“Now the narrow neck of sand where Shaw was buried with his men is washed by Atlantic storms. St. Gaudens’s monument to Shaw and his men marks a place where the Colonel and his regiment passed by on their way to war.” (p 147)

My Top 10

  1. Glory
  2. Field of Dreams
  3. Born on the Fourth of July
  4. Henry V
  5. My Left Foot
  6. The Little Mermaid
  7. Enemies, a Love Story
  8. Drugstore Cowboy
  9. Batman
  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

note:  A fantastic Top 5 and Top 10 which is pretty much the case for any category in this year.  There’s also some irony to note here in that this is the Adapted Screenplay post but I used to own the novelization of two of these films (although it should be pretty obvious which two).

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Drugstore Cowboy  (232 pts)
  2. Driving Miss Daisy  (200 pts)
  3. Born on the Fourth of July  (184 pts)
  4. My Left Foot  (120 pts)
  5. Field of Dreams  (80 pts)

note:  Drugstore Cowboy remains (through 2019) the only Consensus Winner without an Oscar nomination.  It was only the second film without an Oscar win to win the Consensus since 1971 but that would become fairly common after this.  The reason Drugstore can do this is that after only five adapted films even winning a single critics award over the previous two decades, it wins all three awards.  No Original Screenplay wins a critics award for the first time since 1972, something that will mostly happen each of the next two years as well.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium):

  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Enemies a Love Story
  • Field of Dreams
  • My Left Foot

WGA:

  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Field of Dreams
  • Glory
  • My Left Foot

Golden Globe:

  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Glory

Nominees that are Original:  Dead Poets Society, Do the Right Thing, sex lies and videotape, When Harry Met Sally

BAFTA:

  • My Left Foot
  • Shirley Valentine
  • Born on the Fourth of July  (1990)
  • Driving Miss Daisy  (1990)
  • The War of the Roses  (1990)

note:  Even with five nominees (in a four nominee field) spread out over two years, none of them win losing to Dangerous Liaisons and GoodFellas.

NYFC:

  • Drugstore Cowboy

note:  The first Adapted Screenplay to win the NYFC since 1975.

LAFC:

  • Drugstore Cowboy

note:  The first Adapted Screenplay to win the LAFC since 1984.

NSFC:

  • Drugstore Cowboy

note:  The first Adapted Screenplay to ever win the NSFC.

My Top 10

Glory

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as my #1 film of the year.  That’s really saying a lot in this year because this is still my favorite film year of all-time and while a lot of other years have had the #1 film change over time, Glory has been the #1 film since the day I saw it, in early January of 1990 (on MLK Day as it so happens).  It’s a triumph on every level, from the directing to the writing to the acting to the magnificent technical achievements, most notably, to my mind, the score, which is one of the most brilliant ever recorded.

The Source:

One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Show and His Brave Black Regiment by Peter Burchard  (1965)

A short (168 pages including notes and index) history monograph, more on Shaw himself (the first third of the book covers Shaw before he was ever made commander of the 54th) than on the regiment which makes sense because the last part of the book discusses the many ways in which Shaw was lionized after his death.  A good little book about a man who was very well-known in the 19th Century but much less so in this century in spite of the famous bas-relief (see below).

Lay This Laurel: An Album on the Saint-Gaudens Memorial on Boston Common Honoring Black and White Men Together Who Served the Union Cause with Robert Gould Shaw and Died with Him July 18, 1863 by Richard Benson and Lincoln Kirstein  (1973)

This book is half photograph album (with very detailed photos of the Saint-Gaudens memorial) and half essay.  The essay itself gives a brief history (a few pages) of the 54th and what happened to them but the bulk of it is on what happened afterwards, the way the news spread and how Saint-Gaudens ended up doing the memorial which ended up taking him 14 years.  It is not so much a source of the film as One Gallant Rush (which is actually cited and mentioned directly in this book).

The Adaptation:

There are certain things in the book that are altered for dramatic purposes (or possibly just logistical purposes – such as that Fort Wagner is south of Charleston which means the beach would have been on their right as they charged north).  The issue about pay, for instance, was something that came up after the regiment had left camp and headed into the war, not while they were still there.  Likewise, very little is documented about the actual enlisted men of the 54th (though the records for the regiment are at the Massachusetts Archives) and so much of the dramatic tension between the men that we get and the characters played by Washington, Freeman, Andre Braugher and Jhimi Kennedy are, for the most part, creations of the filmmakers.

The Credits:

Directed by Edward Zwick.  Screenplay by Kevin Jarre.  Based on the books “Lay This Laurel” by Lincoln Kirstein and “One Gallant Rush” by Peter Burchard and the letters of Robert Gould Shaw.

note:  Only the title is in the opening credits.

Field of Dreams

The Film:

I have loved this film unashamedly since the day I saw it.  I was actually kind of pre-programmed to love it, a film about baseball starring the most famous person who ever went to my high school.  But that it is brilliantly made on every level, especially the script, makes for one of the best films of the decade.  It’s nice that the Academy recognized it, even if they only gave it three nominations, because it didn’t get nearly the level of attention that it deserved to get.  For a longer review, you can go here where I reviewed it as one of the Best Picture nominees.

The Source:

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella  (1982)

“How I wish my father could be here with me.  If he’d lasted just a few months longer, he could have watched our grainy black-and-white TV as Bill Mazeroski homered in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees 10-9.  We could have joined hands and danced around the kitchen like madmen.  ‘The Yankees lose so seldom you have to celebrate every single time,’ he used to say.”

That quote, first, sums up my feelings about baseball (appropriately, I re-read the book yesterday on opening day of the 2019 baseball season and annoyingly I then watched the Yankees win and the Red Sox lose) but also kind of sums up the book.  The book is a wonderful fantasy about a man who builds a baseball diamond in his corn field to help bring back Shoeless Joe Jackson.  It is also about relationships but it is mainly about baseball and a love of baseball.  Even more than the film, I have a hard time thinking that somebody who isn’t interested in baseball could really enjoy it (though it is quite well-written).  I no longer have any of Kinsella’s other books (I really enjoyed The Iowa Baseball Confederacy the first time I read it, the only other book of his that ever had much success in the States (Kinsella is Canadian even if he was living in Iowa when he wrote Shoeless Joe) and I remember parts of it at least appearing in Sports Illustrated when it was first published but it dragged considerably when I went back to it so I no longer have it).

The Adaptation:

This is a great example of keeping to the spirit and even some of the specifics but making a lot of changes to make the film work better.  In the book, it’s J.D. Salinger that is the writer that goes along for all of this but he threatened to sue so they created Terence Mann which worked even better because they could structure Mann’s career as they needed to (and it gives him the dream of playing with Robinson at Ebbets Field – with Salinger it was the Polo Grounds).  In the book, Ray also has a twin brother (who travels with a carnival) who is wisely dropped.  But there are other changes, about Ray and his relationship with his father that affect the climax of the film.  In the book, the climax is Salinger going with the players.  But in the book, Ray’s relationship with his father wasn’t as bad (it was his brother with the bad relationship), he wasn’t worried about turning into him, his mother was still alive and he was asking from the beginning if his father could play with the Black Sox instead of having it be a surprise, the emotional climax of the film and the subject of the voices in the first place.  It’s a brilliant move by Robinson which is why this film, as mentioned in my original review, has become such a favorite for people to bond with their fathers (or with their sons).  It understands that while baseball is a key part of the film, it’s the relationships that make the emotional core of the film.  There are a few other small changes as well (like Doc Graham’s death being moved up to 1972 or Annie being much more involved in the film than the book and Karin being several years older in the film than in the book).

