The Set of 400: #108 – My Favorite Goat Co-Conspirator

Today! Because I’m deaf, you know, but I can hear the bells –

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Directed by William Dieterle

Starring Charles Laughton (x3), Maureen O’Hara (x2), Cedric Hardwicke (x2), Edmond O’Brien (x3), Thomas Mitchell, Alan Marshal (x2), George Zucco (x2), Harry Davenport, Katherine Alexander, Walter Hampden, Arthur Hohl (x2), Barlowe Borland (x2), Rondo Hatton

Like many high schoolers going through a classic literature/stage and screen musicals/black-and-white horror movie phase, I got way into versions of Hunchback circa 1996. Now sure, you can rightly ascribe this to Disney’s ballsy animated musical being released that year, but I was also two years removed from reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, so I had landmark French novels on the brain. And yes, reading Les Miserables was probably spurred on by my exposure to the musical, but I’m pretty confident I read the book first. Is that still a thing? People wanting to read the book before seeing a movie/TV version of something? I don’t always do it, but I’ve also delayed seeing movies for years because of this. I didn’t see V for Vendetta until like three years ago, because I had the graphic novel and couldn’t get around to reading it. And I’ve preemptively read a bunch of books and then not bothered seeing the movie if the trailers looked stupid (I’ll get around to watching Mortal Engines one of these days, I figure).

I don’t know, it looked okay, I guess

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The Set of 400: #109 – My Favorite Loss of Marbles

Today! Because for reasons of good form, I have decided that the so-called Pan will return in three days to commit the arbitrament of the sword. Smee, translate –

Hook (1991)

Directed by Steven Spielberg (x5)

Starring Robin Williams (x5), Dustin Hoffman (x4), Julia Roberts (x3), Maggie Smith (x3), Bob Hoskins (x3), Charlie Korsmo (x2), Amber Scott, Caroline Goodall, Dante Basco, Laurel Cronin, Arthur Malet, Don S. Davis (x2), Gwyneth Paltrow (x4), Phil Collins, David Crosby, Tony Burton (x5), Glenn Close (x2), Raushan Hammond

Back-to-back 1991s! A year so dense with favorites that it has now landed 14 movies on the list, but like 1992 before it (on this list, not chronologically, obviously, smart asses) only sees one film crack the top 100! But Hook sure got close. The first sign that my undying ten-year-old’s love for Batman could be cracked, Hook temporarily unseated the Caped Crusader’s ’89 outing as my favorite film, in lists from the day currently missing, but being avidly sought, in the various attic’d boxes of my youth. As yet, no luck. But man did I love Hook. It’s funny and exciting, with some really cool sequences (all of Pirate Neverland) and iconic images (really the whole London stretch in the first act of the film). So what if it feels four hours long watching it today? For kids, Hook is incredible.

But no, I can’t imagine adults feel the same way. There’s weird stuff in the film that just doesn’t work (ahem, everything related to Tinkerbell – every single thing) and there are goofball scenes that may kind of fit the theme, but really undo some of the characters. Most egregious is the period of the film where Peter’s son Jack is, like, playing baseball with the pirates and forgets his parents and life on Earth and starts dressing like Captain Hook – which happens very, very quickly. And they try to shoe-horn in some explanation – this is just what happens in Neverland! – but it doesn’t happen to the daughter, and they are only in Neverland for like a weekend, even though it feels like forever, due to the excessive run time of the film. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #110 – My Favorite Nude Biker Bar Contretemps

Today! Because I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle –

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Directed by James Cameron (x3)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (x2), Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick (x2), Edward Furlong, Joe Morton, S. Epatha Merkerson, Earl Boen, Jenette Goldstein (x3), Xander Berkeley (x2), Leslie Hamilton Gearren, Don Lake (x2), Dean Norris (x2), Castulo Guerra

Look, if this was a list of the Awesomest Movies, Terminator 2 would be way higher. Hell, it might be #1. This movie is awesome across the board. Schwarzenegger was just hitting the awesome peak of his career, following his string of rote ’80s musclebound shoot-’em-ups, Robert Patrick makes for an even awesomer terminator than we got in the prequel, 1984’s The Terminator, Linda Hamilton is crazy awesome in her unhinged return as Sarah Conner, there are bigger explosions, bigger chases, cooler effects, and no matter what the casting of Edward Furlong did in attempts to dampen the awesomeness, it didn’t work. This is all mind-blowingly awesome.

So awesome!

