17 July 2006

Retro Repost- Karate Kid

Well I've been meaning to update for a while, but work is completely sapping my motivation to do much of anything once I get home for the day. Give me a mulligan until August when work ends.

Anyway, I thought I'd repost something that I had written for my old website...a minute-by-minute review of the Ralph Macchio classic, "Karate Kid: Part II!"



And we're LIVE from the Daniels Living Room. I'm set with some delicious Arby's roast beef sandwiches, a tall glass of milk, and an order of Arby's mozzarella sticks (about time I tried those).

0:01- A quick recap of what happened in the first movie. If you missed it...kid gets picked on; old Japanese janitor teaches kid karate; kid wins the girl, self-respect, and a karate tournament against the school bully. That's pretty much all you need to know. It was good enough to become wildly successful and earn Pat Morita an Academy Award nomination. If only they had stopped there...

(PS- They thankfully show the classic "Mr. Miyagi destroying the gang of bullies" scene, topped off with him kicking one of the bullies roughly 46 times in the groin. Thanks, that didn't hurt enough the first time we saw it. Hold on a sec, guys, I have sympathy pains.)

0:05- Ok, I'm ready.

0:05- Yes! The kid who screams "Get him a bodybag...yeah!!" during the climactic fight! I love that kid!

0:08- Picking up after the tournament...the Psychotic Sensai attempts to choke out the Bully in the parking lot (since he lost to Daniel and all), but Mr. Miyagi steps in and cleans house, dodging the Sensai's punches and causing him to bludgeon his own hands through two car windows. The Sensai's face in this scene is priceless...kind of a mix between Bob Backlund during one of his episodes and Vince McMahon whenever he heard Stone Cold Steve Austin's music.

(Sidenote: The Evil Sensai calls Mr. Miyagi "Slope"...what is that supposed to mean? Is it some kind of racial slur I'm not aware of?)

0:10- Oops, Daniel got dumped by the girl already, rendering the first movie moot. Thanks for watching it though. Is it just me or is Daniel a little too OK with being dumped here? At least he's still got Miyagi. Apparently Daniel is about to be forced to move to Fresno with his mother for the summer. Since we still have to have a movie, and the title is suggesting more karate, I'm guessing something is bound to happen that will make him stay around with Miyagi.

0:13- Ever notice how most of Miyagi's training for Daniel was doing household chores? Miyagi: Smartest man on the planet.

0:15- Here's we go...Miyagi tells Daniel he just called his mother, who said it's OK for Daniel-san to hang around with Miyagi for the summer. Daniel, again, seems a bit too excited about hanging around with a 70 year old man for the summer.

(Quick Mozzarella Stick review: pretty good actually. The breading is the strong point. So there you have it, the Arby's Mozzarella Sticks...give them a try. Have I ever steered you wrong?)

0:17: PLOT POINT: Miyagi gets summoned to Japan to tend to his sick father. He then reveals about 70 years of background info, something about falling in love with the girl that his best friend was engaged to, which made his best friend into his worst enemy, caused the friend to challenge him to a death match, and eventually caused Miyagi to become a janitor who moonlighted (moonlit?) as a karate instructor for wimpy 25 year olds posing as high schoolers. To quote Rick Moranis in Spaceballs: Everybody got that?

0:21- Miyagi's getting ready to leave, and Daniel-san hasn't shown up yet to bid farewell. Sniff.

0:22- Oh wait, here's Daniel-san, at the airport, begging Miyagi to allow him to go to Japan with him! Yikes, this is a little uncomfortable...possibly the first quasi-romantic scene between an octogenarian ninja and an awkward 25-year-old playing a teenager in movie history. Daniel-san has apparently cleared out his bank account to pay for his ticket, and is ready to give up his entire summer to hang around with Miyagi.

DANIEL-SAN: Mr. Miyagi, you're more important than college...you're more important than anything to me!

0:24- Miyagi and Daniel-san opt to sit next to one another on the plane, even though there's an open seat in the three-seat aisle. Ya know what, let's just move on.

