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The Honor Roll: Best Comedies (April Fool’s Day Edition) Part Two

The Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top picks for the best comedies of all time in observance of April Fool’s Day!  Here is part two with Chris’ picks!



Happy Gilmore

“He doesn’t play golf…he destroys it.”

 


Adam Sandler graduates from Billy Madison to unveil his brightest shining moment in cinema.  The familial aspect of his film-making, with much of the same cast constantly appearing in all of his films works and helps us to appreciate his motivation of making movies for fun with his friends.  Sandler as a frustrated hockey player who finds his long drive to be the vehicle to saving his beloved grandmother’s house and her life as she knows it.  Hilarious moments that will have you repeating lines for years to come.

Jim’s Comment:  Sorry, not a Sandler fan. I saw this movie once and enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the top of a list of great comedies. ‘S about it. Oh, and the girl was cute.

 

Airplane

“You’ve read the ad.  Now see the movie.” 

 

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Leslie Nielsen reinvented himself with movies like the great Airplane.  Slapstick comedy was never finer than in this film with a classic appearance from Kareem Abdul Jabaar.  I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, but if you don’t have a tolerance for silly antics and dialogue, then go rent Tootsie instead.  😉

Jim’s Comment:  See yesterday’s post.

 

 

Monty Python & the Holy Grail

 “Makes Ben Hur look like an epic!”

 

 

 
Another one of those quotable movies that do not leave your mind for years thereafter.  The Monty Python crew has really produced some classic tv and movie moments, but here is their finest gem in the storehouse.  From Sir Robin’s “bravery” against the three-headed argumentative giant to killer bunny rabbits to mind games against bridge guardians, this movie will have you in more stitches than the poor ankle-biting black knight in one of the most famous scenes of the movie.  Rent it….But it….Just watch it now you silly kiniggits!

Jim’s Comment:  The Pythons raise silliness to a high art in their 1974 classic.  Yes, nerds have been quoting it for years to the point of annoyance, but it still stands tall as one of the funniest comedies ever made.  Proof that creativity need not come with a budget that would pay off the national debt for several countries.  Ni!

 

The 40 Year Old Virgin

“Better late than never.”

 

 

 
Both Jim and I find this movie to be one of the finest comedies of the modern era, and we also agree that Paul Rudd may have one of his most memorable performances.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, yes “Yamo gonna burn this place to the ground” is one of the best lines I think any actor has had in the last ten years in this genre.  Steve Carrell really made himself a household name with this one.  Enjoy!

Jim’s Comment:  See yesterday’s blog entry.

 

 

 

 

The Cannonball Run 

“You’ll root for them all…but you’ll never guess who wins.”

 

 

The movie that I grew up watching more as a child than any other (with the possible exception of Star Wars).  Yeah, I’ve probably seen it about 15 times at least, and I am not one for watching movies too many times.  The lineup of stars and the obvious fun they had making this movie really shine through in the finished product.  Maybe not the funniest of funny movies, but you can’t help but feel good when watching it.

Jim’s Comment:  This is an April Fool’s joke, isn’t it?  Because seriously, this was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  I was actually jealous of the actors goofing around during the end credits, because they were obviously having a much better time making this movie than I had while being forced to sit through it.  Despite all of the great work that these wonderful performers did elsewhere, I still wanted to go up to every one of them and let them know about the time and money that I had just wasted watching them.  The only MILDLY funny moment was watching the great Dom DeLuise run past the camera in his Captain Chaos getup.  For shame, Christopher!

 

 

And that ends another edition of the honor roll with Jim and Chris.  Rob just posted his Comic Pick of the Week blog (no, not the Bronies one!!!), so go check that out when you get a moment.  Thursday we will be back with another Tube Watch and then first Friday of the month means there is another edition of the Fresh Popped Corn movie trailer blog coming at you!

 

-The Great Stories Team

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The Honor Roll: Best Comedies (April Fool’s Day Edition) Part One

The Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top picks for the best comedies of all time in observance of April Fool’s Day!  Here is part one featuring Jim’s picks.  Chris’ will follow tomorrow evening.

 

Some Like It Hot
“The movie too hot for words!”

My vote for the best comedy of the Golden Age—Jack Lemmon at his hilariously neurotic best, Tony Curtis in top form doing his Cary Grant impression and Marilyn Monroe at her peak. The best of many great Billy Wilder movies, too—many quotable lines.  This was one of the first classic comedies that I ever saw. It’s never lost it’s appeal to me.

Chris’ Comment:   “I want a cup of coffee!”  I can’t help but notice how much the great Ray Liotta must have modeled his acting demeanor after the awesome Jack Lemmon!  Bravo.  A fine pick to start off the list, and a movie had not had the pleasure to see until Jim put it on this list.  Thank you sir.

