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June 01, 2011


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So MIDNIGHT RUN and A FISH CALLED WANDA weren't blockbustery enough to make the list?


I hate MSN so much.

Don't get me wrong, I'm always grateful I get to read whatever you're writing, and even more when you're paid to do so.

But how can a company whose primary business is the internet itself design so godawful, anti-intuitive, hard to navigate webpages? The fact that it asks of each reader to click a hundred times to read the whole list just baffles me.

Anywhoo. Fun list, great read as always.


"A lot of laughs, true, but the thrilling climax, particularly in IMAX 3D, had at least two adults of our acquaintance in gibbering, tearful near-hysteria by its end."

I can only assume you're not including me in that, but still: me, too. Although it wasn't during the thrilling part, but rather what followed. I was on the exercise bike during the last half hour or so, and I suddenly felt a rush of emotion that not only brought on the tears, but made it hard for me to breathe. It was sudden and alarming and hard to hide from my wife.

Also -- I never thought about NORTH BY NORTHWEST and PSYCHO being back-to-back Hitchcock films. Kind of crazy, when you think about it.

The last time I tried to watch CONAN THE BARBARIAN, I was surprised at how kinda logey it is. Through no fault of the great Basil Poledouris, of course. RIP.

Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS is near-perfect, in my opinion. I have no beef whatsoever with Cruise, either, and I'm tempted to call this his best performance. Yes, it goes soft, but I can barely bring myself to complain by that point.

RETURN OF THE JEDI has some of the worst moments from the original trilogy, but also some of the best. The operatic showdown between Luke, Vader and the Emporer is fantastic, and Vader's turn towards good had the opening day audience I saw it with as a wee lad standing and cheering. It was an amazing theatrical experience which no doubt colors my perception of the film now, but oh well.

TOTAL RECALL is a fun movie. But if Verhoeven intended the vast majority of the plot to be an false memory implant, he failed to plot it out that way. In this sense, it nicely mirrors the badly failed satire of STARSHIP TROOPERS. And since I hate the kind of shit Verhoeven was trying in TOTAL RECALL, I'm happy it didn't come off, because I like it much better the way it plays.

Ah, I can't go on any longer now. I know! Too bad, right!? More later, maybe...


Okay, what else...

The interesting thing about FRIDAY THE 13TH -- the *only* thing interesting about FRIDAY THE 13TH -- is the mercenary way in which it was made. The DVD commentary track is really fascinating, particularly the bits with Victor Miller, the screenwriter. He wasn't a fan of horror, and knew nothing about it. He was primarily a soap opera writer. But he knew Sean Cunningham and had worked with him before, so he took the job, went and saw a bunch of popular horror movies, picked out the stuff that seemed the most workably formulaic, and Bob's your uncle -- nearly irreperable damage has been done to the genre! But really, it's interesting, and Miller comes off rather charming. He had a job to do and he did it.

ROAD WARRIOR is a masterpiece.

I don't think any of the quieter humor of BLUES BROTHERS is lost at all. That's what's so great about it. I can make a pretty good guess at why Landis seems to have lost it so completely, but he had whatever it is that makes a good summer movie at one point.

The thing about ANIMAL HOUSE that makes it so unappealing to me is that by and large the jokes come from wiseass jokesters who think what they're saying is funny, and who invite us to laugh AT other people. Self aware funny people in comedies really plays badly for me, at least in relatively modern films. Bill Murray is one of the very few guys who can pull this off, and he doesn't even do it as often, or as shallowly anyway, as people often think. GROUNDHOG DAY, for instance, somehow manages to have it several different ways at once, with Phil Connor managing to be the mocker and mockee within the same line of mocking dialogue. In ANIMAL HOUSE, all the heroes are cool and funny, or rather, "cool" and "funny", and I've never liked that angle for comedy. What was I saying before about Landis again...?

Anyone bored by my ramblings yet? I sure am.


The presence of BLADE RUNNER on the list is kind of anamalous. Yes, it was designed to be a collosal summer block-blockbuster in the way that FANNY AND ALEXANDER or FULL METAL JACKET. And it currently holds an interesting position on the great movies list. If you look at theyshootpictures.com top 1000 movies, you will find, not surprisingly, CITIZEN KANE at the top. The greatest movie made after 1941 is VERTIGO, and the greatest movie made after that is 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and so forth with THE GODFATHER, THE GODFATHER PART II, RAGING BULL, BLADE RUNNER, FANNY AND ALEXANDER, GOODFELLAS, PULP FICTION, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, SPIRITED AWAY, THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, and THE DARK NIGHT.