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Phil Alden Robinson.  Based on the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella.

Born on the Fourth of July

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the Best Picture nominees from 1989.  Even had I not reviewed it then, it would have been reviewed for the Nighthawk Awards as one of the five best films of the year, a position it has held since I saw it in the theaters over Christmas break of 1989.  It’s a powerful, moving film not only about the Vietnam War, but also about what happened when people came home.  I am reminded of Springsteen’s quote, which is appropriate since Kovic’s book helped inspire “Born in the USA”: “A lot of them never came home.  And a lot who came home were never the same again.”  After some trials in The Color of Money and Rain Man, this was the film that proved that Tom Cruise was not just a star, but a first-rate actor.  While I think Field of Dreams was the best of the nominees, I am still stunned, 30 years later, that this film lost to Driving Miss Daisy.

The Source:

Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic  (1976)

Spare in its tone and not a work of literary genius, but a moving, troubling account of what one young patriotic man went through after volunteering for Vietnam, being crippled there and coming home to a country that had changed while he was gone and what that does to his view on America.

The book is effective for two reasons.  First, the language is so sparse that it really cuts right to the heart of the matter.  Second, because Kovic had been a patriot who was gung ho to go fight the war and it was his experiences (even more than his wounds) there that changed him against the war, it made him a more powerful voice in opposition to the war.  It is not a great book, but it has continued to sell through the years and continued to be powerful as we have been drawn into more wars with a great deal of similarity (the version I read this time, since I no longer own a copy, was an edition printed during the Iraq War with a new introduction by Kovic railing against that war).

The Adaptation:

Reading this, it was easy to note that the primary difference between the book and the film is that the film is actually the straight narrative, beginning with Kovic as a child growing up on Long Island and progressing to his actions at the two conventions (the RNC in 1972, the DNC in 1976) while the book actually begins with the events in which he was wounded, jumps back to him growing up, cover his time at Parris Island (not included in the film, which artfully moves right from his prom to Vietnam) and only towards the end do we find out about the soldier that he accidentally killed.  Except for his marine training, almost everything in the book is in the film though a few things are changed (the book only mentions Kovic’s baseball interest not wrestling but see below) and some things expanded (his time in Mexico is dealt with in just a few pages in the book).  There is no meeting with the parents of the soldier he killed and the character played by Kyra Sedgwick doesn’t exist in the book.

I wondered how much of that actually came from Kovic’s life but wasn’t included in the book (it was mostly invented for the film although Kovic did wrestle in high school which isn’t mentioned in the book) and I suddenly realized that this film was almost utterly unique.  Certainly in the history of the Academy Awards it was unique.  No person had ever lived a life, written a book about it and written the script and earned an Oscar nomination.  Most autobiographies aren’t good enough for the writer to be allowed to write the script (and most writers don’t know how to write screenplays if they’re not already film writers) or they are ghost written.  But Stone wanted Kovic’s involvement and so Kovic co-wrote the script with him.  It’s utterly unique in Oscar history and the only other example in the entire scope of this project is Marjane Satrapi, whose autobiographical Persepolis she would later turn into a film and would adapt (and even direct) it herself.

The Credits:

Directed by Oliver Stone.  Based on the book by Ron Kovic.  Screenplay by Oliver Stone & Ron Kovic.

Henry V

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of 1989.  The Academy seemed to sort of recognize this, nominating it for both Best Director and Best Actor when even the Best Picture winner, Driving Miss Daisy, was (rightfully) passed over for Director.  It rivals Chimes at Midnight as the best ever feature film adaptation of Shakespeare that uses Shakespeare’s actual language.  It is a singularly striking Shakespeare adaptation (the only War film) and a magnificent triumph on every level of filmmaking.

The Source:

The Life of Henry the Fifth by William Shakespeare  (1599)

I have actually already discussed this play here when I discussed the Olivier adaptation.  It is a magnificent play, not the least of which is because, depending on your first exposure to the play, it can have a variety of different meanings as to how stage it and how to portray Henry.  It contains some of the best speeches in all of Shakespeare and Henry is a magnificent part to play.

The Adaptation:

Like almost all of the film Shakespeare adaptations (except, of course, for Branagh’s Hamlet), there are a number of cuts throughout the play.  Branagh tries to stick to the things that will move the action along and eliminates some subplots that had been lingering from the two Henry IV plays (notice, in particular, in the first scene with Henry, where all the talk of Scotland is eliminated).  Many of the scenes have trimmed lines like this (which is fairly common).  But Branagh also brings in some bits of Henry IV, the drinking scenes with Falstaff and lines that help establish their relationship to provide some context for this film for those not that familiar with Henry IV (Falstaff never actually appears in this play though, with a very good performance from Robbie Coltrane, he does in this film).  He also takes one of Falstaff’s lines from the earlier play and gives it to Bardolph, provoking another flashback that makes the hanging scene even more heartbreaking.  All in all, a magnificent example of how to do Shakespeare right on film.

Branagh, in his book, Beginning, published the same year the film was released and written as he was editing the film, the final section is a day by day diary of making the film, including why he added what he did (he decided not to presume any familiarity with Henry IV) and that the original run was about 160 minutes and he knew he needed to cut about 25 minutes of that (which means that a number of the cuts were made in the editing stage not in the screenplay itself).

The Credits:

Directed by Kenneth Branagh.  by William Shakespeare.  Adapted for the Screen by Kenneth Branagh.

My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown

The Film:

This was a film that had a big knock on it before I ever saw it.  It was the film that, to my mind, had knocked Glory, my #1 film of 1989, out of the Oscar nominations, grabbing unexpected nominations for Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay that I expected to go to Glory, not to mention winning Best Actor over Tom Cruise’s powerhouse performance as Ron Kovic.  But when all was said and done, while I didn’t think this was one of the five best films of the year, it was a great film without question and Daniel Day-Lewis had absolutely earned his Oscar (as had Brenda Fricker).  If it is not my favorite Day-Lewis performance (too many to chose from) it still might actually be his best (again, hard to decide).  For a more full review that deals more with the film itself go here.

The Source:

My Left Foot by Christy Brown  (1954)

First of all, no matter what it might say in the credits below, this is not a novel.  It’s a memoir of Brown’s first twenty two years, covering his childhood, his revelation to his family that he could understand them, his liberation of his mind through the use of his left foot and his eventual rise to a published author (it ends with a Burl Ives performance at a benefit for cerebral palsy where the first chapter of this book was read aloud).  This was the memoir of a man who would not let his mind be trapped simply because his body didn’t want to let him free.  It was published when he was still very young (22) and long before he would become even more well known as an accomplished fiction writer.

The Adaptation:

While there are some basic scenes that come straight from the book, like when Christy first writes the letter “A” or when he spells “Mother” out with chalk, nearly all of what is actually in the film isn’t in the book.  Aside from the fact that Christy’s entire relationship with Dr. Cole and the framing device for the book happened years after the publication of the book (he did meet his wife Mary Carr at a reading in 1972), almost all of the scenes in the film that deal with Christy’s relationship with his father, like the fight in the pub or bringing Christy to the pub after he realizes his son can spell aren’t in the book.  I can’t speak to whether or not they happened in real life but they definitely aren’t in the book.  Of course, the scenes surrounding the death of his father also isn’t in the book because his father was still alive in 1954.  Also, the famous scene of Christy as a child saving his mother’s life by alerting the neighbors also wasn’t in the book and since that seems like the kind of scene that would have been in the book, I suspect that scene is entirely fictional.