0:27- Strange, uncomfortable handshake sequence, as the cab driver shakes Daniel-san's hand and won't let go. Feel that foreshadowing! Ya know, I don't know if I trust this guy...

0:29- Sure enough, the cab driver turns out to be the nephew of Sato (Miyagi's old friend), and drives him to an abandoned warehouse, where the mysterious Sato appears. Sato has a sort of "Cookie Monster after swallowing Clorox" voice going on. Sato calls Miyagi a "coward" a few times, then drives off. What, no ambush?

0:33- UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY ALERT! Miyagi finds the room where his former girlfriend (the one who drove him to America) is tending to Miyagi's father, and swings open the door. A light wind is blowing his hair. In a hilarious...er...tender scene, we find that Miyagi's ex never married. It's getting a little dusty in the living room...sniff...gimme a minute...

0:36- Ah, the "getting to know you" scene between Daniel-san and Miyagi's ex-girlfriend. I smell a catfight!

(Watch out for the helicopter loudly flying past in the middle of this scene for no apparent reason. Who directed this, Ed Wood?)

0:38- Miyagi shares the "secret of Miyagi family karate" with Daniel...it's apparently one of those two-sided drums that you can get at the boardwalk. Funny, I always thought the secret of karate was, you know, kicking people.

0:40- Miyagi and Daniel enjoy a quiet stroll through town as Miyagi spouts history like Jim Ross on ten lattes. Daniel-san sees the ex-girlfriend's daughter and engages in an awkward wave.

0:42- Uh oh...Sato sighting! His psychotic nephew is on hand as well. He calls Miyagi a coward a few more times. Miyagi says that he won't fight, no way, no how. Before anything, you know, interesting can happen, the ex-girlfriend summons Sato and Miyagi to the sick father's bedside, where we get the death scene. On the scale of hilarious death reactions, with Rocky when Mickey died in "Rocky III" a 10, give Miyagi a 1.2 on this one.

0:46- Some mourning scenes, as Daniel-san comes to comfort Miyagi on the beach during a sunset. I don't even want to make a joke here.

0:47- Daniel-san compares Miyagi's loss with the death of his own father. Sorry, is this touching or boring? I can't decide.

0:49- Enough of that...let's train!

0:49- UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY ALERT! Daniel-san's headband in this part of the movie.

0:51- Whoa, Miyagi went from talking about fishing to talking about the "Drum Technique" for dodging attacks. I think my neck broke on that segue. Miyagi throws this huge barrel type device at Daniel-san, which unfortunately doesn't impale him. The drum technique is apparently the dance that Marcia does in the Brady Bunch Movie.

0:54- In the first clever bit of the movie, Daniel-san inadvertantly exposes the evil nephew as a crook when he clumsily knocks over this grocery stand and reveals that his weights for measurement are pieces of balsa wood. In response, the evil nephew...stares. Oooohhh. Can I order a slice of action, please?

0:55- This scene of "romance" between Miyagi and his ex-girlfriend seems like as good a point as any to break and get some delcious Rita's Water Ice. Be back in a few...

0:55- Mmmm...watermelon...

0:55- Over half an hour later and the romance scene is still going on. No, wait, I unfortunately remembered to hit the pause button. Let's move on.

0:55- Daniel-san's still playing with that annoying drum. Wait, here comes the ex-girlfriend's daughter to give us an awkwardly romantic scene! She quickly breaks into a "swimming underwater while humming elevator music" dance that ranks a solid 9.8 on the Unintentional Comedy scale. Her and Daniel-san then do a duet that lasts forever and get laughed at by a bunch of kids. Did they just film scenes of Ralph Macchio's life and make it a movie?

0:57- Thankfully, the psychotic evil nephew comes along and puts an end to our misery by kneeing Daniel-san in the groin. Daniel-san's new girlfriend throws a fruit of some kind at the nephew, which of course prompts him to take off his shirt and give it to her. Yeah, I didn't get it either. That's followed by the pair stumbling upon Miyagi and his ex-girlfriend drinking tea, which according to Daniel-san's new girlfriend, means that they are falling in love again.
(We're now at the one hour point and the only identifiable scene of action has been Ralph Macchio getting kicked in his little Macchio. Just thought I'd keep you posted.)