But BLADE RUNNER wasn't very successful either commercially and critically when it came out. No one was upset when it wasn't nominated for any major awards, in a year, as it turns out, that the best pictures nominees were more defensible than usual. Unlike say VERTIGO, or 2001, or NEW YORK, NEW YORK, it's not as if Scott's past or future body of work would on the face of it encourage a reevaluation. And it wasn't until 1991 that the first of Scott's alternative (and better) versions became available. Yet already by that time BLADE RUNNER had already struck a chord. I wonder how exactly that happened.

stuck working

Great feature, I really enjoyed it (aside from having to click "more" on every page, as already noted above). I'm sure I'll think of an objection at some point -- maybe the inclusion of _Ghostbusters II -- but this was fun stuff.

Joseph Neff

partisan: "Yet already by that time BLADE RUNNER had already struck a chord. I wonder how exactly that happened."

I think a big part of it was '80s pay cable. I can clearly recall one of those services using APOCALYPSE NOW as bait in commercials and another using BLADE RUNNER. These ads played for a couple of years, or at least seemed to. I'm wondering how laser disc fits into the equation.

Kent Jones

I saw BLADE RUNNER at a preview screening, and I seem to remember that it "struck a chord" almost the minute it appeared. It may not have done well or been received all that rapturously, but it seemed to achieve immediate cult status, which is exactly why the other versions were created.


"So MIDNIGHT RUN and A FISH CALLED WANDA weren't blockbustery enough to make the list?"

I'd add NO WAY OUT to that list (aka the other movie Kevin Costner released in the summer of 1987 besides THE UNTOUCHABLES). Along with E.T., BACK TO THE FUTURE, and A FISH CALLED WANDA, it's my favorite summer blockbuster, and still one of my all-time faves.

Bill, I agree they could have done more to play up ambiguity in TOTAL RECALL about whether or not it really was a false memory, but I still enjoyed it (for that matter, I completely disagree with you about STARSHIP TROOPERS being "lame satire" - I think it's brilliant satire, though we probably also disagree about the source material). I do agree with you about WAR OF THE WORLDS, though; I've never understood why that film got such a beating in the press, as I found it very entertaining until the ending. I especially appreciate how Spielberg creates tension from the start not by hitting us over the head with special effects, but with the menace of everyday things, like he did with CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.

Gordon Cameron

Blade Runner's look is very distinctive, whatever its dramatic and commercial shortcomings -- it's one of the great design/FX visions, along with Melies's shorts, Metropolis, 2001, yada yada... I imagine it made an impression on a fair number of folks even the first time around. For my part, I was vaguely aware of it as a child in '82 because I was a Star Wars fan and liked Harrison Ford, but I was secluded from R-rated movies and didn't see it until years later. Suddenly, freshman year at film school in '92 (around the time of the first Director's Cut), it was The Hottest Movie and everyone was talking like they'd always loved it. I don't even remember when I first watched it. Caught it on VHS, probably, sometime in the late '80s.


No love for J.J. Abrams? I think MI:3 and STAR TREK are pretty excellent as summer blockbusters go...

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@edo: MI:3 and Star Trek are positively dire as summer blockbusters go, as are Ghostbusters 2, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mission Impossible II (ahead of True Lies? Shame on you Mr Kenny!)and Independence Day. Apart from that it's a solid list, though we'll ignore The Dark Knight being placed ahead of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Nice to see Temple of Doom rightly being placed above the Raiders rehash that is Last Crusade. And seeing that pic of Ford, Hamill and Fisher takes me right back to the late 70s/early 80s when my world and that of all my friends was completely dominated by Star Wars. Lucas can take hits from overweight geeks forever but at the end of the day the guy made Star Wars. Ah, bliss was it to be alive in that dawn.

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And The Abyss should be in there.

Kent Jones

Edo, I guess you're wrong. You forgot that J.J. Abrams' movies are dire. Oh well...

See you at the SUPER 8 premiere.