You know, I’m just gonna say it – it’s too awesome. There’s too much greatness packed into this movie – from the near constant stakes and wild action sequences, to the phenomenal ending in the goddamn smelting factory or wherever. This was the ultimate R-rated summer blockbuster, and without question the last good movie in this seemingly endless series. We don’t need any more of these movies! Hang on a minute – there’s another Terminator in 2019?! I just ran across this. Was it any good? Couldn’t be, right? None of them are good. And it all comes back to Terminator 2 being too damn awesome. How were they going to top this? By all appearances, they haven’t even tried! And now this nonsense strategy where you pick a film from the series to halt the timeline at and throw a new sequel in, à la Halloween and Superman Returns and whatnot. Stop this lazy nonsense.

Unless you’re bringing back the awesomeness of Robert Patrick, you’re fucked

I remember getting this movie on VHS, and being informed by numerous classmates that this received their highest recommendation, which – as we seemed to say a lot back then – “It’s the best movie ever the first time you see it.” The first time you see it was a key qualifier to a lot of movies for some reason. Like, me still being a huge Batman fan in ’91, the biggest knock from everyone around me was that it was great the first time, but then what? It gets predictable and dull? And the older you get, did this phenomenon go away? I haven’t heard anyone say this about any movie since like ’93, so it must’ve dried up. Anyway, remember the first time you saw Terminator 2? It’s still that awesome. It’s totally holding up.

Even the credits were awesome!

So why isn’t the Awesomest Thing Ever On-Screen higher on this list, you might ask? I mean, #110 is nothing to sneeze at, but I’m lofting a ton of praise at this thing. Well…I guess it’s a little long, and it is pretty grim for pretty long stretches, so while it’s awesome it’s rarely feel-good awesome, over those two-and-a-half hours. But, on the other hand, I haven’t seen the regular length version of this movie in a long time – those director’s cuts/ultimate edition whatevers are super long – so maybe that’s on me. But also, you know, Edward Furlong – that kid is plenty annoying. And, I mean, the character is kinda annoying, so it’s not entirely Furlong’s fault, I’m sure, but still – he grows up to be the savior of mankind? Edward Furlong? Pretty hard to swallow. James Cameron is not exactly an actor’s director, by all indications, and I think Furlong just needed some guidance.

He was pretty solid in American History X, in all fairness

In addition to being the top film at the box office in 1991, Terminator 2 also won the second most Oscars that year – four (Sound, Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing, and Makeup) in six nominations (also Cinematography and Film Editing), only trailing Silence of the Lambs’ five wins. It was followed by Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003 (woof), Terminator: Salvation in 2009 (booooring), and Terminator: Genisys in 2015 (a mishmash of ludicrous nonsense, but not nearly as bad as everyone makes out). Allegedly the ’08-’09 FOX series The Sarah Conner Chronicles starring future Cersei Lannister Lena Headey was pretty good, even if it only ran two seasons, but I’ll admit I didn’t watch a minute. And now there’s another Terminator apparently – it’s directed by the guy who did Deadpool, so maybe? I’m not getting my hopes up.

Cameron joins the directing Three-Timers, following #222 Aliens and #296 Titanic, and there are a bunch of new Two-Timers acting-wise, but only one Three-Timer – Aliens alum and MVP, and #163 Fear and Loathing’s terrorized maid Jenette Goldstein!

So awesome!

Coming tomorrow! You’re a complex Freudian hallucination having something to do with my mother and I don’t know why you have wings –

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The Set of 400: #111 – My Favorite William Tell Overture (Chicken Rendition)

Today! Because you share a love so big, I now pronounce you Frog and Pig –

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

Directed by Frank Oz (x2)

Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz (x6), Dave Goelz (x4), Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson (x4), Steve Whitmire (x4), Juliana Donald, Lonny Price, Louis Zorich (x3), Art Carney (x2), Dabney Coleman (x2), Liza Minnelli, Joan Rivers (x2), Linda Lavin, Gregory Hines (x2), James Coco (x4), John Landis, Karen Prell (x2), Brooke Shields, Frances Bergen, Ed Koch, Gates McFadden

The first Muppet film I saw in theaters – Time tunnel shoutout to four-and-a-half-year-old Joe! – The Muppets Take Manhattan was also the last big screen adventure for Kermit and the gang until 1992, and the last time they would appear as their established characters in film for 15 years. This is also probably the Muppet film I’ve seen the most – it being the newest one when I was a kid and it feeling very much of the ’80s gave it the slight edge over the two earlier films.

I never think of the first three Muppet films as a trilogy, even though I guess in some ways they are. I mean, plot-wise, they aren’t connected whatsoever – but they are still the same characters performed by the same people, doing very similar stuff. I mean, the Toy Storys build on each other a little bit, but they are all pretty separate adventures, too, and that’s definitely a trilogy. The first Muppet outing was an origin story, the second is the standalone journalism/heist caper, and this one sees them graduate from college and try to put on a Broadway show. That, in a lot of ways, feels like one complete tale. Hell, Kermit and Piggy get (sorta) married in the end! That’s a capper to the journey! Plus, Jim Henson lived another six years and didn’t get another film together – that tells me they wanted these to stand together as a trilogy. You know what? From now on, this is the first Muppet trilogy! Christmas Carol, Treasure Island, and weirdly From Space function as the second, very loosely cobbled together Gonzo-led trilogy, and we’re still one movie short of a third modern trilogy. Get it together, Disney!