The Credits:

Director: Jim Sheridan.  Screenplay by Shane Connaughton, Jim Sheridan.  Based upon the novel – My Left Foot – by Christy Brown.

The Little Mermaid

The Film:

I had never seen a Disney animated film in the theater (except perhaps a revival of one of the classic films but if so I don’t remember it) and I was 15, so why would I go to see The Little Mermaid in the theater?  I had no idea who Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were.  It was a Kids film and I was no longer a kid.  So, at some point after it came out on video and my sister rented it, I watched it.  And I watched it.  And again.  Four times in all before we returned the video.  Not just because it was a great story, an update of a classic fairy tale but given a happy ending that was appropriate for the film, not just because it had a red-headed heroine in love with Eric but because of that music.  That all-encompassing wonderful music from start to finish that would help change the course of Disney, Kids films and even the Academy Awards.

As would become the plan for the next two Disney films, the film would start with a solid but not great opening number (“Fathoms Below”) but then would come what would later be termed the “I want” song, the song in which the heroine connects to the audience, making us feel her anguish and desires.  “Part of Your World” wouldn’t earn an Oscar nomination (that would be reserved for the massive big number at the heart of the film, “Under the Sea” as well as the romantic ballad “Kiss the Girl”, making this the first Kids film and the first Disney film to earn multiple nominations for Best Song at the Oscars).  There was humor in it (“Betch’a on land they understand  /  Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters”) but more importantly there was emotion in it.  What’s more, it was simply a fantastic song.

Thus I had discovered the team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.  They had already done a Broadway show (Little Shop of Horrors) and Ashman was hired to work on Oliver & Company and discovered that Disney was working on Little Mermaid, the first fairy tale from the company in 30 years.  The songwriting team would write a whole film worth of memorable numbers (is there any Disney song funnier than “Les Poissons”?) and would then go on to even bigger success with Beauty and the Beast though Ashman would not live to enjoy it (he died while the film was still in production though he did also write lyrics for three songs in Aladdin).

But even if the songs had been brilliant, it still wouldn’t have been enough to make this such a brilliant film (though it’s a major part of it).  Luckily though, the film also comes alive through the animation, through the voice performances (most notably Samuel E. Wright’s hilarious turn as Sebastian, the crab court composer) and the story.  We feel for Ariel because we understand her, just wanting to breathe free, to have a chance for life and love.  Though the original tale has a sad ending (see below), you want Ariel to succeed (please tell me you want the gorgeous redhead to end up with Eric).  But it’s all those things in conjunction with Menken’s magnificent music and Ashman’s lyrics which range from the dramatic to the unbelievably hilarious (“I stuff you with bread  /  It don’t hurt ’cause you’re dead”).  It’s a triumph on every level.

The Source:

Den lille havfrue” by Hans Christian Anderson  (1837)

This is one of Anderson’s most famous fairy tales (indeed, there is a statue commemorating the tale in the Copenhagen harbor), the story of the young mermaid who falls in love with a human prince and makes a bargain with the sea witch to become human to win his love.  She needs his love because mermaids become sea foam when they die because they don’t have an immortal soul as humans do.  She fails to win his love and dies (having turned down the chance to kill him to become a mermaid again) but is granted the chance for a soul by doing good deeds with the daughters of the air.

The Adaptation:

There are a lot of changes, of course.  The film takes the basic premise from the fairy tale and turns into the film with a lot of changes.  One particular difference that seems to highlight the film itself is noted by Maria Tatar in The Annotated Hans Christian Anderson: “The sisters’ mania for collecting is transferred in the Disney film to Ariel, who hoards and fetishizes artifacts of civilization (forks, combs, and so on) as a sign of her desire to live with humans.  If Anderson’s little mermaid is inspired by church bells she has never heard and is driven by a longing for the hustle and bustle of the big city (as was the young Anderson), Ariel – as is appropriate for a Disney character – becomes a slave to commodity fetishism.” (p 126)

Many of the details come from the original story with significant changes.  In the original, the witch takes the voice from the mermaid (who has no name) as payment but in the film, it is her voice that the prince fell for and the witch then uses the mermaid’s voice to try to steal the prince (as opposed to the prince simply falling for a neighboring princess).  Then, of course, there is the happy ending of the film – in fact nothing in the film past the moment where the wedding ship sails bears any similarity to the original tale as told by Anderson.

The Credits:

Written and Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.  Based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson.
note:  There is no mention of the source in the opening credits, only in the end credits.

Enemies, A Love Story

The Film:

I need to stop watching this film.  Every time I watch it, I end up pushing it higher and higher and in 1989 there are too many great films and there’s really nowhere for it to go.  Part of the problem, of course, is that, like Crimes and Misdemeanors, I was really too young to appreciate this film properly when I first saw it.  So, originally, it was a mid *** film.  Now it’s the high end of ***.5 and it came real close to being bumped up to ****.

Poor Herman Broder has got problems.  It’s 1949 and he’s living near Coney Island but he can’t stop dreaming about his nights in the hayloft in Poland and this time the Nazis have found him there.  He wakes up to his real life and his wife and tries to escape the nightmares.  But he has his own living nightmares as well, such as the jackass of a rabbi that he works for, writing all his speeches and books while masquerading to his wife as a travelling book salesman.  The reason for the deception is that he can claim he’s out of town when really he’s off schtupping his mistress, another escapee from the Holocaust (his wife is the woman who hid him, who had been his family’s servant before the war).  He’s got a wife and a mistress but he’s only just getting started.

One day he sees his name in an advert in the paper and he discovers that his wife did not die in the camps like he was told.  She was shot, yes, but she survived that bullet and she has finally made her way to the States.  And in the midst of all of this, when his mistress claims she’s pregnant (it will turn out to be a hysterical pregnancy) she demands that he marry her.  Suddenly he doesn’t have a wife and a mistress but three wives with two of them carrying his children.

When I first saw this, I recognized the solid characters and the good writing that entailed, the fantastic supporting performances from Anjelica Huston and Lena Olin and the solid lead performance from Ron Silver.  I think what I didn’t get was that the film was a Comedy.  All of this insanity is quite funny in its overwrought way and that’s the way to approach the film.  Once I could see that clearly, it became a different film, an intricately constructed, brilliant look at the kind of problems that you can only find in America after surviving the brutality of the war and you can look back and think, well, everything about this is easier than that.

The Source:

Sonim, di Geschite fun a Liebe by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1966)

Part of the reason that the film has gone up in my estimation over the years is that at some point I got a copy of the book and even though I have gotten rid of a lot of books (over 2000 if you compare my apartment to my LibraryThing account) and this is a hardcover (which I have gotten rid of even more of), I continue to hold on to this and continue to read it.  I actually think it’s Singer’s best novel and when you’re talking about someone who has won the Nobel Prize that is high praise.

It’s the story of a man who ends up married to three women at the same time through a set of strange circumstances (listed above).  Just the title alone should give you a sense of the humor at the core of the story and an understanding of what poor Harold Broder is going through.

The Adaptation:

The film cuts a little bit here and there but for the most part it is a very faithful adaptation.  The great majority of the lines are right there in the original novel.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Paul Mazursky.  Based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer.  Screenplay by Roger L. Simon & Paul Mazursky.