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@Kent: I've yet to hear a well-constructed argument as to why JJ's movies are good. He has no discernible style, the screenplays he uses are appalling. He's a TV director doing exactly the same thing on the big screen, his films are completely lacking on a cinematic level, little to no use of staging or inventive cinematography. More importantly his films are lacking ideas, or as someone I was talking to yesterday said there is no sense that JJ is standing on the shoulders of anyone culturally or artistically meaningful, Spielberg was into Lean, with Lucas it was Brakhage, Belson and the underground movement. There's also something deeply cynical about JJ's work, something that the sci-fi author China MiƩville nicely summed up: "I disliked Star Trek intensely. I thought it was terrible. And I think part of my problem is that I feel like the relationship between JJ Abrams' projects and geek culture is one of relatively unloving repackaging - sort of cynical. I taste contempt in the air. Now I'm not a child - I know that all big scifi projects are suffused with the contempt of big money for its own target audience. But there's something about [JJ's projects] that makes me particularly uncomfortable. As compared to somebody like Joss Whedon, who - even when there are misfires - I feel likes me and loves me and is on some cultural level my brother and comrade. And I don't feel that way about JJ Abrams."

If you can point out to me something i've missed in Mission Impossible 3 (a second-grade mash-up of True Lies) and the revamped Star Trek (another appalling screenplay by Kurtzman and Orci) i'll happily rethink my position. Until then i'll be giving Super 8 a wide berth.

Glenn Kenny

To address the larger issue, hmm, "Midnight Run." Guess that counts as a miss. Don't know about "Wanda." "The Abyss" is an interesting kettle of fish.

These lists are fun, but they're not put together according to ANYTHING like a scientific method. A few of my MSN colleagues look over potential lists, pitch in, etcetera. For the most part I DO get to keep my own head, and I thought it would be fun to think outside the ostensible box and throw in stuff like "Psycho." Up until a very late point I had FORGOTTEN that "Blade Runner" was initially a summer release, and I put it in at almost the last minute even though as great as it is there's something about it, and something about my recollections of first experiencing it, that make it not FEEL like a summer movie. But the thing about doing these lists is, as soon as they go up, you're gonna get somebody pointing out omissions, some of them really kind of careless (yeah, "Midnight Run") and others arguable. It's part of the fun, or "fun."

As for J.J. Abrams, I'm neither particularly big no him, nor do I think he's the devil. I did get a good snicker at his anointment last week as The Blockbuster Filmmaker It's Better Than Permissible For The New York TImes' Magazine-Reading-Middlebrow To Like. Wonder if The Dan Kois Official Seal Of Not Being A Cultural Vegetable will follow. Abrams' being the creator of "Felicity," which featured an episode in which Tarkovsky's "Solaris" was a major source of anxiety, brings the whole thing full circle. No, it isn't noisy in my head at all, why do you ask?

Jon Hastings

Especially nice to see all those John Landis movies on the list.


@lipranzer - To focus on the film that's actually on Glenn's list (and besides it's been a while since I last watched STARSHIP TROOPERS and would rather not go by memory when debating it), it's not so much that Verhoeven doesn't play up the ambiguity enough -- it's that he THINKS the movie all takes place in the hero's head, but right around the scene where Sharon Stone's character gets killed, the possibility that it's in his head is completely blown away. That no longer makes any sense, yet Verhoeven, and many of the film's fans, persist in thinking that's what happens in the movie. Not only that, but it's part of this popular idea now that if a movie takes place almost entirely within a character's head then it's somehow better and smarter than if it didn't. Witness the movement that would have us believe that the second half of MINORITY REPORT never happened, and that this is a good thing.


@markj - You haven't exactly provided a solid argument for why Abrams is bad, you know. You say his movies are dire and the scripts are terrible and that China Mieville agrees with you because he tastes contempt in the air, but that's not really a argument. I don't put much stock in what anybody tastes in the air.

Kent Jones

How many ways can you say "J.J Abrams SUCKS?" I think we're about to find out.

Am I supposed to like George Lucas' movies because he likes Brakhage and Belson? And Bruce Baillie? Does that mean I have to sit through STAR WARS again?

Tom Block

I was never close to being a "Trek" fan and don't know much of Abrams' work, so I was surprised by how much I liked the reboot. When Kirk took the captain's chair at the end, it felt earned, and actually made the idea of TV prequels seem not so terrible after all.

Also, maybe I missed the definition somewhere, but how in the world does "Midnight Run" rate as a "blockbuster"? It sure *seemed* to come and go quickly, it didn't put up any colossal numbers, and over the years *at least* as many people I've asked have told me they haven't seen it as have. (Also, a huge number of the no-sees are just adamant that a De Niro buddy-movie about bounty-hunters couldn't be very good, but that's just a bur under my personal blanket.)

"The War of the Worlds" lost me at the Tim Robbins scene. Wow, was that not good.

Tom Russell

We saw STAR TREK twice at the dollar show. The second time, they projected it in the wrong aspect ratio, and so the title of the film became TAR TRE, Spock hailed from the planet lcan, etc.