Tootsie

“Desperate, he took a female role and became a star.  If only he could tell the woman he loves!”

 

A dream cast in something that doesn’t happen very often—an extremely well-written comedy. A boatload of writers worked on it, but you’d swear that it was written by one great comedy writer. Dustin Hoffman at his best (he didn’t do enough comedies), a luminous Jessica Lange, a very appealing Charles Durning (watch the scene at the bar where he slowly realizes that he’s sitting next to Dorothy—his face is priceless) and Bill Murray at his funniest (it’s been said that he ad-libbed most of his lines). Also with George Gaynes, a young Geena Davis and the late director Sydney Pollack—all wonderful. They don’t make them like this often enough.

Chris’ Comment:   I am very worried about my friend Jim.  His first two picks are about cross-dressing dudes.  Does this speak to the inner psyche or some kind of….oh never mind.  I don’t want to really know, and I am here to give my comments on the film.  Agreed that it is a great cast with some good moments, but not nearly one of the funniest movies I have ever seen.  Worth a look?  Sure.  Dustin Hoffman is a great actor and Charles Durning always a treat to see on screen.  Have a look but don’t expect this one to make you click those high heels you may or may not be wearing right now.  😉

 

 

The 40 Year Old Virgin

“Better late than never!”

Oh, yeah. I don’t know how many times I ‘ve seen this in the past 9 years, but it never gets old. Judd Apatow at the top of his game. A great cast of now-familiar comedians  who now undoubtedly command a lot more for salaries than they must have received here. It’s a toss-up as to who’s the funniest, but I’d pick Paul Rudd. His Ya Mo Burn this Place to the Ground scene gets me every time.

Chris’ Comment:  This one appears on my list as well.  I guess Jim does have a keen ear for funny.  Two of three ain’t half bad amigo!

 
Airplane/The Naked Gun (tie)

“Thank God  it’s only a motion picture”-Airplane

“You’ve read the ad.  Now see the movie.”-The Naked Gun

 

(Airplane)-Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker make their mark in this spoof of airline disaster movies, a cornucopia of classic lines and gags. “Don’t call me Shirley.” “Win just one for the Zipper.” “Do you…like movies about gladiators?” The drinking problem. Parodies of zillions of movies, from From Here to Eternity to Saturday Night Fever. A new career in comedy for both Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen. This also marks the one and only time that I have ever enjoyed Ethel Merman.

Chris’ Comment:   Another one from my list…comments tomorrow. 🙂

(The Naked Gun)-The two sequels were funny, but the first one is the one to see. Non-stop gags will keep you in stitches.  A great villain in Ricardo Montalban.  A pre-murder trial OJ Simpson. And a career highlight for Leslie Nielsen—it wouldn’t have worked without him.

Chris’ Comment:   A worthy entry into any top comedy list.  Of course, I think Airplane is the pinnacle of this brand of slapstick, which prevents me from putting this one in my own list.  Leslie Nielsen truly re-invented himself with this brand of theatrics.  I can’t help but be left with a bad taste in my mouth seeing OJ Simpson in his role.  But if you can keep such horrific things far from mind, there are great laughs to be had.

 

 

Young Frankenstein 

“The scariest comedy of all time!”

 

Mel Brooks’ best movie and one of the most quotable movies of all time.  I miss the days when Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn were making movies.  There Wolf, there Castle!

Chris Comment:  For my money the best Mel Brooks film would either be Spaceballs or History of the World.  But I don’t want to rain on the Jim parade this time.  Young Frankenstein is a fine comedic triumph, and Mel Brooks is responsible for more than a few laugh-induced broken ribs, so who is anyone to argue his genius?  Gene Wilder is one of the most unique comedic actors of his generation.

 

Back at you tomorrow with Chris’ list!

 

The Great Stories Team

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The Honor Roll: Valentine’s Day Picks (Part Two)

The Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top picks for the best Valentines Day features of all time!  Here are Jim’s selections!


Titanic“Nothing on Earth could come between them.”

 

 

The most expensive movie ever made up until that time became the most successful movie ever made up until that time (not adjusted for inflation). This is an all too rare case of a movie living up to it’s blockbuster hype. It still sucks me in every time I see it, even 18 years after I saw it for the first time. James Cameron’s sweeping epic is a triumph of both technical filmmaking and old-fashioned storytelling, expertly dovetailing eye-popping visuals (the actual sinking is just unbelievable) with an absorbing love story. Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet deservedly became superstars (and still are!). Titanic needs no help from me in feeding it’s hype, but I have to admit—it’s one example of a movie that makes people into lifelong movie fans.

