Friday, October 28, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

WOODY ALLEN is a different kind of case. For a while in the '80's I saw and loved everything he made. He is still doing work many critics admire, such as this year's "Midnight in Paris".
But Allen's off screen behavior has been so repugnant, I've had a difficult time enjoying any of his work. This is especially true when he is on screen (such as in "Scoop", which reminded me of something that is scooped off the sidewalk.)

I find many of the remarks he's made about religion and politics (particularly about 9/11) disgusting, but I can separate the art and the artist with these films made well before Bush Vs. Gore.

10) BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994) John Cusack (we're back to the beginning of the week) subs for Woody onscreen in this farce about the theater and gangsters. ("Don't speak!")

9) HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) Michael Caine rightly received an Oscar for his performance in this film, but he couldn't collect in person as he was filming JAWS: THE REVENGE (for which he didn't receive an Oscar.)

7)SLEEPER (1973) Woody is very funny as a man of the '70's who wakes up in s sci-fi future. He makes a very good robot butler.

6) TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969) Yes, I like his early, funny films (along with the aliens in STARDUST MEMORIES.)

5) ZELIG (1983) Allen beat Tom Hanks to Forrest Gump by a decade.

4) BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) One of the few times an Allen film (and the character he protrays) can be described as sweet. Fortunately, its funny as well (especially the shoot out in the helium balloon ware house.)

3) ANNIE HALL (1977) It beat out STAR WARS for the best picture Oscar, and perhaps deserved it. Allen's most creative comic bits (I especially like the grade school students who tell what they will do in later life.)

2) PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985) Woody isn't on screen in this fantasy about a cinematic hero who comes off the big screen to romance an abused wife. Equal parts funny and heart breaking. (Okay, maybe funny gets an edge.) Jeff Daniel's playing the movie star and the screen character is excellent (say, has that SOMETHING WILD star made a good film in the last ten years?)

1) CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989) Allen's masterpiece as far as I'm concerned. Explores the questions of what to do when evil prospers and righteousness is punished. Allen asks the right questions in the film. He just seems to have come up with the wrong answers in real life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

This one is certainly more of a personal preference, It is even hard for me to believe that once there was a time I looked forward to seeing a film because MELANIE GRIFFITH was in it. Like Sly Stallone, she made some bad films good.
But for the last ten years, that has not been the case. It's not just because she's a woman getting older. Age has not stopped Siggy Weaver or Michelle Pfeiffer (how does she manage all those 'f's in her name) from being pleasures to see on the screen. Scary plastic surgery may have something to do with it, but MG became a warning sign in the credits.

Now the field was thinner for ten good films than it was with the week's earlier choices... So I included some of her bad films that are true guilty pleasures, largely because of Ms. Griffith's presence.

10) CHERRY 2000 (1987) My wife and I are lonely fans of this sci-fi post-apocalytic epic about Melanie helping a poor schlub fine an android love in the forbidden zone. She shows some real action chops in this cheese fest.

9) RKO 281 (1999) Sure, it's made for TV, but this is the last good film MG has made, a film about the making of a great film, CITIZEN KANE. MG played Marion Davies, an actress from history who surely has no parallel in the utterly fictional KANE.

8) THE DROWNING POOL (1975) A sequel to Paul Newman's great detective classic, HARPER.

7) NOBODY'S FOOL (1994) After many years, she again teamed with Paul Newman in Robert Benson's fine drama.

6) STORMY MONDAY (1988) A good British noir, without a doubt, Sting's best film.

5)BODY DOUBLE (1984) Griffith is quite good as Holly Body (no, this is not a James Bond film) in Brain De Palma's horror/action film set in a quite sleazy Hollywood.

4) NIGHT MOVES (1975) Griffith caught the attention of many critics and Gene Hackman's detective character in this fine film from Arthur Penn.

3) SMILE (1975) How could I not mention this classic Micheal Ritchie satire of beauty pageants? After all, it was filmed in my home town, Santa Rosa, CA.

2) WORKING GIRL (1988) This was Melanie Griffith's great star turn (her best chance for an Oscar, it really could have happened). She was such fun as a secretary who becomes an executive with the support of Harrison Ford (and in spite of Sig Weaver). Classic Mike Nichols comedy.

