federation representing America and The Klingons standing in for Russia. One could analyze and pick apart the sociological foundation of the script and the political motivation of the powers-that-be, and if that frosts your cupcake then by all means go for it. Personally, I just enjoy the Shakespearean zeitgeist created by the best Trek villain not named Khan…Christopher Plummer’s sublime Chang, as well as the comfortable and oftentimes humorous interactions between the crew. They knew it was their last film together, and the actors gave 100%. Bones McCoy is one of the crustiest yet funniest characters in movie history, and Spock’s reactions are subtly humorous more often than might be intended. The original crew is gone now, some of them (Scotty, Bones) dead in real life. 2009’s reboot of Star Trek exceeded expectations and if that group achieves a fraction of the success of its predecessors the movie going public will be the real winners.

 

52 Die Hard With A Vengeance

This is one example I use to prove my hypothesis that in movie trilogies the first one is great, the second one a disappointment, and the third rebounds to quite good. There are exceptions, and when additional movies get made the whole balance of the equation gets thrown off, but generally…trust me…if a sequel has disappointed you just wait for film number three and you will likely be pleased. The original Die Hard came out in 1988 and dealt with one man taking on a group of terrorists in a high rise office building on Christmas Eve. We’ll examine it closer much later in this list. Die Hard II was the inevitable and rushed 1990 sequel that took the action to a hijacked plane and airport. We will not be speaking of it in this list. Not that it’s a horrible movie…just forgettable and not worth one’s time. However, the third time is a charm and five years later they got it right with a movie almost as good as the first. This time Bruce Willis’ detective John McClain is lured into a cat & mouse game all across New York City, trying to find a bomb while being fed clues by the bad guy played by Jeremy Irons. McClain’s sidekick this time is played by Samuel L. Jackson, a significant upgrade from the Dad from Family Matters and the bare assed fat police officer from NYPD Blue. I think that is what clinches it for me. Jackson’s presence elevates the film in a way that was absolutely necessary for the legitimacy of the franchise as a whole. Taking the action out of a confined space and using the entire city of New York as a backdrop was a crucial change as well. Vengeance feels fresh and can be enjoyed by folks who have never seen the first two films. It stands alone as a well written, well acted piece of entertainment rather than just rehashing things we have already seen. In 2007 a fourth film was made called Live Free or Die Hard. It uses a theme of cyber terrorism and technology. I’ve seen it a couple times and it’s okay, but it sort of felt like it was too late, that too much time had passed and that sometimes one should just leave well enough alone and know when to stop.

 

51 Father of the Bride I & II

Yes, I know…I am cheating. Here’s the deal. I did not have enough slots to include both of these films in the Top 100. I did not want to leave out any others that I had chosen. So then it became a question of which of these two did I like better. Upon pondering that question I came to the conclusion that they really are one movie split into two parts, and I couldn’t bear to eliminate either. So call it a tie if you wish, but I maintain that this is a case where, unlike most sequel situations, the story here flows like one film and therefore will be awarded this spot. Anyway…Father of the Bride is a 1991 Steve Martin remake of a 1950 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy. Father of the Bride II is a sequel to the 1991 film and a remake of a 1951 film called Father’s Little Dividend, itself a sequel to the 1950 film. Confused yet?? No worries…just forget about the 50’s flicks – the remakes are actually better, which is rare. The remakes star Steve Martin as the Dad and Diane Keaton as his wife. The extremely lovely Kimberly Williams made her film debut in Father of the Bride, and nearly 20 years later she’s still gorgeous and is now married to country singer Brad Paisley. In Father of the Bride the daughter returns home from a summer trip to Europe with big news…she fell in love with a fellow American and they’re getting hitched. Dad freaks out. Mom decides they need a wedding planner, which brings the hilarious Martin Short into the fold. Dad then really freaks out. Eventually all’s well that ends well, but the ride sure is fun. Then in the sequel both Mom and the daughter end up pregnant. Dad does a double freak out. They find a way to bring Martin Short back (to plan the baby shower and convert a bedroom into a nursery). All’s well that ends well again. These movies are pretty simple. There are no car chases, no explosions, no gunfights. There isn’t even any notable salty language or nudity. It’s all  very sweet and easy to watch. Watching these movies is like sitting on the front porch with a glass of iced tea and a gentle breeze, and that’s why I like them. Action can be good sometimes, as can drama. I am a big fan of comedy, but even then sometimes one doesn’t want to spend two hours doubled over in laughter. Sometimes one just wants to sit back, relax, and watch some old fashioned folksy, homespun, inoffensive, warm & fuzzy entertainment…the kind of lighthearted fun that’ll cure a bad mood and make one’s life a little brighter for a few hours. The Father of the Bride films more than deliver that. They put a smile on my face every time I see them, and that’s something we all could use more of in our lives.

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..66-70

70 The Glen Miller Story

I’m a big fan of Jimmy Stewart and I love big band & jazz music, so this movie provides an irresistible combo. Stewart is quite the Miller doppelganger, which I assume is a prime reason he was cast in the film. June Allyson provides perky support as Miller’s wife, and a pre-MASH Harry Morgan plays Miller’s best buddy. The story follows Glen Miller from his struggling musician days through his rise to fame to his untimely demise in a presumed plane crash during World War II. I decided to watch this movie years ago simply because I had become a fan of Stewart and wanted to see as many of his films as possible. But the movie made me a Glenn Miller fan and I continue to enjoy his music immensely.