Chris’ Comment:  Ho-hum…how original!  Haven’t we just seen this one before?

 

Roman Holiday

“Romance is romantic in Rome!”

 

 The moonbeam that is Audrey Hepburn graces our movie screens for the first time in a leading role. Gregory Peck stands back and lets her glow. I was never much of a Peck fan, always found him a tad dull and upright. Here, though, he relaxes and enjoys himself as a cynical reporter. His smoothness blends nicely into the enchantment that Audrey creates. Eddie Albert is on hand with some bits as Peck’s photographer pal. Put them together with the lively feel of early ‘50s Rome (it was shot in it’s entirety there) and you have a Romance Classic for the ages. 

Chris’ Comment:  A fine selection and true classic.  Gregory Peck is a strong lead along with the beautiful and charming Audrey Hepburn.  The story bears a striking resemblance to many of the formulaic Disney animated princess tales that we are all fondly accustomed to, with the exception of the non-Disney ending.  Watch without fear of wasted time!  

 

Moonstruck

“Life.  Family. Love.”

 

 

 

A boisterous valentine. Cher’s best movie performance, as well as one of Nicolas Cage’s best early roles (oy, whatever happened to Nicolas Cage?!).  Great  support by many others including Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis and John Mahoney. The Italian stereotypes abound, but since the movie keeps it’s footing just outside of reality, there’s nothing here that I’d call offensive. John Patrick Shanley’s Oscar-winning script overflows with great lines (Feodor Chaliapin Jr. has a couple of well-timed comic triumphs). It’s impossible to feel depressed after watching this movie!

Chris’ Comment:  If you like your movies done with over-the-top motif and grand stereotype, you may have found the perfect film to satisfy your romantic heartstrings.  Featuring Cher as the adult daughter of an Italian family that is struggling through their relationships and Nicholas Cage in one of his earliest and finest performances as the disaffected brother of Cher’s hapless suitor (played by a very entertaining Danny Aiello), this romantic film manages to not take itself too seriously.  Check out the scene with Cher confronting Nicholas Cage about attending his brother’s upcoming wedding in the basement of the bakery for one of the best performances of Cage’s career. 


When Harry Met Sally

“Can men and women be friends, or does sex always get in the way?”

 

Rob Reiner’s modern classic, with Nora Ephron contributing the witty script. It’s now pretty much considered the prototype of the modern romantic comedy, although you could argue that Annie Hall and Manhattan got there first. Billy Crystal is at his absolute best (some of his observations about love and dating really hit home with me) and a new movie star was made with Meg Ryan (she’s missed!). With cinematography by future Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld.

Chris’ Comment: Really Jim….you thief!  LOL.  Just kidding.  My man Jim does have a keen sense for quality most of the time.  Here is no exception, but you can see my comments in yesterday’s entry.  🙂



Say Anything

“A Lloyd meets girl story.”

or

The Spectacular Now

“Life is a series of moments called now.”

 

 

 

 

 

Both of them have misfits finding each other at the conclusion of the turbulent high school years. Say Anything is Cameron Crowe’s wonderfully eccentric directorial debut, with his warm and mellow humor leaking out all over. John Cusack made women all over the world fall in love with him and made guys all over the world want to be him (well, except maybe for the kickboxing aspirations). Ione Skye isn’t completely convincing as a superbrain about to become part of some illustrious thinktank, but she’s attractive, appealing and matches up well with Cusack. With a dream of a supporting cast, including John Mahoney as Skye’s slippery dad. James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now is the most recent addition to my list. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley make the most electric cinematic couple I’ve seen in quite some time (this is one of those movies where you yell at the screen, telling the hero to wise up already and go out with her!). Looking at them, there’s no question that they belong together and they belong together NOW. This doesn’t have the hangdog appeal of Crowe’s film, but it has a smart humor all of it’s own.

Chris’ Comment:  Tale of two movies here folks.  On the one hand, you have a classic 80’s teen romance with John Cusack under Cameron Crowe’s fine direction.  The other, a movie that in my mind will fall into the dustbin of celluloid history with nary a whimper.  And that is not to say it is a terrible film.  It is just that The Spectacular Now, to me, features one of the most unlikeable leads in the history of romance movies.  Miles Teller, whose most high profile role to date was in the equally unimpressive Project X, could end up making a living off of portraying these types of characters but I am hoping that there may be a role for him in a future film that does not ask to be punched between the eyes by the average movie-goer.  Not that I would ever stoop to such a level of course.  

 

 

 

 

And that does it for this edition of The Honor Roll.  We’ll be back with a graphic novel review and another comic pick of the week in the coming days.  Hope you had an awesome Valentine’s Day!