1:01- Daniel-san and his new girlfriend head down a cliff and run along the ocean to a hideous 80s love song.

1:04- We learn that the new girlfriend's dream is to become a dancer, right about the same time they walk past the evil nephew destroying a bunch of no-name thugs in his dojo. My dog decides this is a good enough reason to walk into the room, sniff a few times, and walk back out. He's smarter than I am.

1:06- Yes! More 80s-ness! A bunch of guys are chopping ice blocks in a bar, a LeVar Burton lookalike challenges Daniel-san to do it, then the evil nephew (magically changed and showered from his workout already) comes and antagonizes Daniel. Miyagi comes and bets $600, then Sato shows up, and my hands can't type fast enough to cover everything that's going on here...but essentially every major character has showed up to this bar to see if Daniel can break through 6 blocks of ice. Everyone's laughing for some reason, Sato has a bizarre smile, Miyagi looks pensive, and...

1:09- Daniel crushes his hand, breaks down in tears, and Miyagi leaves with Sato and the evil nephew. The end.

1:09- Just kidding. He breaks the ice blocks, Miyagi wins the bet, and gives it to Daniel-san for his college tuition. $600? What college is Daniel-san planning to go to?

1:10- The evil nephew shows up to bring Miyagi to the big fight, Miyagi of course refuses to go, so the nephew...destroys the family garden while Miyagi looks on. What was Plan B? Scraping the paint on his car? Somehow, Miyagi is at Sato's house in the next scene, trying to patch things up. Sato grunts a little and leaves.

1:13- Enough almost-action...here's Daniel-san and his wannabe dancer girlfriend dancing in a club!

1:15- Some awkward dialogue about marriage is broken up by the evil nephew, who takes his money back. Whoa! With that baseball cap on, the nephew's evil henchman could pass for Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom! Anyway, Daniel-san punches the nephew in the groin (geez..enough of that!), gets the money back, and runs.

(To recap: two scenes of action, two groin hits, both involving Ralph Macchio.)

1:18- Sato, his nephew, and their henchmen show up at the Miyagi house in the middle of the night, say "Miyagi" in the Cookie Monster Voice about 845 times, and then hold Daniel, as the nephew brandishes a spear, and...destroys the Miyagi dojo. Dammit, don't tease a Ralph Macchio impaling and then not deliver. The evil nephew then chokes out Daniel-san while the henchmen destroy some more stuff, and then after an eternity, Miyagi decides to show up and take care of business. Of course, there is the requisite groin shot, followed by Miyagi sparing the son's life and getting called a coward in return. Well, that was fun.

1:22- Daniel-san is getting ready to leave, as Miyagi thinks things are too dangerous for them to stay, but something tells me with a new girlfriend in Japan and an antagonistic thug making him miserable, Daniel-san has a few things to take care of first.

1:24- Cheesy dialogue alert!
GIRLFRIEND: Do you think America will like me?
DANIEL-SAN: I know one part that already does.

1:25- Cut to Sato and the evil nephew bulldozing...something. I think that it's something evil, though. Miyagi shows up and says he'll fight as long as the village remains with the villagers. Umm...what? Where am I?

SATO (in the Cookie Monster voice): Miyagi...I wait long time for this...not Twix (???) tonight...but tomorrow...everything gone! Their homes...their church...everything...GONE!

Did I pass out and wake up in a different movie? Where'd all that come from?

1:27- DANIEL-SAN (to Miyagi after he gives Daniel his will): I don't want the house and pick-up back home, I want you!

1:29- Daniel-san goes to see his girlfriend (to say goodbye? hello? give her his last will and testament too? I'm confused) and she...folds a bandana while they smile awkwardly. Is this supposed to be romantic? Mystifying? Annoying?