It actually changed the film considerably; a lot of the shots have Kirk on one side of the frame and Spock on the other. Projected 1.85, though, you get Spock and half-or-none of Kirk, which really made it more Spock's film.

Account Deleted

@Kent: Fair enough. I guess calling MI:3 and Star Trek 'dire' as I did was a surrender to my "hang on honey, somebody on the internet is wrong" mode that I have the bad habit of slipping into, 'average' would have been a better word (though I stand by my comment that Kurtzman and Orci's screenplays are terrible). It would be good if you could mount a defence of Abrams' work though, instead of pithy one-liners. I wasn't saying you have to like Lucas and Spielberg's movies, just that at least they have some things going on in their movies beyond the surface level of action, whereas JJ's films (to me) operate only on that bland surface level (and even then not very well). I know i'm in the minority here, just saying that nobody has really said why his films get elevated to being the work of the natural heir to the blockbuster thrones of Spielberg and Cameron. When anybody says anything against Abrams on a talkback there is a rush to mock the opposing view without ever explaining what it is about his work that is liked. I am actually genuinely confused as to why his films are so admired, not just trolling! (And despite my bluster I admit I probably will end up seeing Super 8, Spielberg himself said it was JJ's "first true film", so you never know).

Anyway, don't want to derail the talkback, carry on gentlemen.


I hadn't realized that Tom Cruise was in every summer blockbuster ever. Though he's never been a favorite actor of mine, I agree with Bill that he's quite effective in WAR OF THE WORLDS (except perhaps when singing "Little Deuce Coupe" as a lullaby). Also dig MINORITY REPORT, RISKY BUSINESS, the first M:I...

Glenn, Ah-nuld is Austrian, not German, though his dad was in the German Army during WWII.

Anyway, fun article, despite all the clicking.


@markj - But you haven't mounted anything to argue against. Why is the burden automatically on the people who casually mention an appreciation of Abrams' films when somebody comes in to tear the guy down? You're the one tearing him down, so make your case.

The other thing is, where did this idea that Abrams is being exalted as some great filmmaker come from? I like his movies, and I'm very much looking forward to SUPER 8, but SUPER 8 will be his third film. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III was pretty well liked, but nobody went crazy over it. So on the basis of one movie, suddenly he's being treated as the second coming? I'm not seeing that reaction anywhere, at all. I'll grant you that the SUPER 8 commercials have been pretty over the top in terms of breathless anticipation, but that's marketing. From actual filmgoers, Abrams is, at best, regarded as a good filmmaker who has potential to get better, but nobody knows yet.


STAR TREK was dire (but had its moments) because of the need to appeal to every dumb TV desire (Beastie Boys song; that awful Kirk hiding in Uhura's room scene out of THREE'S COMPANY IN SPACE; the stupid McCoy repeatedly injecting Kirk gag (JACKASS, kids!); the ridiculous intro of Scotty and Spock on the same planet; etc. etc.) I did like some of the actors and with a twist it could have worked for me. It just seemed so pandering.

Jon Hastings

Probably nothing to do with JJ Abrams, but I found the STAR TREK movie depressing because it seemed like the folks that made it were just generically "badassifying" it by making its characters more like Jack Bauer (a la the Battlestar Galactica remake, the new Dr. Who series, the new Sherlock Holmes movie, etc.) rather than to really engage with and rethink Gene Roddenberry's original vision. Specifically: depressing that this is just about the only Star Trek story I can think of where we're meant to cheer someone getting killed at the end.


I'd mount an attack on Abram's M:I3, or a defense of his Trek, if only my eyes weren't still suffering from acute mydriasis due to the constant and overbearing lens flares that they were forced to endure throughout both pics.


Jon - Just from the films alone, there's STAR TREK II (the death of Khan), STAR TREK III (the death of Christopher Lloyd), STAR TREK VI (the death of Christopher Plummer)...

Jon Hastings

bill - I don't think we're supposed to cheer any of those deaths, really. I mean, in the new movie, there's that moment where the bad guy has a chance to save himself: he doesn't, and Kirk and Spock are both really psyched that he doesn't. The earlier movies aren't like that though: there, violence always seems more like a last resort. With Khan, in particular, a couple things make it impossible to cheer: (1) we're always aware that the whole thing stems from Kirk's arrogance and (2) the movie ends on a somber note with Spock's sacrifice. The endings of those other movies don't work quite as well, but they're aiming for that kind of mixed tone, I think. The new STAR TREK movie, though, has been Jack Bauer-ized and neo(ret)conned.

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