 

-Chris and Jim for the Great Stories Team 

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The Honor Roll: Valentines Day Special Edition (Part One)

The Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top picks for the best Valentines Day features of all time!  Here is part one featuring Chris’ picks.  Jim’s will follow tomorrow evening, just in time for you to settle in for your date night with that special someone!


Titanic

“Nothing on Earth could come between them.”

 

 

What can be said of what I would argue is James Cameron’s last good film (bah to Avatar)?  Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the leads in a tale that almost everyone knows.  Though we know that the characters these two portrayed, Jack and Rose, are fictional, the stories are lent great credibility when existing on the backdrop of an actual event.  We watch this incredibly tragic historical event and cannot help but be immersed in the events being seen through the eyes of these two characters.  I was on a date when I saw this one back in 1997 and must admit to wiping some tears away to hide them from the young lady I was with (I am not ashamed to admit now).

Jim’s Comment:  Catch my thoughts in tomorrow’s edition, as I cannot help to agree with my good friend Chris who once again shows supremely wonderful taste in his film selections. (Disclaimer:  Jim did not necessarily write this, but you can still get his thoughts in tomorrow’s edition!)

 

The Princess Bride

“It’s as real as the feelings you feel.”

 

 

Rob Reiner’s genius is on display in this cult classic fairy tale for the entire family.  Some may say it is a quirky pick for a Valentine’s Day romance selection, but believe me you have not seen the quirkiest yet!  Hey, I am picking them to please all of the different personality types that exist in my head and hopefully behind the screens of all you blog readers out there!  What we have here is Cary Elwes and Robin Wright as the perfect romantic leads chasing a love that proves hard to come by.  In support, definitive performances from Mandy Patinkin and Wallace Shawn.  I challenge you to find two more memorable roles for these fine actors.  Andre the Giant (of wrestling fame), Billy Crystal, and Chris Sarandon are all awesome in their roles too, which will have you repeating lines forever and a day thereafter.  A truly great movie experience with a pure and classic message of love that will go to any length to be realized.

Jim’s Comment:  Largely ignored when it came out in 1987, this has become one of the most beloved movies of all time (attaboy, Rob Reiner—two movies on this list!). I’m not sure if this is a romance movie so much as it’s a parody of one. However, this is one of those films that never cease to bring a smile to my face. A great cast, a wonderful script by William Goldman (based on his book—if you want more of this wonderful adventure and good humor, go read it now!) and a ton of memorable moments. Inigo and Count Rugen’s climactic duel makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Have fun storming the castle!

 

When Harry Met Sally

“Can men and women be friends, or does sex always get in the way?”

 

 

 

 

 

Rob Reiner does it again, this time with the talented Billy Crystal in the prominent role along with the always charismatic and beautiful Meg Ryan (man, did Dennis Quaid ever screw that one up).   This one contains some of the best comedic timing and delivery on display in any romantic comedy.  Nora Ephron’s script is perfect and she deserves as many accolades for the fine film this turned out to be as the other three principles I mentioned.  Is there any seen from a romantic comedy more famous that the simulated restaurant big-O that Meg Ryan so perfectly pulls off?  Yeah, that one may make you feel a little uncomfortable if you happen to pop it in with your parents in the room!  LOL.

Jim’s Comment: See my review tomorrow…..Chris is such a copy cat.  He must have cheated and looked at my list!


The Notebook

“Behind every great love is a great story.”

 

 

How clever of those Hollywood types to be working our company name into their film!  Haha….just kidding.  Trust me, this pick was purely coincidental.  Nicholas Spark’s book is a real winner (especially for the females out there).  I remember being coerced into seeing this one really against my will, but came away from it truly appreciating it for the effective film it was.  Ryan Gosling’s star was just budding at the time of this release and Rachel McAdams brought her gifts to the screen which made for perfect pairing.  James Garner and Sam Shepard were excellent in their support roles.  The story itself is a classic tale of two young lovers from the opposite sides of the tracks who are separated by the expectations and desires of her parents.  The years later, after she is betrothed, is faced with a difficult decision to reunite with her true first love or duty to her fiance.

Jim’s Comment:  Effective and well-cast. This is one of those modern love stories that affect some people passionately. Ryan Gosling is one of those skillful actors whom you never see calling attention to himself, James Garner reminds everyone that he’s one of the most likeable performers ever to grace movie and television screens, and Rachel McAdams is spirited , humorous and—-yep— easy on the eyes.

 

The Butterfly Effect

“Change one thing, change everything.” 