1:31- Oh, I see. She's making him tea, which of course means that they're falling in love. Wow, talk about your sledgehammer plot devices. And in case you didn't get it yet, they cap off the scene with one of the most awkward screen kisses in history (if the Gene Hackman-Barbara Hershey kiss in "Hoosiers" is a 10...give this one an 8.9).

1:34- Some type of storm hits and the townspeople are herded into an underground shelter. Uh oh...Sato's house just collapsed! I wonder if Miyagi will save him and patch things up!

1:35- The evil nephew tells him that Sato is dead, but Miyagi looks and sees him caught under a huge wooden plank. He goes up to save him, with Sato STILL taunting him and calling him a coward, and of course chops the plank in half, freeing him. Then Daniel-san goes to help a little girl, who for some reason is trapped on top of a telephone pole. All the townspeople are watching this from the comfort of the shelter, of course. Then Sato goes to help Daniel-san carry the girl back. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a new good guy! The evil nephew pouts, being the only villain left in the movie.

1:40- Whoa...Good-Guy Sato has a normal voice! That was pretty jarring.

1:41- Classic moment: Macchio shakes Sato's hand the "cool" way, and Sato gives him a funny look. I love little touches like that.

1:43- The townspeople have a huge celebration, and all seems right with the world...but wait, I think there's a psychotic evil nephew still out there...

1:44- Yes! Here he is, breaking up Daniel-san's girlfriend's hideous dance and challenging Daniel-san to a death match. "This not tournament Daniel, this for real," Miyagi clarifies. I wonder if Daniel-san will use that "Drum Technique" he learned earlier?

1:46- He just tried the Crane Technique he used in the last movie and got roundly destroyed by the nephew, so by my count, he has one Technique left.

1:47- To sledgehammer the point home, Miyagi starts playing the drum, and so does everyone else in town. A bloodied Daniel is putting it all together...

1:49- And there it is! The Drum Technique is unleashed, as Daniel-san knocks the nephew out with an absurd series of two-hand punches, hugs the girlfriend, looks longingly at Miyagi, and the credits roll (to the ludicrous song "I Am a Man" by...I don't know. Nobody who had a second single, that's for sure). (Ok, the song is actually called "Glory of Love" and is performed by someone named Peter Cetera, according to the credits.)

Hmm...well that was...a little boring, really. Hopefully I can take a look at Part III one of these days, but I can't recommend II in good conscience, even if you're looking for something to make fun of.

FINAL GRADES:
80s-ness: B
Fight scenes: C- (just not enough of them)
Unintentional Comedy: B- (I've seen better)
Villain: D+ (Sato was OK, but the nephew just didn't do it for me)
Ending: B- (Completely ridiculous but it got the job done)
Final Grade on the Bad Movie Scale: C+

27 June 2006

The greatest music video ever created

From Bill Simmons' column over at espn.com (a must-read each time it's posted) on the top 30 or so funniest clips on youtube.com:

"29. Journey -- "Separate Ways"A recipe for bliss: Take one of the cheesiest-yet-enjoyable bands of that era (Journey), bring them to an empty shipyard, have them play invisible instruments and lip-synch the hell out of their best song, throw in some ridiculous slow-motion closeups and multi-picture edits, and have a hot girl with a bad haircut walking around for no reason whatsoever. And if that's not enough, lead singer Steve Perry gives one of the greatest performances of the last 35 years -- he throws himself into this thing like DeNiro or Pacino. It's incredible. Everything about this slays me. If somebody gave me five minutes to sum up the '80s, I would just show them this video and be done with it.

(By the way, I mailed this to my buddy Geoff a few weeks ago because his high school prom date looked a little like Steve Perry. He called me a few days later just to say that he'd watched the video 12 times and was about to go back for thirteenths. It's that good.)"


I really can't add must to that brilliant summary besides a few comments:

- I actually vaguely remember seeing this video on Beavis and Butthead years and years ago and would pay dozens of dollars to see it again. I'm fairly sure they made constant fun of Steve Perry (and he is in rare form in this), but I'd love to see it again to see if I could pick up on anything that I was too young to get back then.