This old Jerry Juhl/Frank Oz script is allegedly great and ready to go, Disney

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The Set of 400: #112 – My Favorite Spitting Camel

Today! Because life is your restaurant/and I’m your maitre’d!

Aladdin (1992)

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

Starring Robin Williams (x4), Scott Weinger, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seale, Frank Welker, Brad Kane, Lea Salonga

1992, am I right? Despite being the most represented year on this list, this is the second to last film from that great period spanning my seventh and eighth grade years. Eighteen movies, and only one is cracking the top 100! That’s crazy. That also explains why, when commenting about the greatest years in movie history, I’ve never even considered including ’92, even though it landed so many films here. I’m curious, when we revisit this whole endeavor in ten years – obviously, for the Set of 1000 – will ’92 have forty movies on that list? Fifty? Don’t worry – you’ll never get a chance to find out! I’m never doing this again.

Or will I? Don’t forget what a colossal idiot I’ve proved to be so many times in the past

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The Set of 400: #113 – My Favorite Impromtu Subway Stop

Today! Because I always hated this place –

Skyfall (2012)

Directed by Sam Mendes

Starring Daniel Craig (x3), Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes (x2), Albert Finney (x3), Rory Kinnear, Berenice Marlohe, Ola Rapace

Man, the Bond floodgates really opened here! For the third time in the last forty movies, we’ve got Ian Fleming all up in this piece. And unless I’m eyeballing the rest of the list incorrectly, we’ve got two Bonds still to come. Skyfall is my third favorite Bond movie? Really? Okay, I’ll take it. I wouldn’t have figured on this before, but as I said in #138 From Russia With Love (I think), my main enjoyment of the character is the very early films, and the very recent ones, and everything in between just blurs together. Even Moonraker.

Even as comically distinct as Moonraker is

In something that might only interest me, Skyfall also marked the end of one of the more interesting box office phenomenons ever. Across eight movies, covering 23 years, every James Bond movie outperformed the previous film in domestic gross. Come with me on this journey – starting in ’89 with License to Kill ($34.6 million) to GoldenEye ($106.4) to Tomorrow Never Dies ($125.3) to The World is Not Enough ($126.9) to Die Another Day ($160.9) to Casino Royale ($167.4) to Quantum of Solace ($168.3) to Skyfall, top of the heap at a whopping $304.3! I mean, there are a lot of narrow gains in there, but still, I don’t know of another film series that can claim anything like this. Fast and Furiouses three through seven all improved on each other, but that’s five movies in nine years. Not even close! Way to come along and screw the whole thing up, Spectre! Still the second highest grossing Bond film at $200 even, but come on!

We were all pulling for you, Spectre!

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The Set of 400: #114 – My Favorite Aspirational Milkman

Today! Because I know, we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

Directed by Norman Jewison

Starring Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Molly Picon, Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, Paul Michael Glazer, Ray Lovelock, Louis Zorich (x2), Paul Mann, Neva Small, Barry Dennen (x3), Roger Lloyd Pack

There are plenty of movies with music still to come, and a bunch of films that could be classified in some way as movie musicals, but as far as stage adaptations to the big screen, Fiddler on the Roof is my second favorite, apparently! How about that build up with little payoff? I would also contend that it is the best musical adaptation ever made, fully realizing the vast number of ’60s Best Picture winners this shoves behind it – your Sound of Music, Oliver!, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, etc.

Most stage adaptations – no matter how hard they try to update and rearrange them for film – still have a nearly unbreakable staginess to them. While this doesn’t bother me much with plays-to-screen, musicals are such a grander experience in general that they need to really open up and do dramatically different production and sound designs, to try and utilize the medium to support the unnaturalness of spontaneous songs. I’m not saying a bunch of other movies haven’t done this well – the staging of 2012’s Les Miserables is incredible, even if the movie just missed this list – but I genuinely can’t remember a movie that worked better in this regard than Fiddler.

And that’s with all the fourth wall breaking going on. On stage, it works fine – breaking the fourth wall is such a standard convention in theater that it’s not disconcerting. And, okay, strictly speaking that’s not what’s going on here either (he’s talking to God, but in the direction of the audience/camera, so…) but it could’ve been a disaster. However, Topol’s brilliant work as Tevye – commanding, charming, sympathetic, and yet massively flawed – gives the on-screen narration a peculiar authenticity, and helps immerse us into the early 1900s Russian village of Anatevka.

The Music Box in Chicago has taken to screening this movie on Christmas Day, which is a tradition I can get behind

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