 

 

This one is for all you single folks who are jaded by love this week.  Yes, love is pain.  Love is sacrifice.  And yes, sometimes love stinks (cue Adam Sandler via The Wedding Singer….another movie that almost made it to this list!).  The Butterfly Effect is decidedly a more tragic story than a romance.  But that does not mean that love is not the principle driver of the experience.  If you are looking for a happy Hollywood ending, I encourage you to look elsewhere, but a fine movie this is.  It surprises me to say that a movie with Ashton Kutcher in the lead is such an effective piece, but this one is going to hit you hard, and his performance is part of that heavy formula.  Amy Smart shows wonderful range as her character takes on quite a metamorphosis through the events of the film, and I developed a new-found respect for her acting talents.

Jim’s Comment:  A romance movie????? Oooooooooh-kay.  Folks, this is an extremely strange choice to have on this list. While I was watching it (I hadn’t seen it previously), I kept shaking my head and smirking while thinking “Chris actually questioned my choice of The Shop Around the Corner as a Christmas movie, while thinking THIS is a romance movie?” Truth be told, it is well-made and engrossing. There is a romance IN it that is handled well enough.  However, a large portion of the film is DISTURBING. Try this: say to your significant other “Let’s sit down and watch a romance.” Then pop this sweet bouquet of a movie into your DVD player. And watch the fun begin. Go ahead. I dare ya. I would love to hear their reaction if you aren’t laid up in the hospital after having been beaten to a pulp. 

 

 

 

Back at you tomorrow with Jim’s picks!

 

The Great Stories Team 

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The Honor Roll: Best Christmas Movies (Part One)

The Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top six picks for the best Christmas features of all time!  A total of twelve films/specials you should consider watching in preparation for jolly old St. Nick sliding down your chimney.  

 

Here is part one of the list with Jim’s picks!

 

 

Elf

“This holiday, discover your inner elf!”

 

 

 

The most recent Christmas flick on the list, this was Will Ferrell’s first starring role after Saturday Night Live. He’s at his best here in a role that’s tailor-made for his man-child persona. This is a sweet movie that doesn’t become icky-sweet, with just enough cynicism for the Scrooges among us. A great supporting cast consisting of James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, the appealing Zooey Deschanel and Peter Dinklage (who makes a classic out of his one scene). And look for a cameo from Peter Billingsley, star of my next entry!

Chris’ Comment:  I remember heading out to see this one with my family after Thanksgiving dinner and having a great time.  A hit with the whole family in fact.  I had not been familiar with Will Ferrel’s man child brand of acting and comedic delivery at that time (not having been a view of SNL for some years) so his great performance came as a pleasant surprise.

 

 

 

A Christmas Story

“Sometimes Christmas is about getting what you really want.”

 

 

 

Well, what can you say about this one? Middling box office when it was released 30 years ago, eventually becoming so popular through television viewings that some stations run it non-stop on Christmas Day. The merchandising, the Broadway show. Watch the face of anyone that you mention this movie to break into a grin. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” “Ralphie just lay there like a slug.” “I triple –dog-dare-ya!” My favorite scene: the visit with the department store Santa. HO HO HO!!!

Chris’ Comment:  See Part Two of this blog (appearing tomorrow)

Scrooge (1970)
No tagline

 

 

Colorful musical version of A Christmas Carol, with a memorable performance by Albert Finney, Alec Guinness as the best Marley ever, and with a rousing rendition of “Thank You Very Much.” I usually save this one to play on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Chris’ Comment:  I chose another version of Dicken’s tale to present on my top list, but this one is a fine choice and almost won out.  You can’t go wrong with this musical version, or Albert Finney’s Ebeneezer!

 

The Shop Around the Corner
No tagline

Expertly played by a talented ensemble (James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan,  Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart and William Tracy stand out), Ernst Lubitsch’s gentle classic has made way for several remakes (even a Broadway play), but it’s still by far the best version. What’s more, it’s a Christmas movie that doesn’t keep hitting you over the head that it’s a Christmas movie.

Chris’ Comment:  I have to say this is an odd choice for a best Christmas movie list.  Is it a good movie?  Sure, it’s OK.  It did spawn a remake of sorts in the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan “You’ve Got Mail”.   James Stewart is widely recognized as one of the greatest leading men in Hollywood lore, but man does he offer up one of the weakest tough guy shoves in movie history in the movie’s most confrontational scene.  As occupational rivals, Margaret Sullivan and Stewart are entertaining in their roles in a movie that is certainly telegraphing its plot twist from the very start.  Ah, the innocence and simplicity of Hollywood in the 1950’s!  Yes, the thoughts of a jaded movie-goer who feels he has seen it all.  Once was enough for this guy.

