July 31, 2009

Defining Films of the Decades - The 40s

Here is part 2 in this eight part series:

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Henry Fonda’s moving portrayal as beaten but not bowed Tom Joad reflected the plight of millions of Americans in the forties who were still suffering the effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

Citizen Kane (1941)

Quite simply, a textbook for modern, expressionistic filmmaking. Director Orson Welles innovative work in cinematography (including his use of deep focus and low angle and crane shots) was daringly bold, as there was no way to know what critics and audiences would make of it. Welles broke similar ground in the art of film editing (using it to compress time) and sound mixing (as a way to provide continuity and demonstrate contrast.) The end result was a film of unmatched technical achievement that presented its characters and story in ways audiences had never experienced prior.

Double Indemnity (1944)

Billy Wilder’s classic was the most critically acclaimed and influential of the film noir (“dark film”) genre that turned the movie industry on its ear by challenging Hollywood's Production Code and presenting stories that explored murder, sex, adultery, and other elements of society that until that time, had either been romanticized or ignored by American filmmakers.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

This movie’s theme and storyline been borrowed for dozens of subsequent films (Mr. Destiny, The Family Man, Click) and TV shows (episodes of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Cheers, Married With Children, Moonlighting) but it’s been a beloved holiday classic for decades.

THE Defining Film of the 1940s:

Casablanca (1942)

One of the most overrated films of all time that’s still left an indelible impression on our popular culture, in part due to Humphrey Bogart’s iconic characterization of boozy, cynical club owner Rick Blaine; the classic Herman Hupfeld composition “As Time Goes By”; and the film’s enduring quotability (“Of all the gin joints…”; “Here’s looking at you kid”; “This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, etc.)

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July 29, 2009

Family Guy's Funniest Pop Culture References

One of the things that makes Family Guy so great are the hilarious references to other TV shows, classic movies, hit songs, TV commercials, toys, games and other pop culture phenomena.

Whether they're imagining Optimus Prime as a Jew, the dad from Eight is Enough as an abusive father, or Stewie rocking out to Scandal's "The Warrior" in his own iPod commercial, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and his writing team consistently come up with the most creative parodies and send ups ever. That being said, here are some of Family Guy's funniest pop culture references.

Meg dates The Count from Sesame Street.

Darth Vader is a meter maid and is having a very bad day.

Peter stumbles upon a different type of Breakfast Club

Peter creates his own sitcom with an intro reminiscent of Laverne & Shirley, Family Ties, Three's Company, Bosom Buddies, and more.

Chris wanders into a-ha's "Take On Me" video.

Why ghosts choose Jennifer Love Hewitt to be their whisperer.

Peter joins The Electric Company.

July 26, 2009

Defining Films of the Decades - The 30s

Was listening to Bill Simmons' podcast recently, as he spoke with writer/reporter Chris Connelly. The two were debating what they believed to be "the defining film of this decade", with the criteria being excellence, rewatchability, and creativity.

Simmons mentioned Almost Famous -- which is positively ridiculous. Think about it, the defining movie of this decade is set in the 1970s?

I'm hereby adding new criteria to the mix -- to "define" a decade, a film needs to be in some way inherently "in and of" that particular decade. In some way, it needs to reveal or reflect the decades' current events, social issues, trends, tastes, mores, creative sensibilities or significant artistic styles.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not specifically excluding historical dramas, period pieces, or any other films, but come on... a decade's "defining" film should have qualities that identify or represent the prevailing nature, qualities and characteristics of that decade, or at least the prevailing nature, qualities and characteristics of filmmaking during that decade.

With this in mind, I'm starting a new series with my own list of the defining films of the decades, beginning with the 1930s:

Runners Up

King Kong (1933)
The giant ape on top of the Empire State Building is the most enduring film image of the decade. King Kong pioneered the use of special effects (including miniatures, rear projection, and the stop-motion animation that would eventually evolve into today’s cgi) and dazzled audiences in the process. The film was also one of the very first to feature a completely original score.

Top Hat (1935)
The thirties were the golden age of the grand Hollywood musical. Top Hat was the classiest of these and its songs were the breakthrough film work of legendary composer Irving Berlin.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Taking a stand against government corruption and bureaucracy, Jimmy Stewart, as in many of his films, was the personification of the 1930s everyman.

Gone With the Wind (1939)
When you adjust for inflation, remarkably, this 70 year old epic is still the highest grossing movie of all time.

THE Defining Film of the 1930s

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A nearly perfect film in every respect, from the casting, to the costumes, to the songs and score, and it’s lasting moral –- no matter where you go in life, there’s no place like home.

Related Posts

Defining Films of the Decades - The 60s

Defining Films of the Decades - The 50s
Defining Films of the Decades - The 40s

July 19, 2009

"The Ultimate 80s Movie Quiz"

Sorry, we've been away from the blog so long, but in our defense, it was our first lapse in over 6 months. Anyway, now that we're back, prepare to take The Ultimate 80s Movie Quiz!

A word of warning, this quiz is not for the faint of heart. None of these questions are easy, so unless you've seen the movie in question multiple times, you're gonna have a tough time. And while some of the answers can be found by Google-ing, for others, the internet won't help you at all.