Drugstore Cowboy

The Film:

This film was made in Portland in 1989 but was set in 1971.  Little enough had changed that Gus Van Sant could simply shoot the film and not have to worry about things looking out of place.  Indeed, when I moved there three years later things still hadn’t changed.  When I would eventually see this film, many years later (late 90’s, maybe early 00’s), you could still walk around and find sights from the film without a problem.  The drug store in the opening scene was still there as was the apartment complex from the film (it was right around the corner from Cinema 21).  Today, the city is very different and much of the things in the film are gone now as Portland has emerged from that isolated aspect and become hipster central (you think Portlandia is satire but you have no idea how much of it is true).  But for a long time, things didn’t change.

That includes the culture that helped inspire this film in the first place.  The author of the original novel, James Fogle, had written the book based on his own experiences and was in jail at the time the film was made (he was friends with Daniel Yost, Gus’s co-screenwriter and I assume that’s how Gus first heard of it).  In the years that I worked at Powells, over a decade after the film was made and some 30 years after it was set, the bathroom fixtures were installed sideways so you could see if people were shooting up in the bathroom and we occasionally had to step around people shooting up near the warehouse where my department was located.  Walking around the Pearl today (where Powells is) or along Hoyt Street (where the warehouse was) you couldn’t possibly imagine that.  But a gang of drug abusers who would walk into a drug store and cause a distraction so one of them could run to the back and steal any kind of drug that he could in the couple of minutes that the distraction was providing?  Yeah, that wasn’t so out of place in that Portland.  Veronica (and later myself) worked in a drug and alcohol treatment center near all of this (actually just up the street from the drug store that they rob in the opening scene) and it was never lacking for clients.

This film was the very definition of a critics film.  Even today, no film has ever been this successful at the critics awards without earning a nomination from any of the other major awards groups (Oscar, BAFTA, guilds, Globes, BFCA).  You could point out that the Independent Spirit Awards absolutely loved this film but that’s really kind of proving my point.  After making one small film a few years before (listed in the list at the bottom), this was the film that really put Gus Van Sant on the map.  He showed that he could take a film with unlikeable people (it’s a story of four drug addicts and the lives that they lead as they continually try to find their next drugs and the misery that entails, whether it comes from being beaten up by the police, being blackmailed by the lowlife across the street or even having one of their own die while also being forced out of their hotel by a police convention and needing to deal with getting the body out and not being discovered) and make it successful.  It took Matt Dillon, who had always been a decent actor and really showed that he could be an amazing actor as well and though it would take him years before he would finally earn an Oscar nomination, this was the one that really showed his range of talent.

I don’t enjoy watching this film.  I didn’t when I first saw it and I don’t now.  The characters are too unlikeable and it’s hard to have any sympathy for them even if they are captives to their needs.  Perhaps that’s why I end up leaving it as a high ***.5 and not ****.  But I certainly admire it for Dillon’s performance (one of the best in a year that’s full to the brim with fantastic lead male performances), its direction and its script.  I just wish it weren’t all so true.  While many might lament the ways that Portland has changed, I’m rather glad that today I can walk from my dad’s condo, a block from where I used to work in the warehouse, all the way down to Powells and never have to worry about walking past anyone using in a doorway.

The Source:

Drugstore Cowboy by James Fogle  (1990)

Wait, you say, how can the date of publication be after the film?  That’s because this was an unpublished novel when Gus made the film and Fogle was actually in prison.  In fact, the copyright on the book is held by Avenue Entertainment, the company that made the film.  It’s a decent book, though considerably bleak with almost no hope for anyone in the book.  The one character who finally tries to break through, get away from his addiction, and try to get back to something resembling a normal life ends up dead.

Things didn’t work out any better for Fogle.  He would be in and out of prison for the rest of his life, usually for possession and when he died in 2012, he was actually in prison at the time.

The Adaptation:

It’s a very straightforward adaptation.  The vast majority of action in the film and almost all of the dialogue come straight from the book.  Even some of the narrative of the book is kept in the film by being used as voiceover for Dillon.  Just about the biggest narrative change is the way that the beginning of the film is also the end of the film which the book doesn’t do.

The Credits:

directed by gus van sant, jr..  based on the novel by james fogle.  screenplay by gus van sant & daniel yost.

Batman

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film from when I covered Batman in my For Love of Film series.  In fact, this was one of the lengthiest reviews in the series because I really wanted to cover Nicholson’s brilliant performance, the brilliant design of the film even if it doesn’t make sense (just now, watching the ending, I commented to Veronica, “world’s tallest church”) and how there had been a serious dearth of comic book films in the years leading up to this film and this film changed all of that.  It’s a fantastic film, thanks to Burton, to Nicholson, to Keaton, to Furst, to Pratt and to Elfman (no thanks go to Prince) and it still delights 30 years after I sat there for an hour and half waiting for the film to start on opening morning.

The Source:

Batman, characters created by Bob Kane

I don’t really need to say much here because I have spoken so much about Batman in my various posts and especially in my Reading Guide to the character.  So go there to learn more about Batman and how I feel about him.

The Adaptation:

As the first real film version of Batman (speak not to me of Adam West) this film needed to provide an origin.  To give the film some heft, it was decided to have the Joker (who is given a name in this version) also be the young man who murdered the Waynes.  It went against everything that had come before but it worked for the film.  It stripped away much of the baggage and just focused on an origin story (he’s already Batman when the film starts though we think the opening scene is his origin at first), changing what it felt needed to be changed to make the film work.  For the most part (other than the Joker having killed the Waynes) it is like a lot of comic book films – faithful to the characters without using any particular storyline from the comics themselves.

The Credits:

Directed by Tim Burton.  Based upon characters appearing in magazines published by DC Comics, Inc..  Based on Batman characters created by Bob Kane.  Screenplay by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren.  Story by Sam Hamm.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The Film:

I didn’t go the movies a lot when I was a kid.  Or, to be more precise, I didn’t see a lot of movies in the theater before I was fourteen years old (early 1989).  But one film I saw in the theater was Raiders of the Lost Ark and while I had mixed feelings on the sequel (see here), the original was the first film I ever bought on videotape and the third film in the series happened to arrive in the summer of 1989, the summer where I really became a film buff.  This is a film I loved from the first minute I saw it and continue to love.  I was never really certain whether or not it was a great film (I have it as a high ***.5 which is where it has generally been for the most part) but I definitely loved it, taping it when it came on HBO, buying the soundtrack and eventually getting it as part of the box set when it was released on DVD.  Was it just because it was a new Indiana Jones film (with a lot less darkness and a lot more humor than the second film) or was it because it added Sean Connery as Indiana’s ornery father (in a wonderful performance) or was it because it really gave it a goal with some heft to it.  The second film had Indiana trying to bring back some rocks in India and I was uncertain when it was released if they were real artifacts or just created for the film but either way it didn’t seem to have the same weight behind it that the Ark of the Covenant had or this, one of my favorite objects in all of literature, the Holy Grail.

“The Holy Grail, the cup that caught the blood at the crucifixion and was entrusted to Joseph of Arimathea.”  “The search of the Grail is not Archaeology.  It’s a race against evil.”  “The search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us.  But if you want facts, Indy, I’ve none to give you.  At my age, I’m prepared to take a few things on faith.”  These are ideas about the Grail that permeate through the film and they are what bring me in.  I don’t find the Grail fascinating because of any connection to Christian theology but the way it connects to Christian mythology.  There is a larger story at play here, over what you believe and what you are willing to do for it.  That’s what makes this something more than just an adventure story or a relationship story (see below for that).  And the end, when they find the Grail, yet are unable to take it with them, is part of that great story.