1) SOMETHING WILD (1986) This Jonathan Demme film is one of my all time favorites. It starts as a comedy and then Ray Liotta's incredible performance turns the film very dark. But Griffith is fun, sexy and cute and this is the film that made me love her (at least until the Y2K bug did not end the world as we know it.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

This is a particularly frustrating case, because I have no idea why he hasn't made good films for the last decade. Part of John Cusack's charm was in his youth and the charm that wasn't taken by age has been lost in a self-seriousness that might possibly come from his politics. Ford's age keeps him from doing action like he did and he seems to have gotten lazy.

But STEVE MARTIN's creative juices are still flowing. He's writing good novels and great short humor pieces. He's still funny on talk shows and variety shows. I loved his banjo album, "The Crow". So maybe his creativity is just flowing in different directions. And yet he's made not one but two Pink Panther films. Really?

Anyway, on to the films of Steve Martin I love (and I'm not including cameos in "The Muppet Movie" and "Little Shop of Horrors".)

10) "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982) Spoofing noir classics proves a challenge, and sometimes the comedy doesn't fit the clips used. But when it does, this collaboration with Carl Reiner works very well.

9) "The Man With Two Brains" (1983) Sadly one of Martin's raunchier films, but it can also be quite funny. Plus, it has a mystery with one of the most unexpected of villain reveals.

8) "All of Me" (1984) I haven't seen this for a long time, but I remember being quite happy to see Martin teamed with one of my other comic idols of youth, Lilly Thomplin.

7) "The Spanish Prisoner" (1997) A rare dramatic role for Martin and he is quite good in this David Mamet con flick.

6) "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (1988) Funniest scene with a fork ever.

5) "The Jerk" (1979) It was awesome to see the Martin of the comedy albums I'd memorized on the big screen. A bit of a mess, but so many funny bits.

4) "The Three Amigos" (1986) Amigos Martin Short and Chevy Chase also give very funny performances in this variation on "The Seven Samurai". (Chevy's droughts have been longer and deeper than Martin's.)

3) "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" (1987) Great teaming with John Candy in this John Hughes holiday (Thanksgiving) classic.

2) "Bowfinger" (199) Martin's last good film was a great film. One of the best satires of Hollywood.

1) "L.A. Story" Sweet and strange and very funny. It's like a Fellini film, but I like it so much better than any Fellini film. If you didn't know Shakespeare is buried in Los Angeles, you can learn that and so much more from this film.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

The next on the list is HARRISON FORD.

Not just one of my favorite stars, but several of his films are among the most popular ever made (and a couple of these among the most critically acclaimed.) And it says something that there are several films I like I have to leave off ("Working Girl", the Jack Ryan films and "Air Force One" among them.)

And the films of the last decade have, for the most part, been painful.

10) "Presumed Innocent" (1990) A courtroom drama, that makes the list because of the great twist at the end. (Scary haircut for Ford though. And he plays 'Rusty' Sabich. Rusty?)

9) "The Mosquito Coast" (1986) A rare time when Ford plays a crazy guy, perhaps a bad guy. He did very good work with Peter Weir.

8) "American Graffiti" (1973) A wonderful historic relic that shows that at one time George Lucus could be funny and write human dialogue.

7) "The Fugitive" - (1993) Perhaps the best TV to movie adaptation ever (that competition may not be too rough, but it is a great film.)

6) "Witness" (1985) His other great film with director Weir. Ford was Oscar nominated and deservedly so.

5) "Apocalypse Now" (1979) & "The Conversation" (1974) Okay, the reason I put these films together is because Ford's parts are so small in these two Francis FORD Coppola Best Picture nominees. (And in my opinion, "Apocalypse Now" should certainly have beat "Kramer Vs. Kramer" and more controversially, I think "The Conversation" deserved to beat Coppola's "Godfather II".) It's awesome that Ford was Col. Lucas in "Apocalypse."

4) "Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977) A film I saw many, many times and it made me very, very happy. (Sorry there wasn't room for you, "Return of the Jedi", one of my happiest theater experiences.)

3) "Blade Runner" (1992) Ford may be one of the weakest things in great film, and he is very good. Arguably the best science fiction film ever made.

2) "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) Most of this summer was devoted to the question, "Is Darth Vader really Luke's father?" Because we no longer questioned who was cooler Luke or Han...It was Han by a mile.

1) "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) The best adventure film ever made. I've seen it more than any other film (partly because I worked in a theater that showed it for a year.) I like "Doom" and "Crusade" but the awfulness of "Crystal Skull" almost makes me wish no sequel had been made. But that's not really true. But I do love "Raiders" and hate "Skull".

