Welcome friends and neighbors to a new edition of Happy Birthday... You Should Watch! Lots of birthdays today, February 12th, but I'm narrowing it down to three so this doesn't turn into a novella.
The two going to ignore are Josh Brolin and Michael Ironside. Sorry fellas! But naturally for Brolin I have to go with Inherent Vice (not my favorite movie, but it's probably my favorite Brolin performance... just the chocolate covered banana scene by itself is the best thing he's ever done) and for Michael Ironside... this is tougher. He's been great in so many things... Scanners, Total Recall... But my gut is saying Starship Troopers because he gets to be his usual tough-ass self, but not a villain.
Addams Family Values (1993) – I was going back and forth between two Christina Ricci performances in my mind. The one I was more inclined to focus on was a film called Black Snake Moan. It's great, she's amazing in it and it's not something everybody has seen. But it's also a movie where she spends 2/3rds of it chained to a radiator while wearing nothing but a cut-off shirt and panties, so any image from the movie I wanted to use looked like I was objectifying her. The movie's more than that, so seek it out if you can, but I went with a little bit of a safer pick.
Both early '90s Addams Family movies are great, but I think I may like the sequel better and a big part of that is because of what they do with Wednesday Addams. Addams Family Values splits up the family in more ways than one. Uncle Fester is preyed upon by a money-hungry husband killer (a great turn by Joan Cusack) who gets in-between him and the rest of the family. At the same time the kids are sent to a summer camp.
I was Ricci's age when this movie came out and I'm pretty sure I fell in love while I was in that movie theater. Wednesday's outsider status combined with her gleeful darkness would pretty much define my ideal girlfriend throughout my teenage years. It's no surprise to me that my first longterm girlfriend bore more than a passing resemblance to Ms. Ricci.
The jokes in the movie come at you lightning fast and there's so much charm on display. The chemistry between Raul Julia and Angelica Huston was so note perfect it really does make me sad Julia passed so young and kept us from getting another half-dozen more of these films.
Walking Tall (1973) – Joe Don Baker is one of my favorite character actors. He's probably best known for being Bond's charming American connection in the Pierce Brosnan era (funny since he played a completely different character, a villainous military leader, in The Living Daylights) or the redneck dad in Mars Attacks! Or, for you, MST3K fans, the star of Mitchell, one of the most popular episodes of that point and laugh at bad movies show.
I kinda like Mitchell... it's silly, but typical of the drive-in action fare of the day. But that's not the one I'm going to recommend on Mr. Baker's 82nd birthday. Nope, the one I recommend is called Walking Tall. The Rock remade it with Johnny Knoxville a few years back in one of the most bizarre adaptations in cinema history. They turned it into a PG-13 action film which is absolutely a disservice to the original story.
Walking Tall is a true story based on a real life Southern Sheriff named Buford Pusser. He was a bit of a crime-fighting folk hero known for protecting the people of his small Tennessee town with a hunk of wood. He fought low level crime and corruption in his local government. Mr. Pusser was alive when this film was made and was even supposed to star as himself in the sequel, but died in a car crash. The sequels ended up starring Bo Svenson and did cover his death, framing the car accident as the result of him taking on the corruption in this small town.
Baker is front and center here and force to be reckoned with. He's angry, he's brutal and he's just kind of a regular guy. That was the beauty of the era... character actors could be leads and Joe Don Baker was a great lead here.
Walking Tall was a massive success on the drive-in circuit and for reasons I don't know Baker was one-and-done with it, instead moving on to two truly great '70s films: The Outfit (starring Robert Duvall) and Charlie Varrick (starring Walter Matthau).
You can rent Walking Tall on most of the steaming outlets (YouTube, Amazon, GooglePlay and iTunes). Just make sure you're getting the good one. Remember, it's Walking Tall not Rocking Tall.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) – This one was an easy call. Before his death, the 16th US President Abraham Lincoln was brought to the '80s thanks to a time traveling phone booth to appear in a documentary called Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Mr. Lincoln did a lot of good in his life. He delivered inspiring speeches that are still remembered today, he fought to end slavery, and put in motion a reconstruction effort that would hastily mend a deeply divided nation. It doesn't surprise me he'd help out a couple time traveling kids with their history project. He was just a good dude, you know?
There have been plenty of talented people who have played Lincoln, like Henry Fonda and Daniel Day Lewis, but this marks the only movie where Lincoln was able to play himself and he pulls it off without any camera shyness or awkward line delivery. Obviously all those years giving political speeches prepped him for this, perhaps his greatest moment.
That's it for today. Here are the trailers for all three films we talked about:
Happy birthday Joe Don Baker, Christina Ricci and Abe Lincoln! Party on, dudes!
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