Friday, April 14, 2023

Notes on Film: Ultimate Dad Movies!

 by Anthony King

Anthony's Ultimate Sunday Afternoon Dad Movie Birthday Marathon.

Life has been... extra, lately. I am grateful to have this time on a Thursday morning where the windows are open, a dog is snoring on the floor, and Bob Ross is on the TV. This evening I'm off to my first ever hockey practice, so I need to relish this quiet moment. Things have been so hectic lately that I haven't watched a movie in four days as of this writing. Not that I'm complaining. I think it's perfectly ok to take a break from doing what we love. Because of the dearth of movies in my life as of late I only have one to recommend.
I'm currently reading Amanda Reyes's fabulous book, Are You in the House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999 and it's really gotten me in the mood to watch classic TVMs. I've also discovered a few '80s cop titles that I hadn't included in my Neon Badges list. The Case of the Hillside Stranglers is a TVM starring Richard Crenna (looking almost identical to George Segal), Dennis Farina, and Billy Zane directed by TVM veteran Steve Gethers which aired on April 2, 1989 on NBC. Based on the true story of the “two of a kind” killers – so dubbed by the media as the “Hillside Stranglers'' – it follows Crenna as a detective trying to catch the killers behind a string of murders where the bodies of girls and young women between the ages of 12-28 were dumped in the hills surrounding Los Angeles. Farina and Zane play serial killer cousins terrorizing the city with Karen Austin, James Tolkan, Robert Harper, and Tony Plana in support. Farina plays the smug character we were used to seeing, only this time he's extra slimy. As a fairly early role for Zane we see the makings of one of the great bad guy character actors. The way he mixes malevolence and charm is unmatched. And Crenna has never been better as a world-weary grizzled detective who plays the stereotypical cop whose job has encompassed his life, leaving a divorce and two neglected teenage children in its wake. It's a quick 90-minute pot-boiler proving once again they don't make 'em like they used to. The Case of the Hillside Stranglers is currently streaming on Paramount Plus.

My birthday is next Thursday and I thought I'd merge into Patrick's lane for a minute and create my own birthday marathon. To me, nothing is as comforting as the type of movie I call a “Sunday Afternoon Dad Movie.” Here's how I define it on Letterboxd: “Your dad. A little conservative in his values and entertainment choices, but he adores your gay best friend. He likes his manly man movies. But he also likes that emotional hook that’ll bring him to tears (but he’ll never admit it). Nothing too violent, though. None of that gore stuff. And definitely no hippies. Cagney and Bogart. Nolte and Gibson. Kirk. Fucking. Douglas, Jerry Lewis, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner. And Bronson, of course. He’s worked hard all week and wants to 'rest his eyes' while these movies flicker on the giant tube tv in front of him.” I love a good dad movie, so some day, if I ever get the time, this is the ultimate dad movie marathon I would watch for my birthday.

Dirty Harry (Don Siegel | 1971)
Clint Eastwood is the ultimate dad movie star and no one screams dad movie louder than dirty Harry Callahan. The mayor (John Vernon) has tasked Callahan and his rookie partner Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni) to hunt down a psychotic sniper deemed “Scorpio” (Andrew Robinson). San Francisco is the most cinematic city in my opinion, and Siegel and company spared no expense at showcasing why it's the perfect place to set your cop movie. I'll pour myself a cup of coffee, grab a pecan roll, and let Harry make my day.

Pray for the Wildcats (Robert Michael Lewis | 1974)
It just ain't an Anthony marathon without some Marjoe. And as much as I love sweet Matlock and Andy Taylor, nothing compares to sadistic Andy Griffith (see also A Face in the Crowd [1957]). Griffith plays a business tycoon who is the latest big fish on the line of an ad agency. The three mad men trying to reel him in are Marjoe Gortner, Robert Reed, and William Shatner. Griffith tells his potential marketing team that he'll sign the contract if they come down to the Baja Peninsula with him for a cross country dirt bike trek. Shatner has recently been laid off by the agency but is allowed this one last trip. He feels useless and lost without a career, so he plans to commit suicide down south (making it look like a motorcycle accident) so his wife (Lorraine Gary) can be awarded his life insurance. The boys get on their bikes and soon discover that Griffith is a hippie-hating psychopath who may or may not have killed a young couple on the beach. More drama unfolds between the three co-workers, and a tense and thrilling time is had by all.