 

The Bishop’s Wife

No tagline

 

 

 

Forget the dull remake, 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel  Washington and Whitney Houston. This is the one to watch for good old-fashioned holiday cheer. With the deft Cary Grant as the angel who might not be 100% angelic and the luminous Loretta Young. Add to that an effective performance by David Niven, one of the best supporting casts ever assembled (Monty Woolley and Elsa Lanchester included) and Gregg Toland’s deep-focus cinematography. The filmic equivalent of a glass of egg nog and a plate of Christmas cookies (and much less fattening!).

Chris’ Comment:  Bravo Jim!  Cary Grant playing God’s dutiful angel who is tempted to leave his work for the love of a woman.  A fine Christmas selection that weaves a tale of heartfelt life lessons and the dangers of temptation.  With an ending full of redemption and restoration of balance, it makes for a satisfying cinematic experience.

 

 

 

 

March of the Wooden Soldiers

No tagline

 

 

Like many of the choices on my list, this may be extremely corny and old-fashioned to some.  However, I think that we have to lament the fact that movies such as these have been passed over in recent years in favor of those containing vulgarity and cynicism. It might aid your enjoyment of this movie to transport yourself to 1934 to forgive some of the broad acting and the dated special effects (although please feel free to skip past the dreadful singing duets between Bo Peep and Tom Tom). With the great Laurel and Hardy, wonderful (non-digital!) sets and a general feeling that a storybook has just come to life right in front of you.

Chris’ Comment:  This movie makes me wish I picked Jingle All the Way (yeah, I liked that one…laugh all you want) as a measure of “corny” revenge on my good friend Jim.  I had not seen this movie and so borrowed it from his collection.  My wife and I were saddened by how bad this one was.  I know it is not in the Christmas spirit to say this,  but “Bah Humbug to this utter trash”.  Remember folks, just because it’s old does not make it a classic.  Maybe I just don’t get Laurel and Hardy.  I like to think of myself as having a sense of humor and wonder, but this Babes in Toyland story makes Robin Williams’ Toys look like a fine cinematic triumph.

 

Happy Holidays!-Jim

 

Stay tuned for the second half of our honor roll blog celebrating our favorite Christmas movies later in the weekend!

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The Honor Roll: Best Scary Movies (Part Two)

The Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top five picks for the best Halloween movies of all time!  A total of ten movies you should consider watching after all the candy has been given out and the cold chill of darkness has settled in.  Here is part two of the list with Jim’s picks!


Psycho

“The Essential Alfred Hitchcock”

What can you say about Psycho? This was the forerunner of all of the slasher/maniac-on the loose movies, both good and bad, that succeeded it. It’s story is, of course, old hat by now (how many headlining stars have been offed 40 minutes or less into the movie?—see Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill or Drew Barrymore in Scream), but the artistry of Alfred Hitchcock and his associates still remains. It’s there in the ghostly black and white images of Anthony Perkins watching Janet Leigh and her car sink into the swamp, and it’s there in the ragged harshness of Perkins mopping up Leigh’s blood beforehand. The loneliness of Leigh traveling on the highway (accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s famous score),  along with the famous house silhouetted against the sky set a mood that would sadly be lost amongst today’s shockers. As effective as it still is, can you imagine how it went down when it was released during the peachy- keen Eisenhower years?

Chris’ Comment:  Hitchcock was undeniably influential and I count Rear Window as one of my favorites.  Psycho no doubt shocked audiences when it was released to theaters, as it had no real cinematic equal.  A precursor to a new breed of horror that did not involve giant insects or alien invaders, it has to be considered an innovative and controversial movie exposing the dark nature of man.

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

“The seed is planted….terror grows.” 

 

 The 1956 version was certainly effective for it’s time as a well-made  low-budget shocker, but this Me Generation update expands upon the ideas of Jack Finneys’ novel. It’s one of the best black comedies ever made. Donald Sutherland is an unusual (and sometimes creepy) choice for a hero and Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy both turn in iconic performances—gotta love the eccentric Goldblum! And whatever happened to the lovely and appealing Brooke Adams?  Director Philipp Kaufmann serves up a moody succession of shadowed imagery, along with still top-notch (though not overused) special effects. And who can forget the wonderful sound effects provided by Star Wars’ Ben Burtt?  That ending—wow.

Chris’ Comment:  Donald Sutherland’s mouth agape and pointing stance still haunt my memories from childhood.  I never knew that Leonard Nimoy could perform any non-Vulcan role before seeing this movie in my teens.  I have not seen the original for a comparison, so for me this version was the genuine article.  

 

Dead of Night (1945) 

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This scared me silly when I was a kid. This was one of the first horror film anthologies, beating similarly-styled British horror films from Hammer and Amicus by nearly 20 years. An excellent cast (hey, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Sally Ann Howes as a teenager!) and wonderful atmosphere set up by several directors. A great, surrealistic ending that’s not to be missed.