- If it were me, I wouldn't have even given them instruments at all...not even for that brief second or two at the beginning and definitely not during the big interlude later in the song. Just would have been funnier that way. I love the moment at about the 1:01 mark when the keyboard guy is playing his fake keyboard and instead it looks like he's making the "cat scratch" sign with his fingers.

- Why was Paul Reiser's brother in Journey? For that matter, why is Gallagher their drummer?!

- The point at about 2:28 of Steve Perry walking backwards may be the most awkward thing I've ever seen. I don't mean in terms of music videos, I mean in terms of life.

gotta run to work...

13 June 2006

The class structure of Bayside

It's been so long since I posted that I almost forgot my password. Since the beginning of May, I've taken my final first-year exams, driven to West Virginia and back, and started a brand new, high security job.

So of course, I won't talk about any of that here, but instead will waste my time and yours with part 14 of my 22 part thesis on "Saved By the Bell."

(I had like 9 "Random Ramblings" type things to talk about, but if I post them all at once you might have to endure another Sahara-esque dry-spell until I think of enough stuff to write about again.)

My thought while watching Saved By the Bell today (part of my daily routine, along with eating a huge breakfast (usually eggs), getting my suit on, spiking my hair, walking to the train, with hardly a spare minute to come up with an away message)...did students at Bayside HAVE to a) become friends with Zack and his friends or b) acquire a ridiculous stereotype before they were able to participate in anything? Over the past few days, they've had the "Zack has to dance in a tutu to graduate" episode, the "Mr. Belding's wife is pregnant" episode, and the "Zack and the gang get hammered off of a half a beer at Ox's party" episode (also known as the "A Very SPECIAL episode of Saved By the Bell" episode)...

SIDENOTE: If you're not getting the "Very Special Episode" reference up there, think about the times on a sitcom where something would happen that the network or whoever thought that parents would want to talk to their kids about, so in the days leading up to the episode, the commercials would involve the announcer ominously saying something like "And Tuesday...on a Very SPECIAL Episode of Growing Pains..." These episodes would usually revolve around 1 of 4 events...
a) someone would drink (bonus points if a minor)
b) someone would do drugs (bonus points if a minor)
c) someone would get in a car accident (bonus points if a or b are involved)
or d) someone would get in a sexual situation (only if minor, bonus points if girl, bonus points if a or b are involved) (Side side note, it never happened, but a sexual situation involving a boozed-up, coked-out DJ on Full House during a car crash might have made the announcer's head explode.)
Of course, the Very SPECIAL Episode would usually backfire and instead provide a lot of unintentional comedy (the classic Diff'rent Strokes where Gary Coleman got molested by 60-year-old Gordon Jump). But that's a story for another post...


Anyway, where was I? Ah, right...the SPECIAL episode of Saved By the Bell. My point was that in all of these episodes, it's Zack and his friends who get out of a physics midterm to throw Belding's wife a baby shower, it's Kelly, Lisa, and Jessie who have the only parts in the ballet that Zack has to join, and it's Zack, Screech, and Jessie who all(!) get to give the valedictorian speech.

My questions...didn't Belding's wife think it was weird for Belding to be showing such an unusual interest in 6 students? Does anyone else at Bayside have ANY sporting, singing, or dancing abilities? If an average guy just sat down at their booth in the Max, would the universe cave in?

One funny thought to end with...after Carey Elwes (C-level celeb) in "Saw I," and Donnie Wahlberg (F-level celeb) in "Saw II," Aaron and I were wondering what M-level celeb could be on tap for "Saw III," which is coming out this fall. He suggested Mario Lopez (Slater), but come on, Mario's at least D-level. Screech might be a better option though. Think about it, Screech playing a desperate detective with a couple personality flaws and matching wits with the Jigsaw Killer. Ridiculous? Of course. But can you tell me with a straight face that you wouldn't buy a ticket to see that? I might buy 2 tickets just to help the film's box office...

Till next time...