 

69 The Shrek Trilogy

I have to admit…I didn’t see any Shrek films until all three were already out and available on video, so I’m fairly new to the Shrek universe. I didn’t bother with them at first because I assumed they were kiddie films. However, I decided to watch one on television a few years back and have since seen all three. I was both right and wrong in my original assessment. They are undoubtedly geared toward an demographic far younger than I, but on the other hand sometimes it’s okay to temporarily feel like a kid again. For anyone unfamiliar (which I assume would only be folks who, like me, are both single and childless because anyone with children is surely familiar with Shrek), this animated trilogy follows the adventures of a surly but loveable ogre, his talking donkey sidekick, and the ogre’s lady love. There are a host of other characters. Lending their considerable voice talents to the three films are an all star team of folks such as Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Justin Timberlake, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, and many more. Most of the visual humor and jokes in the series parody well known fairy tales, which is a huge part of the charm for me…I love parodies and who doesn’t appreciate childhood fairy tales. The animation is computer generated, which far exceeds the animation most of us grew up with. These movies need to be viewed in high definition to really get the full effect.

 

68 The Greatest Show On Earth

Once again my favorite actor Jimmy Stewart is paired with something cool. This time it’s the circus. I think this is one of Stewart’s best performances. It is certainly low key and subtle, as he spends the entire film in clown makeup. The bigger draw for most people, I suppose, would be Charlton Heston in one of his finest performances as well. Heston kind of became a sad parody of himself in the latter part of his career, but this is one of his earlier movies and he shows why he was once one of the top box office attractions in the world. Directed by famed auteur Cecil B. Demille (I’m ready for my close-up…indeed), the story follows the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus as it travels from town to town. We meet several of the performers and become involved in their lives behind the big top, so to speak. That behind the scenes view reveals a lot of romance, intrigue, drama, and tragedy. Basically it’s a soap opera set at the circus. Demille is known for his lavish, over-the-top, extravagant productions, and he doesn’t disappoint with The Greatest Show On Earth. Like so many beloved memories of yesteryear, the circus has almost slipped into being a remnant from a bygone era. Sure they are still around, but they are no longer an event. Even when I was a kid not that long ago it was a big deal when the circus came to town. Nowadays kids are into their video games and computers and iPods and couldn’t possibly care less about the circus. But watch this movie and you will be reminded of just how extraordinary it used to be.

 

67 Ocean’s 13

In 2001 George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt teamed up to remake the 1960 Rat Pack romp Ocean’s 11, about robbing a Vegas casino. The remake was a smashing success and unlike the original spawned sequels. The first movie will be dealt with later in this list. The second movie, Ocean’s 12, was poorly written and quite forgettable. The third movie was Ocean’s 13, and it’s a nice rebound from its disappointing predecessor. This time the gang returns to Las Vegas and they don’t actually rob a casino as much as they…turn the odds in their favor through uniquely nefarious means. The bad guy is played by Al Pacino, which automatically makes this a must see. As with the other Ocean’s films, don’t try to interject logic or make sense out of the proceedings. This is pure popcorn cinema, escapism at its best.

 

66 The Frat Pack Three Pak (Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin, & Wedding Crashers)

Anyone who grew up in the 80’s is familiar with The Brat Pack (Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, and a few others). And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I would not necessarily call the modern Frat Pack imitators. The only similarity is the name homage, which was itself a takeoff on the 1960’s Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra and his pallies. The Frat Pack is generally thought to be comprised of Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Owen and Luke Wilson, Steve Carell, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, and Seth Rogen. Some combination of those actors has starred in a host of films together with a wide array of results. Zoolander and Starsky & Hutch…not so good. Old School and Blades of Glory…much better. But for me three Frat Pack films stand head and shoulders above the crowd and have stood up to numerous repeated viewings. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy stars Ferrell with Carell and Rudd in very amusing supporting roles. Vaughn, Stiller, Black, Rogen and Luke Wilson all have brief cameos. Ferrell plays an over-the-top misogynistic 70’s news anchor whose world is turned upside down when he’s forced to share the anchor desk with a woman. Anchorman is among the most quotable movies of the past two decades and is just pointless yet harmless fun. The 40 Year Old Virgin stars Carell as the titular character, with Rogen and Rudd in vital supporting roles that really make this film work. It’s hilarious but sweet, with more quotable dialogue and a few really memorable scenes. I really like Rudd in this film. Wedding Crashers, starring Vaughn and Owen Wilson, is a movie I really like but probably not as much as some people. I don’t think it’s really any better than any other Frat Pack film, which doesn’t mean anything negative it just means my praise seems to not rise to outlandish and undeserved peaks of hyperbole. Will Ferrell makes possibly one of the best cameos of all time, and to say that Rachel McAdams (who I someday intend to make my bride) is quite fetching may be one of the biggest understatements I could conceive. Plus there’s Christopher Walken and that’s just the cherry on top.