Chris’ Comment:  One of the two movies from Jim’s favorites that I had not previously seen, I looked forward to getting into a movie from a generation of films very under-represented from my own viewing archive.  What I found was a story that I could sincerely appreciate (think Groundhog Day meets Twilight Zone), but ended up being a very mixed bag experience.  Set up as a loosely connected group of short tales, the characters in the film share their spooky experiences before the ending that brings it all together.  A couple of the stories are truly creepy and effective including a race car driver’s near death experience and the final story about a ventriloquist who may or may not be in control of his dummy partner.  Other than that, I found the stories to be not so compelling.

 

An American Werewolf in London

“Beware the moon.”

 

 

 

The classic hipster comedy from John Landis. Funny and scary, a wonderful combination. A great soundtrack and Oscar-winning makeup effects by Rick Baker. “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”

Chris’ Comment:  One of my early favorites too, and only narrowly missed my own top five, American Werewolf contains one of the most visceral and scary werewolf transformations you are likely to see on film. And the relationship between the afflicted and his dead ghost of a friend is classic!

 

 

Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein

“More howls than you can shake a shiver at!”

 

 

 

 

 

The old-school funny and scary and still great fun. Too many great Lou Costello moments to mention. Bela Lugosi back as the Count for the second and final time! And Lenore Aubert as….SANDRA!!!  Fondly remembered as one I used to watch with my dad every time that it was on TV. And wait a minute—what’s the deal with the Count’s reflection in the mirror as he’s biting Sandra?! Didn’t they study their vampire lore?

Chris’ Comment:  The other movie from Jim’s top five I had not previously seen (at least from start to end) is truly a fun experience.  Harkening back to a more innocent time when comedic laughs did not have to be drawn from something grossly inappropriate or shocking behavior, Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein certainly will give a nice option to the feint of heart who can’t quite handle a true scare but want to relish a film in the spirit of the season.  The famous duo actually tackle Dracula and The Wolfman played by Bella Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr as well.  Have fun!

 

Honorable Mentions from both Jim & Chris include:

Slither-the most recent movie on the list, this gets kudos for keeping CGI effects to a minimum and relying on amazing, full-scale make-up effects. Boasting a great cast, it’s one of the funniest and least self-serious horror movies to come along in years.

 

 

The Raven (1963)—more scary-funny hijinks (though mostly funny). A low-budget treat with the great Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, plus Jack Nicholson as the young hero (man, would he change!). Script by the great Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man) and tongue-in-cheek direction by exploitation movie maestro Roger Corman.

 

When a Stranger Calls (1979)—“Have you checked the children?”  Forget the 2006 remake and go find a copy of the original.  And then try to steel your nerves to an unexpected phone call the next time you are all alone in the dark.

 

The Exorcist–William Peter Blatty, who fashioned himself more a writer of comedy, is best known for this terrifying novel and movie.  This one sent people streaming out of theaters in terror and shows us a true test of good vs evil in the battle for a little girl’s soul.

 

Thanks everyone for reading! And Happy Halloween!!!

 

-Chris & Jim

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The Honor Roll: Best Scary Movies (Part One)

Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team.  This month Jim and Chris make their top five picks for the best Halloween movies of all time!  A total of ten movies you should consider watching after all the candy has been given out and the cold chill of darkness has settled in.  Chris’ picks are up first and we will have Jim’s picks out to you tomorrow morning.

 

 

Session Nine

“Fear is a place.”

 

 

Man, they got that tag line right.  The Danvers State Mental Hospital served as the Massachusetts locale for filming this absolute gem of a horror movie from Brad Anderson.  Peter Mullan plays the struggling owner of Hazmat removal company bidding on the job to clean up the old abandoned hospital which contains some horrifying secrets.  Also part of the team are David Caruso, Josh Lucas, Stephen Gevedon, and Brendan Sexton III.  As the team draws closer to their deadline for finishing the job, things begin to unravel for the team.  David Caruso gets hacked on quite a bit for his work, but he is perfectly cast in this role.  Alongside Peter Mullan, both turn in a great performances playing off each other as they struggle for control of the group.  This is one of the Josh Lucas’ earlier roles before he gained a measure of stardom, and his philosophical and morally conflicted role as Hank is dead on as well.  There are plenty of unsavory undercurrents and sub-plots between the characters to add some context to the unfolding events that transpire.  Director Brad Anderson really nails the atmosphere and tension, and his sets and location almost serve as another actor in the film itself.  Lots of tension and skin-crawling moments in this one.  Check it out!