05 May 2006

Stop the Madness

Some of the things on YouTube make me question my faith in humanity (the kid beating Super Mario 3 in 10 minutes without dying once or even getting hit) but this is definitely worth a look. Let me give you some key words:

Music video. Anti-drug. 1985. White House sponsored. Catchy. Horribly dated effects. LaToya Jackson. Whitney Houston (and yes, I said anti-drug). DAVID HASSELHOFF. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Lyle Alzado (the football player who, ironically, died from too many steroids). Nancy Reagan.

And if you don't bust out laughing when Arnold Frickin Schwarzenegger makes his brief cameo at the end (as a garbage man), you might want to take out a classified ad for a soul. I think I even caught a glimpse of a young Tom Cruise, but even after several rewinds, I can't be sure.

As it stands, I give the video a solid 9.8 out of 10, if only because it could have used the unintentional comedy value of a couple more well-known cokeheads who were big at the time, i.e. Chevy Chase or the Coreys, or a couple more 80s stars who faded out immediately (the dad from ALF), ran into, um, legal problems (O.J. Simpson), or became child molesters (Michael Jackson).

Anyway, click it NOW.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5zJvX3pIY4

02 May 2006

grades...

From a career services info session...

"Students tend to make the mistake of thinking that grades are all important. They are not. The firms that come to HLS are thrilled to be here and, generally, their interest in your grades varies from curiosity to indifference."

Great...thanks, guys, for telling me this one week before my first final...really helps my motivation...

17 April 2006

And I'm done

Ames competition is finally over after outlining, researching, briefing, practice oral arguing, and for real oral arguing in front of a "three judge panel" of an upperclassman, a professor, and a real lawyer. I'd write more, but for now I need to relieve the pounding in my head with some Chinese food.

11 April 2006

My crazy dream

A little over a year ago, I made my long awaited return to the acting world after a long break and had one of four roles in a show directed by my good friend Ben. Anyway, I'm not sure if I've been burying some kind of weird feelings about that experience, but on Sunday night I had a dream that I described like this to Ben:

GreatOne0111: hey...i told lisa already...but i had a dream about you both
GreatOne0111: i dreamt that me and her were in a play together...you were directing
GreatOne0111: and i hadn't been to any rehearsals or anything, but for some reason, this was opening night and we all were just sitting in metal folding chairs on stage, positioned very precisely, with scripts in front of us
GreatOne0111: but the problem was, i didn't even know my character's name
GreatOne0111: so i kept missing my lines
GreatOne0111: and just screwing up in general
GreatOne0111: so then after the show you flipped out because you had had the show taped and were sending it to some graduate theater program's admissions department...and i had screwed it up by being such a terrible actor
GreatOne0111: so i apologize for screwing things up for you in the dream world

(I did at least have clothes on in the dream...)

Any psychologists care to analyze this?

03 April 2006

There's Something About Opening Day

I'm coming to you live from a beautiful "Poop Day"* here at Harvard University, but regardless, I have my window open, the sun is shining, I have a refrigerator stocked with vitaminwater and a shelf stocked with chips, and I just splurged and spent $15 for a month of video on mlbtv.com.

The Phillies are back.

(If you don't like baseball, you probably have an al Qaeda meeting to get to, so stop reading my blog. But if you're actually one of the few freedom lovers who really does not find baseball enjoyable, sorry, but you probably won't enjoy this entry much, either.)

I've been listening to 610 WIP (Philly sports radio station) ever since class got out at 12, and I am counting the minutes till 3pm and the start of the first Phillies game. My love for the Phillies has endured both team crappiness (no postseason appearances since '93 coupled with a steady stream of Ricky Otero, Jeff Juden, Mark Leiter, and Wendell Magee during my formative years in the 90s) and distance (Madison, NJ is surprisingly far from Philadelphia in terms of getting games on TV).

But this year, the team is looking good, and as the guys on WIP are saying, "the hate [from the fans] is gone." Former general manager Ed Wade and his "we'll get 'em next year" attitude has been replaced by Pat Gillick and his two World Series rings (feels good to type that). Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have taken on big leadership roles, which for me, after years of watching them nuture in the minor leagues, is like watching your son, after years of playing piano in your living room, play his first concert in Symphony Hall. Gavin Floyd, who went to the same high school as my cousin, is in the starting rotation (could I claim that he is technically my cousin-in-law? Or at least my friend-in-law?)