Monday, October 24, 2011

Favorite Stars Who Stopped Making Good Films in the Last Millenium

I've noticed that some of my favorite stars of my early years have stopped making anything of value after 2001. This isn't true for all my favorites. Bill Murray and Robert Duval, for instance, have done much quality work since HAL went mad and was disconnected. But I'm going to focus on five stars this week that have sadly stopped making good films by highlighting their best with a Top Ten List (or Top Five if that's all they managed.)

Let's start with JOHN CUSACK

This is a particularly sad case because I love his early films and his latest have been so very bad. ("The Ice Harvest" and "1408" are okay, but their meager achievements are blotted out by "War, Inc." and "Grace is Gone".)

10) "One Crazy Summer" (1986) The film career of director Savage Steve Holland has been light, but glorious.

9) "The Journey of Natty Gann" (1985) A sweet Disney drama (quite a contrast with say #6 on this list.)

8) "Eight Men Out" (1988) John Sayles' telling of the Black Sox Scandal.

7) "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994) Woody Allen directed. (Woody barely avoided a place on this list.)

6) "The Grifters" (1990) A very dark, yet funny, tale, which describes much of Jim Thompson's writings.

5) "High Fidelity" (2000) The last great Cusack film, based on Nick Hornby's novel.

4) "Gross Point Blank" (1997) Now this is what class reunions are supposed to be like.

3) "Being John Malkovich" (1999) One of the strangest films ever made by a major studio. I like it very much.

2) "Better Off Dead" (1985) Savage Steve Holland's Masterpiece

1) "Say Anything" (1989) Cusack's best film, Cameron Crowe's best film and, yes, Ione Skye's best film.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Head Vs. Heart: Moneyball

Heart vs. Head
You’ve seen variations on this plot before: an established business is disturbed when the hotshot comes in with an emphasis on the bottom line and effectiveness statistics. The newcomer shakes things up, but soon learns that the old timers have a lot of wisdom and the most important element of any business really is heart.
In 1957’s “The Desk Set”, Spencer Tracy tries to bring these new fangled computers to the research department of a television network until Katherine Hepburn shows him that a machine can’t match the heart of a librarian.
In 1986’s slightly racist, “Gung Ho”, Gedde Watanabe tries to turn around an American auto plant with the principles of Japanese efficiency until Michael Keaton shows him that those business models are no match for the heart of the American worker.
Even last year’s “The Company Men” pitted the sinister bottom lined focused Craig T. Nelson in the world of shipping versus Tommy Lee Jones who, once again, values people as people, not as economic units that can be eliminated to help the stock prices. (Not a bad little film, this.)
This year’s “Moneyball” takes some of these same themes into the world of professional baseball. Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) comes to the Oakland A’s and tries to turn around the fortunes of a small market team. The film pits Beane as a manager who values cost cutting, statistics and the bottom line vs. the coaching and scouting staff who value intuition, institutional wisdom and decisions made by the gut.
Except this time, the film gets the audience to root for the guy with the metaphorical slide rules. Beane comes saying he doesn’t care whether a player looks good in a uniform or has “heart”, he just wants to know the player’s on base percentage.
And Beane is forced by the owner’s budget to highly value the bottom line.
Yes, through the film, we see Beane honoring the dignity of players (as a former player himself) and making decisions not at all based on economic factors. But the importance of science, statistics and economics shines through.
One of the most amazing feats of the film is making what on its face is a very dry subject (baseball strategy and building a team) into a very entertaining, funny, and touching film. (A friend of mine, who hates sports, enjoyed the film.) A lot of the credit goes to the script writers, Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (who last year made a topic even more unlikely, the founding of Facebook, into a wonderful film, “The Social Network”.)
Credit must also go to Pitt and Jonah Hill (as his assistant) presenting a highly unlikely partnership that blooms into a wonderful friendship. Readers of the fine book which this film is based on might be surprised by the addition of Beane’s family life, which makes this one of the few father/daughter baseball films.
In the church, I think we are also highly distrustful of those who bring “science” to church policy. When someone brings up church growth studies, many of us are tempted to dismiss such people as unspiritual. Shouldn’t we just close our eyes and let the Spirit lead us by faith?
Why bring management theory into church board meetings? Shouldn’t we rely on Scripture alone?
Yes, Scripture, the leading of the Spirit and prayer should be the primary church decision making.
But if you look at Acts 6: 1-7, you’ll see leaders of the young church in Jerusalem facing the administrative task of feeding people, and they find a solution to the problem that might be encouraged by a MBA.
Even in the church, we need to value the head and the heart.