Aside from all of that, there is the film itself.  Spielberg does a solid job of directing it, but he brings in his usual group to do their best work again.  John Williams makes good use of the themes he already wrote for the first film but also brings more to it, with the great Scherzo for Motorcycle.  The sound, cinematography and visual effects are all first-rate.  Most importantly, the acting is first-rate as well, namely Connery’s performance as Henry and Elliott’s amusing performance as Marcus.  Elliott was always one of my favorite actors and I was massively bummed when he died but it’s great to look at performances like this and see how good he was at playing either drama or comedy.  Most importantly, the film combines solid film-making with wonderful entertainment and gives me a film that I love to watch again and again.

The Source:

characters created by George Lucas, 1981

Of course, the characters in this film, most notably Indiana Jones, Marcus Brody and Sallah, were all created for Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If you want to know what I think of Raiders, in my mind, one of the greatest films ever made and absolutely one of my favorite films, can be found here (with links to other spots).

The Adaptation:

“In the earlier draft of Last Crusade by Meyhes [sic], ‘the father was sort of a MacGuffin,’ recalls [Screenwriter Jeffrey] Boam.  ‘They didn’t find the father until the very end.  I said to George, ‘It doesn’t make sense to find the father at the end.  Why don’t they find him in the middle?’  Given the fact that it’s the third film in the series, you couldn’t just end with them obtaining the object.  That’s how the first two ended.  So I thought, Let them lose the object – the Grail – and let the relationship be the main point.  It’s an archeological search for Indy’s own identity, Indy coming to accept his father is more what it’s about than the quest for the Grail.'”  (Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Joseph McBride, p 401)

The film itself holds mostly true to the characters as they existed in the first two films.  The one exception, and I feel the need to point this out, because it is part of the reason why my friend Tavis prefers the second film to this one, is taking Marcus Brody and making him the comic relief instead of a serious character like he is during his brief appearances in the first film.  I didn’t object to that mainly because they did such a good job of making him comic relief in a specific way but it is a reasonable objection.  Of course, we also get the acknowledgement that Indy would know what the Ark of the Covenant would look like (one of my favorite moments in the film) and we get the return of Sallah as well, one of the best characters in the first film.

The Credits:

Directed by Steven Spielberg.  Story by George Lucas and Menno Meyjes.  Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam.

Consensus Nominee

Driving Miss Daisy

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as the annoying Best Picture winner of 1989.  That it should not have won is an opinion that seems to be held by every person who didn’t actually vote for it and quite possibly by many who did and have changed their minds.  It is not a bad film – the acting from the two leads is too strong for that.  But in a year where the Academy nominated four great films (Born on the Fourth of July, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot, Dead Poets Society) and in which this film was passed over for Director in favor of two other great films (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Henry V) and in which yet three more great films were nominated for Original Screenplay but not for Picture or Director (When Harry Met Sally, sex lies and videotape, Do the Right Thing) and all the other great films that were nominated for Oscars (Glory, The Little Mermaid, Batman) or not nominated for any (Heathers, Say Anything), it’s absurd that this film should have won the Oscar, one of the most absurd choices the Academy ever made and one which they have been hearing gripes about ever since.

The Source:

Driving Miss Daisy: A Play by Alfred Uhry  (1988)

I was kind of hard on A Trip to Bountiful in the 1985 post but that’s nothing on this.  This is a kind of harmless little play that Uhry wrote about memories of his mother and her chauffeur, one of a trilogy of plays he wrote about growing up in Atlanta.  Of course, Uhry’s Atlanta seems to have missed all the massive changes wrought on the country and the area from 1948 to 1973.  It’s a play about a friendship that grows up between a woman and her driver but they happen to be Jewish and black in an era where that would have been greatly frowned upon and yet not that much of that comes into the story.  The play itself only has three characters (the woman’s son is the other).  It’s harmless.  I just can’t understand how it won the Pulitzer.

The Adaptation:

Uhry adapted his own play and made some changes (for instance, the opening car crash is much more significant in the play, when it is off-stage (she demolishes the neighbor’s garage) than when it is shown on-screen but for the most part what he did is add scenes.  The original play, as mentioned, only has the three main characters.  So any scene in the film that involves more characters than that is either completely new or has had dialogue and bits added to it.

The Credits:

Directed by Bruce Beresford.  Screenplay by Alfred Uhry.  Based on his play.

BAFTA Nominees

Shirley Valentine

The Film:

I see, by looking at my 1989 spreadsheet, that I gave this film a 69.  Was I drunk?  I wasn’t, of course, because I don’t drink and write about films.  That’s what Mountain Dew is for.  But I was being much more generous than this film, a film that really earns a **.5 (and which it now gets – a 61 – but which somehow I not only gave *** but a mid *** at that.  What I think was going on was that I didn’t want to be too hard on a film that clearly was not made for me, the story of a bored housewife (I was going to write middle-aged but fuck, she’s younger than me) who gets away and be accused of not getting the film.  Pauline Collins went on to earn an Oscar nomination and it’s not that she doesn’t deserve it but that so many others deserved it this year so much more (the most obvious being Meg Ryan).

Shirley is going bonkers and has started talking to the wall.  She’s got a daughter somewhere and a son who’s becoming the first busker poet in England.  She’s got a husband who gets upset if his tea isn’t ready at six.  Her life is one big nothing and she needs a break and she gets a chance when a friend takes off for Greece and convinces Shirley she should join her.  All of this an understandable portrait of a British woman in a certain age and at a certain time and it might have worked as a drama.  But because this is all played for a Comedy, while Collins gives a solid performance as Shirley, most of the rest of the film is one long cliche.  When she goes to Greece, she has an affair with the owner of a cafe who fits every cliche you could ever imagine and is played by Tom Conti with, not only a terrible accent, but the most ridiculously terrible performance you could possibly imagine.

So what’s going to happen?  Is Shirley going to head back home and begin again her life of drudgery?  What do you think?  I knew, years ago, that this was a film based on a play.  But I hadn’t realized it was based on a one woman show and I can understand how it would bring forth a powerhouse performance (Collins played the role on stage as well).  But she gives us vivid descriptions of her life and what is happening.  Here, they show us everything.  For once, showing instead of telling just doesn’t work.  Everything seems to lack any conviction or reality.

The Source:

Shirley Valentine: A Play by Willy Russell  (1988)

How much I could possibly take this play would depend on who was playing the part.  If played by Collins, who was good in the film, I might be able to tolerate it.  But just barely.  It’s a one woman show about Shirley, who dreams of getting out of her life of drudgery and is able to do so when she takes a trip to Greece, has an affair and decides to stick around for the country if not for the man.  Everything we learn in the play comes from Shirley’s description.

The Adaptation:

Russell adapted his own play and the key thing he did was actually write scenes to match the stories that Shirley has already told us.  It doesn’t feel like a filmed play because of course it’s opened up just in actually depicting the scenes instead of having them described to us.  But most of what we hear from Shirley makes it to the screen intact.

One little word about the bizarre dvd release of this film.  There are two sets of subtitles – the English UK and the English US.  So, for example, her son proclaiming that he’s the “first busker poet” becomes the “first street poet” in the US subtitles.  What the bloody hell was the point of that?  Bunch of bleedin’ wankers.

The Credits:

produced and directed by Lewis Gilbert.  written by Willy Russell.