Jim’s Comments:
Chilling movie, kind of reminded me of Kubrick’s The Shining in the way that it was filmed and scored. Don’t see this one when you’re home alone like I did.

 

Halloween

“The night he came home.”

 

 

In 1978, John Carpenter gave my generation the boogeyman.  Babysitting on Halloween has not been the same since.  We were introduced to Jamie Lee Curtis and the presence of Donald Pleasance lent a credibility to the cast of relative unknowns.  No doubt about it, Halloween (with an assist from Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre) gave birth to the slew of slasher films that invaded theaters and late night television for the next decade, but what Carpenter managed to do was create an effective film without gratuitous gore and left much to the viewer’s horrified imaginations.  This film had audiences quaking with a building tension and dread, leaving us all to wonder what lurked within every shadow.  A classic that remains the standard bearer of the genre!

Jim’s Comments:
The most successful independent film ever made. I’m not convinced that this is the “classic” that many regard it to be, but there’s no denying it’s effectiveness. It could be held up as a model for low-budget filmmaking technique. My favorite part was when we see the station wagon that Myers is in drive past the girls, stop, then start off again as if he is biding his time.

 

The Thing

“What you fear most is among you.”

 

 

 

After Halloween, John Carpenter moved on to do an Elvis TV biopic, The Fog, and Escape from New York before releasing The Thing to an unwary public.  Kurt Russell headed a great cast for Carpenter, who went away from his usual style by letting the special effects crew go wild.  Some of the most grotesquely horrific sequences in the history of movie cinema are captured in this film.  Combine that with the moodiness, isolation, and paranoia that this film delivers the stuff of nightmares.  My parents actually claimed that I woke up with nightmares for about two weeks following a viewing of this movie as a child.  Yes, it is that scary.

Jim’s Comment:
A critical and box office flop when it was released in the summer of 1982, this has gone on to become one of the most popular horror films of all time. Rob Bottin fills the screen with one eye-popping makeup effect after another (the “spiderhead” sequence still makes my jaw drop) and John Carpenter fills the running time with a sense of menace. Unlike the 1951 original (another great movie), these research scientists clearly don’t like each other.

 

1408

“Some rooms are locked for a reason”

 

 

 

John Cusack delivers a fine performance as the somewhat notable author of books such as “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Castles” and “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses”.  His works seem to be a fruitless search for hope in an afterlife, following the tragic passing of his daughter to sickness, which has destroyed his marriage and left his own heart and soul barren.   His next work’s material leads him to the Dolphin Hotel in New York City and the events that transpire are far beyond anything he would ever expect.  This was John Cusack’s show the whole way, as for much of the movie, he is the lone character.  Samuel Jackson provides some support as the hotel’s manager very effectively.  But clearly this is Cusack v one incredibly evil room.  The director (Mikel Halfstrom) amps up the tension, and the repeated soundtrack use of the Carpenter’s song, “We’ve Only Just Begun” is brought towards a terrifyingly maddening effect.  Pull your loved ones close when watching this one!

Jim’s Comments:
Saw this one a few years ago. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember liking it.

 

 

The Fourth Kind
“There are four kinds of alien encounters.  The fourth is abduction.”

 

 

 

Generally not a fan of viral campaigns and found footage movies, this one happens to be a very big exception.  Milla Jovovich stars as psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler.  The setting is Nome, Alaska where a series of disappearances have afflicted the frontier community.  As Dr. Tyler begins to see some similarities in her patients experiences during hypnotherapy sessions, she digs deeper to find the ultimate truth of some very sinister happenings in their quiet community.  Parts of the movie juxtapose “actual” footage with re-enactments from the actors in an attempt to help the viewer believe all that they are seeing.  And what we do see is a very convincing and disturbing display of otherworldly phenomena.  White knuckle syndrome is sure to hit you at points of this movie.  I am a sucker for a good alien abduction story (loved Fire in the Sky too…check that one out as well), but I also have to say that this is the best acting we have seen yet from Milla.  On top of that, Will Patton appears as Sheriff August and Elias Koteas as Dr. Tyler’s colleague, Dr. Abel Campos.  A superb cast, and a thrill of a movie for sure, in spite of the panning it received from critics.

Jim’s Comments:
Well-acted and intense. I wasn’t a big fan of the “faked” footage vs. the “ real”—both cross-cutting and split screen. Such a presentation can’t help but call attention to itself, with the effect of it taking me out of the movie. I’m also not infatuated with the harsh, fast editing of many horror films today. But you can do far worse than this film for a nerve-wracking 90 minutes. There are some extremely intense sequences (my phone rang during one of them and made me jump) and a somber and eerie mood is kept throughout.

 

 

Check back tomorrow for Jim’s Top Five!