Caddyshack (Harold Ramis | 1980)
It's time to lighten things up with an all-timer. Believe it or not, I've only seen this once, but I loved it so much it's lived in my head ever since. A birthday marathon is the perfect time for a rewatch. I love a good slobs versus snobs story, and what better place to set things than on a golf course at a haughty country club. Add to the mix a Casanova type played by Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield on cocaine, and a countlessly-concussed Bill Murray all grooving to a killer soundtrack by Kenny Loggins and you have a transcendent spring/summer dad movie. (Yes I love golfing and yes I'll be golfing for my birthday.)

The Nice Guys (Shane Black | 2016)
I think Shane Black might be the preeminent dad movie filmmaker of the past 35 years. No one writes action-comedy like Black, and The Nice Guys is his pièce de résistance. Ryan Gosling is my favorite working actor, and Russell Crowe is in the exclusive club of wing back chairs and smoking jackets where the walls are lined with oil paintings of members of the Kings of Cool. You'll laugh to the point of tears; you'll be sitting on the edge of your seat; you'll feel the tug at your heartstrings. This is without a doubt one of the greatest movies of the 21st century.

Backdraft (Ron Howard | 1991)
I remember watching this with my wife a few years ago, and at the end – you know the line – I started crying as usual. She looked at me and said, “Are you really crying?” OF COURSE I WAS REALLY CRYING I'M NOT A ROBOT! While there are countless things I love about it, there are two things that really sell Backdraft for me. 1.) It's one of the great Chicago movies, showcasing so many different parts of the city. 2.) Fire trucks! I don't care what anyone thinks but I'll be 41 in a week and I still get excited about fire trucks (and big boats and tractors and...). The cast is to die for – Russell, Baldwin, De Niro, Sutherland, Jason Leigh, Glenn, De Mornay, McGee, Walsh – and we're dealing with real fire here, people! Nothing makes me more frustrated than seeing CGI fire and blood in a movie. But in Backdraft things feel dangerous and the emotions run high.

Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson | 1989)
We're closing out my ultimate dad movie marathon with another all-timer. And why not have back-to-back films that make me sob like a little child? This was one of the few VHS tapes we owned in the early '90s that got worn out after hundreds of plays (along with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and The Mighty Ducks). While the end – where Ray plays catch with his dad – juices my tear ducts like and orange, there are at least a half dozen other instances that flood my eyes with tears just because they are perfect cinematic moments. Goosebumps, chills, hair standing on end, the works. When Ray tells Annie he's supposed to go to Boston and she says she had the same dream; when Ray flips a U-turn and Terry is standing right there; when Ray spots Doc walking down the sidewalk; when Archie tells Ray and Terry his name; I have goosebumps right now as I'm writing these words. Maybe it's nostalgia, but I can't find a single thing I don't like about this movie. It's unadulterated perfection. And it's the perfect end for an Ultimate Sunday Afternoon Dad Movie marathon.


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  2. About The Nice Guys, i remember Russel Crowe in interviews about the movie, saying he didn't know if he could do comedy before starting the movie. And i was shouting at my tv "of course you can, just do funny things seriously and you're there"

    Anyway, Russel was funny 😁

    1. That's weird, I automatically thought "of course he can do comedy", but looking at his filmography, there's way less comedy there than I was imagining. He has been in a couple romantic comedies, and at least one straight out comedy in his early days in Australia.

      But agreed, very funny in The Nice Guys! I showed it to my son a couple of weeks ago, and he liked it a lot too.

  3. You're taking up hockey Anthony? That's fun! It's a great sport, and never too late to get started. I only played occasionally as a kid, but started playing regularly as an adult and still playing a couple times a week. I'm a lot more sore the morning after these days, but the fun and exercise is worth it. Good luck!

  4. Also, I need to see Backdraft. I feel like Adam Riske mentions it favourably a lot, so it's become an "undeniable classic" in my mind, despite having never seen it.