The War of the Roses

The Film:

In 1984, Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas played a couple who fell in love while constantly bickering with Danny DeVito along for the ride in Romancing the Stone.  A year later, they all reunited for a mediocre sequel, The Jewel of the Nile.  But clearly they were a group with some chemistry and when Danny DeVito decided to direct The War of the Roses (which must have been lingering for a while in development hell as the First Edition of the novel, published in 1981 claims on the dust jacket it will soon be a feature film), he brought his two co-stars, along again as a bickering couple.  Except this time, it’s the love that comes first and the bickering that comes later with this bleak, darkly satirical look at divorce.

The film, whose title also alludes to the famous British war over the crown (whereas here the war is over the house and while there are children involved, neither parent seems to care about anything other than the house and the physical possessions inside and I had honestly forgotten that they even had children) was a solid hit and earned three Golden Globe nominations and there was considerable talk of Oscar nominations but it actually failed to earn a single nomination.  Was is it just that it wasn’t quite up to snuff?  I would argue that is the case since this is 1989, a singularly fantastic year, even if the Academy did pick the mediocre Driving Miss Daisy.  Was it the Academy bias against Comedies, especially since When Harry Met Sally was mostly left out in the cold as well?  Or was it that this film was just too darkly satirical to ever be embraced by Academy voters?

Oliver and Barbara Rose seem to be a happy couple, falling in love over an antique auction and having kids, great careers and a magnificent home (complete with chandelier, hanging high up above).  But when Oliver thinks he’s having a heart attack (it turns out to be not as serious but he thinks it is at first) and Barbara simply doesn’t care, they fast-track into the nastiest divorce imaginable on film.  The cat will die, the dog will possibly become pate, the children will just be fodder in the middle of it all, and there we have Douglas and Turner throwing barbs (and in Turner’s case, punches) at each other as we watch them disintegrate.

It’s a solid film but the nastiness of the film really keeps it mired down in the high ***.  What’s more, the totally dour ending (which is almost straight from the book) keeps it down there as well.  It left people dazed and stunned when it first came out.  What’s more, having the DeVito character telling the story actually allowed the viewers to take an alternate approach and decide that perhaps the whole thing is just a metaphor or a story that he’s telling and not what really happened.  Either way, it’s well-written and it has a solid performance from Douglas and a really strong one from Turner, but watching it again, after all this time, I am still left with just too much nastiness to really push it any higher.

The Source:

The War of the Roses by Warren Adler  (1981)

If the film was rather nasty, that’s nothing compared to the original novel.  At least in the film while we get the performances of Douglas and Turner to enjoy, in the novel, we just have a couple that have a really ugly divorce because Barbara Rose decides she doesn’t care about her husband Jonathan anymore.  In the end, they don’t care about the kids and even care less about the stuff than about trying to destroy each other and finally they both end up dead on the floor together.

The Adaptation:

Most of what we see in the film is straight from the book with the exception of DeVito.  The story isn’t told in a framing device in the book (it begins with the auction and ends with the death) and the DeVito character is much less important in the book.  Other than that, the vast majority of what we see on film is from the book, including little details (the cat, the attempted murder in the sauna, the fake-out over the dog with the pate) with the small exception that in the book, Jonathan (one other small change – his name, for some reason) is trying to help Barbara off the chandelier when they both fall rather than them both having been trapped there together.

The Credits:

Directed by Danny DeVito.  Based upon the novel by Warren Adler.  Screenplay by Michael Leeson.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10


(in descending order of how I rank the script)

note:  A little preface.  As mentioned in other posts in the past, I began tracking the films I watched in a notebook in February of 1989 around the time that I went to the theaters to see both Rain Man and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Because I decided that any film seen before then had to be seen again to count as being “seen”, this is the first year where I might have seen a film just the once (possibly even in the theater) and have literally never seen it again.  That’s not the case for the above films because I had to re-watch them to review them at the very least though over half my Top 10 I have seen at least 10 times.  But there are films on this list I haven’t seen since 1989 and my rating of them is based on one viewing 30 years ago when I was still a teenager just starting to become serious about film.

  • The Mighty Quinn  –  Denzel had already proven himself a great actor but this film showed he could be a star.  Solid Mystery based on the novel Finding Maubee which isn’t bad (I read it at one point when I thought this would be in the Top 10), a mid ***.5 film.
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen  –  Gilliam’s direction and technical aspects are the star much more than the script but this is a film that deserves to be better known than a box office disaster.  Wildly imaginative, just like the original stories.  Notable also for being the subject of a great film book: Losing the Light (see more way down the post here).
  • Always  –  A couple of months ago my college roommate watched A Guy Named Joe on TCM and realized Always was a remake of that film.  But I prefer this one, partially because I prefer Richard Dreyfuss to Spencer Tracy and partially because it has Audrey Hepburn’s last performance.
  • Spider’s Web  –  West Germany’s Oscar submission wasn’t nominated though it was better than three of the nominees.  Based on the first novel by Joseph Roth.
  • Story of Women  –  This film is high *** but with solid writing making it one of Claude Chabrol’s best films (starring Isabelle Huppert in the first of four collaborations between the two in the course of a decade).  Based on a non-fiction book about Marie-Louise Giraud who was executed in Nazi-occupied France by guillotine for performing abortions.
  • Camille Claudel  –  Back to low ***.5 with this film about the famous sculptor and painter and her relationship with Rodin.  Fantastic performance from Isabelle Adjani.  Based on the book by Claudel’s great-niece.  This film made Adjani the only French actress to earn two Oscar nominations.
  • Steel Magnolias  –  The ultimate chick flick is a mid *** but I admire the writing.  Based on a play by Robert Harling.  The first film I ever saw Julia Roberts in which became vitally important over the next few years.  It’s ironic that Roberts, who was the least known of the six stars, has probably made more money in her career than the other five combined (if you don’t count Parton’s singing).  Because I haven’t seen this in almost 30 years (the only film in this part in that situation) and because I had a friend in college who couldn’t have kids because of having CF I had forgotten that Roberts’ character doesn’t have CF but has Type 1 Diabetes, a disease which I have to think about everyday.