And best of all, for $15, I will have video access over the internet to every Phils game this month, as well as every other MLB game, AS IT HAPPENS. No more reloading of ESPN.com and cbssportsline.

Financial note: If you're interested in this, your best option is probably to pay $80 for the entire season instead of $15 for the month. That wasn't the best option for me cause I'm spending the summer in Philadelphia and getting the games on TV there anyway.

Anyway, here are my predictions for this year's season, having done no research at all:
NL East: Braves
NL Central: Cards
NL West: Padres
Wild Card: Phillies (assuming they make a July trade...if they don't, my pick shifts to the Astros)

AL East: Yankees (followed by another first round playoff exit)
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: A's
Wild Card: Twins (but who knows)

("Poop Day" refers to the day on college campuses where Facilities has to lay down that mulchy manure crap that stinks things up for days on end. But doesn't it have a certain charm to it? I mean, don't you look forward to it just a little bit as a signal that spring is here? Maybe I've said too much...)

21 March 2006

Don't worry, I'm still alive

Just been way busy with school, applying for a teaching job, laundry, and that damn girlfriend visiting. I'll finish that Shawshank v. Gump thing sometime between the end of the week and the end of the millennium.

05 March 2006

Shawshank v. Gump

Right up there with Christmas and my fantasy football draft day, Oscar night is one of my favorite nights of the year. True, in most years I've only seen a couple of the nominated movies, but the clips they show usually bring you up to speed, and nothing beats seeing some lowly cinematographer or special effects designer get hit with the "Get the hell off the stage" music.

But for the past few years, it's been tough for me to get into the ceremony, because I've been really disappointed with most of the Best Picture winners. In fact, the last Best Picture that I liked was A Beautiful Mind in 2001. I didn't see 2002's Chicago, didn't see 2003's Lord of the Rings winner (I refused to watch either the 2nd or 3rd because I found the 1st one completely boring and stupid, and for the love of God, I will not argue about this), and didn't like 2004's Million Dollar Baby at all. (It had OK acting, but a terrible and indefensible plot twist. And fine if you liked the realism or dark third act, it just felt tacked on to a boxing movie. It was like someone had written a movie about a female boxer, decided that that wouldn't be successful, hard-hitting, or award-winning, then decided to add on the third act to make the movie "deep.") Anyway, the Sahara-esque dry spell of compelling nominees made me yearn for the 1994 Oscars, when not one, but two of Colin's Pantheon movies were nominated (plus Pulp Fiction and Quiz Show). Two movies that may not just be in my Top Five, but maybe even my Top Two. Two movies that, in one way or another (not huge ways, but subtle ways) changed my life.

One is The Shawshank Redemption, the other is Forrest Gump. At the ceremony that year, Shawshank's Oscar hopes were pretty close to microscopic. (The fact that these two cinematic giants were forced to go against each other in the first place is almost enough to bring a tear to my eye...) Gump had landmark special effects, a marquee actor in Tom Hanks, a fun story, and most of all, a successful box office. Shawshank, on the other hand, was dark, R-rated, and financially, it had generated somewhere between "nothing" and "enough to pay the sound effects editor" in the theatres. At a ceremony that often rewards a) how much you made and b) how much you spent to influence the voters, Shawshank had about as much of a chance as Chris Kattan has of winning the 2010 Best Actor award.

But which is the better movie? Thinking about this on the way to the grocery store today, I couldn't come up with an answer. So, I decided to break this thing down in "Pizza v. Cheesesteaks" fashion...

PLOT: Andy Dufresne gets sent to prison for two life sentences for a crime he may or may not have committed (I won't spoil it for the one person out there who hasn't gotten around to watching this movie yet). While there, he gets beaten, raped, browbeaten by the guards, nearly thrown off a roof, beaten some more, raped some more, taken advantage of by the warden, thrown into a solitary closet-sized cell for about 3 months combined, and told by his one good friend on the inside that he's crazy for hoping that he can someday get out. Cheerful huh? Apparently, at the last minute, they cut out scenes where Boggs kills his pet dog and sodomizes his parents. But of course, it's leading up to something, and there is the word "redemption" in the title, but again, I won't spoil it in case there are still some Shawshank virgins out there.