Other Adaptations


(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Licence to Kill  –  I’ve seen this plenty of times, of course, because as my full review shows, I’m a big fan of Dalton’s Bond.  Very underrated with the most underrated Bond girl.
  • Dead Calm  –  Solid high *** (75 – the highest ***) Suspense film based on the novel by Charles Williams which Orson Welles had taken a stab at adapting back in the late 60’s though his film was left unfinished.
  • Valmont  –  With Colin Firth and Annette Bening in the roles played in Dangerous Liaisons played by Malkovich and Close, a film I feel I should return to.  Milos Forman’s adaptation didn’t use Hampton’s play but went back to the original de Laclos.  Sadly, it bombed in the States.
  • Jacknife  –  This is based on a play called Strange Snow that I have actually seen on stage when my undergraduate Shakespeare professor was in it and I realized halfway through that it was clearly the basis for this film which I had seen several years previously.
  • Back to the Future Part II  –  I have always been a bigger fan of this film than most people because I have always been into the whole “alternate timeline” concept thanks to Star Trek and comic books.  My friend Jay disliked it enough that he was going to skip the third one but we talked him into it when Total Recall was sold out (and he loved the third one – especially the train).
  • Casualties of War  –  Dark story of Vietnam based on a New Yorker article and subsequent book by Daniel Lang that I thought was headed for Oscars at the time but ended up being blanked.
  • La Lectrice  –  Solid French Drama based on the novel by Raymond Jean.
  • Powwow Highway  –  Solid film made from David Sears’ novel.  I call it a Drama but you could easily classify it as a Comedy.  Notable for the number of Native Americans in the cast and for being the film debut of Wes Studi.
  • In Country  –  Platoon obviously opened things up because we’re just getting down to mid-*** and we’ve already had two films about Vietnam and this is the second one about vets after Vietnam (unless we want to count Born on the Fourth of July twice in which case it’s the third).  Based on the novel by Bobbie Ann Mason.
  • Lethal Weapon 2  –  The first topless scene I ever saw in the theater and probably the first R-rated film I ever saw in the theater which was made more awkward because I saw it with my older sister.  Still, an entertaining action film that also had an entertaining short HBO film that Mel Gibson did to promote it that became much more awkward when he went off the deep end years later.  About even with the first film but more enjoyable because of more humor.  This was the film that made Gibson a superstar, making more in the States than his three previous films combined and it was his highest grossing film for over a decade.
  • A Dry White Season  –  A bit clunky at times but well-meaning and with a solid performance from Marlon Brando, his last Oscar nomination after a 16 year gap.  Ironically, it had the same subject as Lethal Weapon 2 (apartheid).
  • The Old Well  –  Solid Chinese Drama based on the novel by Zheng Yi.
  • Manifesto  –  Serbian director Dušan Makavejev comes to the States and adapts a novella by Émile Zola (Pour une nuit d’amour).
  • The Bear  –  Jean-Jacques Annaud was never great with his actors but does better here directing bears.  Adapted from the novel The Grizzly King.
  • We’re No Angels  –  No wonder Neil Jordan went back to Ireland after being given films like this and High Spirits (well, he wrote that but it was vastly changed in editing out of his hands).  Much better than it should have been but based on a Bogie film which was based on a play this film should have sucked and was nowhere near showing off the talents of the man who had made Mona Lisa.  We’re down to low ***.
  • Ashik Kerib  –  Soviet film based on the Lermontov short story.
  • 36 Fillette  –  For her second film (12 years after her first), Catherine Breillat once again adapts her own novel and it once again deals with a precocious teenage girl’s sexuality.  I would say that this will also be the case for all the Breillat films going forward but after this she stops adapting her own novels and just writes original scripts that usually deal with a precocious teenage girl’s sexuality (not always – sometimes the sexuality is of a young woman after her teen years).
  • Blaze  –  Starting with this film, for a few years Lolita Davidovich was considered kind of an “it girl” with people focused on her sexuality which I never understood because I didn’t think she was much of an actress and didn’t find her to be that attractive.  To me the strength of this film is Paul Newman’s performance as Earl Long.  Based on the memoir of stripper Blaze Starr about her affair with Long.
  • Journey to Melonia  –  Swedish Animated adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
  • Miss Firecracker  –  For Christmas of 1992, our family bought the game Taboo.  The goal of the game is to guess what your partner has on their card without them using any of the “taboo” words.  So, for instance, the word might be “firecracker” and the taboo things might be “Fourth of July”, “Independence Day” and such.  But my brother Kelly and I were a team and Kelly quickly realized that if he could turn whatever the word was into a film reference, I could get it in a second.  This was one of the first examples when he said “Holly Hunter is Miss…” and I added “Firecracker”.  Which is pretty good for being three years after this film finished the year at #148 at the box office.  Based on the play The Miss Firecracker Contest by Beth Henley (who won a Pulitzer for Crimes of the Heart).
  • A Taxing Woman’s Return  –  Probably not a surprise to find this is a sequel to A Taxing Woman, both of them Japanese Comedies.
  • Cousins  –  Mediocre remake of the solid French comedy Cousin Cousine which had earned several major Oscar noms back in 1976.
  • An Enemy of the People  –  Maybe Satyajit Ray isn’t meant for Henrik Ibsen because his adaptation of Ibsen’s play is one of his weaker films.
  • Asterix and the Big Fight  –  The latest Animated Asterix film combines elements from Asterix and the Big Fight and Asterix and the Soothsayer.
  • The Rainbow  –  We drop to **.5 with Ken Russell once again returning to D.H. Lawrence but this adaptation of the very good novel (it made my Top 200) is a far cry from his Women in Love.
  • Babar: The Movie  –  Odd that I never read the Asterix books growing up (though my brothers had) because the Tintin books and Babar books were something my family picked up in France.  So I grew up reading Babar and was thus even more bummed when this film version of everyone’s favorite elephant turned out to be so relentlessly mediocre.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier  –  Otherwise known as Star Trek V: Plotholes for reasons I explain in my review.  By the way, I can now list over 100 films from this year worse than this Razzie winner with over 40 of them listed below.
  • Worth Winning  –  My mother is constantly confusing people who shouldn’t be confused (like Jim Broadbent and Hugh Bonneville who are so different in age that they play the same character in a film at different ages!) but when I was first getting into films I constantly mixed up Lesley Ann Warren (one of Mark Harmon’s love interests in this mediocre Romantic Comedy based on a novel by Dan Lewandowski) and Susan Sarandon who were both super sexy redheads (or close to it, depending on their hair) in films I was seeing at the time who look alike and are only six weeks apart in age.
  • Cheetah  –  Given that I saw both Little Nikita and The Great Outdoors multiple times even though they’re both terrible because I thought Lucy Deakins was super cute I don’t understand how I never saw this film until this year which also has her in it.  Disney Kids film based on the novel by Alan Caillou.  Mid **.5.
  • The Rachel Papers  –  I’ve never really liked Martin Amis’ books so even though I have seen this film adaptation of his novel, I haven’t bothered with the novel itself.
  • Crusoe  –  Under the heading of “cinematographers shouldn’t direct films because they’re not great with telling a story”, six time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel directs Aidan Quinn in this version of the classic Defoe novel.
  • Family Business  –  Of course, even truly great directors can misfire like Sidney Lumet does here with this film that brings us down to low **.5.  With three generations of criminals played by Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick you think you have the making of a good film but even without looking at their actual ages (seven years between Connery and Hoffman) it’s pretty clear that it’s ridiculous to ever think Connery could be Hoffman’s father.  Based on the novel by Vincent Patrick.
  • Millennium  –  Penultimate film from former Oscar nominee Michael Anderson is a Sci-Fi that was originally a short story called “Air Raid” by John Varley.
  • Mala Noche  –  From former Oscar nominee to future Oscar nominee with Gus Van Sant’s debut film finally getting an L.A. release four years after it was made.  Based on the novel by Walt Curtis.
  • Iguana  –  Strange film about a disfigured man based on the novel by Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa and I have no idea why I’ve even seen it.
  • Farewell to the King  –  Adventure film starring Nick Nolte based on the novel by Pierre Schoendoerffer.
  • Jeweller’s Shop  –  Another Michael Anderson film (released before Millennium) this one, believe it or not, based on a play by Karol Józef Wojtyła before he became Pope John Paul II.
  • Ghostbusters II  –  We drop to ** with this lackluster sequel that I haven’t bothered to watch in close to 30 years (but didn’t see in the theater).