If you don't know the plot to Forrest Gump, you either have the same mental deficiency as the guy from Memento, or you don't have a soul. There's just no middle ground. Therefore, I won't bother recapping. Suffice to say that the plot is very, very good.

Choosing between these two is like choosing between your two children, or choosing "Which Sylvester Stallone performance was better: Rocky III or Rocky IV?" They're both great for different reasons.

In the end, if you held a gun to my head, I'd go with Shawshank, just because (and remember, I'm nitpicking here) it's a little deeper and Forrest flirts a little too much with the "meeting historical figures" gimmick to sometimes reach the point of distraction. I'm glad that they wisely chose to remove the Martin Luther King and George HW Bush scenes that are on the DVD (although the "They just dogs" line about the police dogs in the MLK scene would have been classic). But, as a nagging point, why did Forrest have to wait almost 2 hours for his bus? Wouldn't he have been in such a hurry to see Jenny that he would have hailed a cab or even, dare I say, figured out that she lived two blocks from the freakin' bus stop?!?! I know it's tough to complain about reality in a movie that has Forrest outrunning a thrown football, but they could have at least thrown in a traffic jam or something to explain why he can't get on his bus. Regardless, Shawshank takes it, but barely.
EDGE: Shawshank

LEAD ACTING: Tim Robbins and Tom Hanks give two of my favorite performances ever as Andy and Forrest, respectively. Hanks is just superb, as he alternates between proud, hilarious, caring, devoted, stoic, and brave. His speech to Jenny's tombstone is the best-delivered monologue I've seen in a movie, and may be my favorite scene in any movie, ever. Robbins gives a completely different performance, very understated and distant, which may be even harder to accomplish than what Hanks does. And, to Robbins' credit, and maybe just because he's not as big a star as Hanks, you don't realize you're watching Tim Robbins as much as you realize you're watching Tom Hanks.

But in the end, I'm going with Hanks, for one simple reason: The role reversal. Switch the two actors and imagine what the movie would be like. I think Tom could pull off Andy Dufresne. Maybe not perfectly, but he could do it. I shudder to think at what Tim Robbins would do with lines like "Stupid is as stupid does" if he had to deliver them in the Forrest voice. And can you picture Tim in Forrest's white suit? I sure can't. The point is, I think others could have played Andy Dufresne, but I can't imagine anyone else as Forrest Gump.
EDGE: Forrest Gump

SUPPORTING CAST: Forrest wins easily as far as "name" actors go; other than Morgan Freeman, I'm not sure that I could name even one supporting Shawshank actor without consulting the imdb. But yeah, in Forrest, Gary Sinise is at his peak, Bubba is just about transcendent, Sally Field is just about perfect as Momma (again, can't picture anyone else playing that role), Robin Wright is solid as Jenny...I even like the random bit part actors (i.e. the "We were sittin next to a millionaire!" fat guy, the guy decked out in the stars and stripes at the Vietnam protest (I know, he's playing someone famous, but I can't think of who), the creepy grade school principal, the bus driver, everything.

As far as the Shawshank cast, there is Morgan Freeman and a bunch of no-names. But those no-names are all outstanding. The Warden (the guy from Demolition Man) is suitably slimy, the Elvis guy is good, and that guy who played Boggs the Sistah will forever be known as "That Guy Who Played Boggs the Sistah." And of course, Morgan Freeman stands out.

And in the end, he wins it for Shawshank, just because he's one of my favorite actors ever and I've spent about 10 minutes agonizing over which cast I liked better. Let's just move on.
MICROSCOPIC EDGE: Shawshank

We'll end here for now with Shawshank ahead 2-1 cause the Oscars are actually coming on right now...four more categories to go, possibly by tomorrow...