  • Paperhouse  –  Roger Ebert gave **** to this film based on the novel Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr but I’m not with him on that one.
  • Great Balls of Fire!  –  Lifeless biopic of Jerry Lee Lewis but with Winona Ryder playing his 13 year old first cousin once removed (she had just turned 17 when it was filmed) you can understand why he would marry her.  Based on her biography of her husband (I was gonna say “because he was dead” but holy crap, 30 years after that film came out and he’s not only still alive he’s apparently still performing!).
  • Alice  –  Jan Švankmajer is an imaginative filmmaker but he’s not good with story-telling so his “animated” films (they’re basically claymation) are fascinating but often not very good.  This is his version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation  –  Has somehow become considered a “Christmas classic” but not in the sense of restoring your faith in humanity (It’s a Wonderful Life) or having wonderfully written characters and a heart-warming ending that overcomes massive logical issues (Love Actually) but more in the sense of Elf in that it’s perfectly fine for the whole family to watch, it’s about Christmas and it doesn’t suck although honestly, I have it at mid ** so I kind of think it sucks.  The third film in the Griswold family series.
  • Bloodhounds of Broadway  –  Four different Damon Runyon stories are combined to make one rather lifeless film.
  • Dad  –  Oh, fuck me.  Ted Danson and Ethan Hawke?  I don’t know how I survived this three generation story.  Based on the novel by William Wharton which is the novel he wrote between Birdy and A Midnight Clear both of which were made into much better films.
  • Triumph of the Spirit  –  A true story about a man who was forced by SS guards to box other prisoners at Auschwitz for their amusement was assumed to be Oscar bait but they forgot to actually make a good film.  Known for being the first film to actually film at Auschwitz (obviously not counting Night and Fog, the film that, along with Anne Frank, made me an atheist).  I’m leaving it here but I don’t actually think it is adapted.  The old oscars.org listed it as such but neither the IMDb or Wikipedia list a source.  TCM lists Simon Winhelberg as having written a book though their link to Wincelberg describes Christoph Waltz.  AFI lists Wincelberg as being involved at one point early on but that his script wasn’t used and he receives no credit.  Whether it’s adapted or original, it’s a film that wants to be very important but isn’t very good.
  • Let it Ride  –  Silly Richard Dreyfuss Comedy about gambling and horse racing both of which bore me.  Based on the novel Good Vibes by Jay Cronley whose Funny Farm was in 1988 and who will be back again next year (with a better film though I have never read any of these novels).
  • The Karate Kid Part III  –  The first film in this project that I saw in the theater and have never seen again.  I had seen the second film in the theater and it was much better than this crap.  So bad that it wasn’t until last year while working on my Columbia post that I finally saw the fourth film and the remake.
  • The Phantom of the Opera  –  We drop to low ** with this weak adaptation of the classic Leroux novel (which I happen to really love).  Like the 1998 Les Miserables, made I think to capitalize on the success of the stage musical while waiting for the film version of the musical to be made and both times it would take over a decade for that to happen.
  • She-Devil  –  How much do the Globes love Meryl?  They nominated her for this crap over Winona Ryder (Heathers), Mary Steenburgen (Parenthood), Isabella Rossellini (Cousins) or Holly Hunter (Miss Firecracker).  Based on the novel by Fay Weldon.
  • The Fly II  –  We drop to *.5 with this sequel to Cronenberg’s film with Eric Stoltz playing the son of Jeff Goldblum’s character.  Went from Cronenberg to Chris Walas, who did the creature effects on the first film as the director.
  • Johnny Handsome  –  One of numerous films that failed to make Mickey Rourke a star.  Adapted from the novel by John Godey.
  • Godzilla vs Biollante  –  I’ll see any film with Godzilla in the title but that doesn’t mean that you should.  This film, the second in the Heisei series and 17th overall, is terrible.
  • Pet Sematary  –  I haven’t yet seen this year’s remake though I might have by the time this posts and it’s supposed to be pretty good but it couldn’t be worse than this crap.  Doesn’t help that it’s one of King’s lesser books (his worst through both 1983 when it was published and 1989 when the film was released).
  • Pumpkinhead  –  We drop to * with this Horror film based on a poem by Ed Justin.  Another film directed by an effects creator (the brilliant Stan Winston).
  • Slaves of New York  –  Merchant-Ivory should have stuck with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala as their screenwriter because they get Tama Janowitz to adapt her own stories.  Included in Roger Ebert’s I Hated Hated Hated This Movie with the great opening line of his review: “I detested Slaves of New York so much that I distrust my own opinion.”
  • Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers  –  Michael Myers is still killing people and poor Donald Pleasance as Dr. Sam Loomis is still trying to stop him.
  • Stepfather II  –  The original was bad.  This one is shitty.
  • Edge of Sanity  –  You would think Anthony Perkins would be a good Jekyll and Hyde but this very bad version of the novel would prove you wrong.
  • Three Fugitives  –  Since Martin Short starring in a film is usually a reason I don’t watch it, I will cite what I said in 1988 about trying to see every Disney film.  Remake of a French film and it’s awful.
  • Communion  –  Is it Drama?  Horror?  Sci-Fi?  It’s bad is what it is.  Mid-level * based on the book by Whitley Strieber.
  • The Return of Swamp Thing  –  Give people a sequel no one is asking for and no one will see it.  In the same year that Batman was the #1 film of the year (by a long way) this, the other DC film in the year, couldn’t make the Top 200 making less than $1 for every $1000 that Batman made.  First of two films close together in which the original (far superior) film was directed by Wes Craven.
  • American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt  –  I would ask why they made three of these but they actually made five.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child  –  When I wrote my description for the fourth film in the franchise for 1988 I initially wrote “the franchise hits rock bottom and that’s not hyperbole because all of the films after this will actually be better” but when I checked my spreadsheet I realized this one is actually the bottom which shows that this franchise is much better than Friday the 13th which is lower and will stay down there while this franchise will have a bit of a rebound at least.  We’re down to the .5 films now.
  • To Die For  –  Dracula in modern Los Angeles.  They actually stuck Bram Stoker’s name on the title for the video release, maybe to capitalize on Coppola’s film.  It’s hard to get a greater discrepancy on two unrelated films with the same title than the 85 points between this film and Van Sant’s film.
  • Fletch Lives  –  This film is so agonizingly stupid that it brings down the original because it does badly many of the things that the first film did well (or at least tolerably).  Even though Gregory Mcdonald wrote 11 Fletch books this is based on none of them.
  • Wired  –  I remember Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi at the SNL 15th Anniversary show and I’m gonna try to do this from memory: “Hi, I’m Jim Belushi, John’s little brother.”  “And I’m Dan Aykroyd, John’s other little brother.”  After that they said something about John then Dan said “Those who were there will know and will always know; those who were not there will never know and will be forgotten.”  Clearly Bob Woodward won’t be forgotten but thankfully most people seem to have forgotten this book and gone back to remembering what he has been as a political journalist.  I’ve never read the book which was widely panned as a hit job but the film, with Belushi being driven around through his life by a cabbie and then interviewed by Woodward in his dying moments is just utter shit.  I met Jim at a book signing at Borders and we had some jackass who tried to claim he knew John and Jim asked him two questions that proved he didn’t and then shut him down.  He’s clearly protective of his brother’s memory and I don’t blame him especially when a movie this shitty has been made about him.
  • Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan  –  More Jason crap.  The lowest grossing film in the series until 2002 and it still couldn’t kill the franchise although it would be the last one in the franchise made at Paramount.
  • Police Academy 6: City Under Siege  –  Worse than the Jason movie.  Nuff said.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • A Chorus of Disapproval  –  If you think of an Alan Ayckbourn play as “notable” then you are in theater or have a degree in Literature but I had a friend who was in Henceforward when we were in college and I was fascinated.  Plus this film has both Jeremy Irons and Anthony Hopkins yet seems to be completely unavailable.

The highest grossing adapted film of 1989 I haven’t seen is Fright Night II way down at #132 for the year ($2.98 mil).  The only two films in the Top 100 I haven’t seen (She’s Lost Control, Troop Beverly Hills) are both original.  The highest grossing non-sequel adapted film I haven’t seen is Winter People (#143, $2.02 mil).

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