Lastly, for questions marked with an asterisk, the answer can be found somewhere in a post on this blog (browse the site or use the search tool if you like.)

Good luck!


  1. What high school do the guys in Porky’s attend?

  2. While presenting at the Oscars, actress Kim Basinger scolded the Academy for failing to nominate this 1989 film for Best Picture.

  3. To date, cast members from Fast Times at Ridgement High have earned this many Academy Award nominations.

  4. Which co-star of The Legend of Billie Jean is best known for voice characterizations on a popular TV series?

  5. “Two dollars!” is a line repeated in which 1985 teen comedy?

  6. “The Sorels” are a fictional singing group in this movie.*

  7. In the 1987 comedy Summer School, what was the character Chainsaw’s real name (not the real name of the actor)?

  8. In All the Right Moves, Brian (Christopher Penn) gets a scholarship to play football at what college?

  9. This guitarist in a popular 80s band had a cameo delivering a singing telegram in a 1986 comedy. Name the person and the movie.

  10. Laurence Fishbourne plays the same character in the movie Hoodlum as he does in this 1984 film.

  11. On the current TV show Chuck, Tony Hale plays the Buy More’s efficiency expert Emmett Milbarge, which is a mash-up of two characters’ names from this 1985 film.*

  12. Complete these character pairings from Top Gun:
    - Maverick and __________
    - Iceman and ___________
    - __________ and Wolfman

  13. What’s the brand of the lawnmower Kevin Bacon and his neighbors argue over in She’s Having a Baby?

  14. In Die Hard, what does Chief Robinson (Paul Gleason) say after the two Agent Johnsons’ helicopter is shot down?

  15. In Back to School, Thornton Mellon (Rodney Dangerfield) recites a poem by this author:
    - Kurt Vonnegut
    - Robert Frost
    - Dylan Thomas
    - Longfellow

  16. This 1982 film featured Matt Dillon and Emilio Estevez and was based on a book by S.E. Hinton*

  17. This mid-80s film had the same title as a Beatles song and starred Keanu Reeves.

  18. This actress was originally cast as Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman, then later feuded with the director when she was passed over for the role of Catwoman in the sequel.

  19. At the beginning of Back to the Future, who has a cameo as the faculty member that rejects Marty’s band because they’re “too darn loud.”

  20. “Isn't that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gun fight.” is a line from what 80s gangster film?
    - Scarface
    - Once Upon a Time in America
    - The Untouchables

  21. This film was the first theatrical release from Tri-Star Pictures.*

  22. What 80s film starring Carl Weathers was also the name of a popular toy from the 1970s?

  23. In Caddyshack, Ty (Chevy Chase) tells Danny he had a college roommate named ________________.

  24. In On Golden Pond, what’s the name of the fish Henry Fonda has been trying to catch for years?

  25. In A Fish Called Wanda, Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) can’t resist when Otto (Kevin Kline) speaks this language:
    - Spanish
    - Portuguese
    - French
    - Italian

  26. In The Natural, what team does Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) play for?*

  27. The forgotten 1981 film Neighbors features John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and what other Saturday Night Live alumnus.

  28. "The Duke of New York" is a character in this film.

  29. In The Naked Gun, what’s the name of the opera singer Frank Drebbin (Leslie Neilsen) impersonates?

  30. What actor and martial artist had one of their first onscreen roles in 1984’s Breakin’?*
    - Jean Claude Van Damme
    - Steven Seagal
    - Chuck Norris
    - Michelle Yeoh
    - Cynthia Rothrock

  31. This 1987 comedy was remade years later with the title Love Don’t Cost a Thing.

  32. In Diner, Boogie (Mickey Rourke) makes a bet he can get his date to "touch his pecker” in the movie theater. What’s his date’s name and what movie are they watching?

  33. In Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, this Buffy the Vampire Slayer actress plays a student who explains to the teacher (Ben Stein) why Ferris is absent.

  34. What was so unusual about the animal ridden by Tanya Roberts in 1984's Sheena?

  35. In Youngblood, how many hockey goals did Dean Youngblood (Rob Lowe) supposedly score in the junior leagues?

  36. In Airplane, what’s Johnny’s response when McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) tells him, “The fog is getting thicker.”

  37. List all of the James Bond movies released in the 1980s.

  38. What reality TV star had a role in the 1984’s Up the Creek?

  39. In 1986’s Aliens, which character dies first:
    - Apone
    - Hicks
    - Newt
    - Dietrich
    - Vazquez

  40. In A Christmas Story, what does the secret Little Orphan Annie message turn out to be?

  41. In No Way Out, Kevin Costner's character Tom Farrell is actually a Russian operative named ______________.

  42. In 48 Hours, what song does Reggie (Eddie Murphy) sing in his jail cell?

  43. In the early 80s this actor came out of 20+ year retirement to play a role in a Best Picture nominee. Name the actor and the movie.

  44. In Terms of Endearment, Jack Nicholson plays Garrett Breedlove, a retired
    - baseball player
    - college professor
    - tennis instructor
    - astronaut

  45. The 1985 film Visionquest featured this hit by Madonna:
    - "Into the Groove"
    - "Dress You Up"
    - "Papa Don’t Preach"
    - "Crazy for You"
    - "Borderline"

  46. “It can't be bargained with, it can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and it absolutely will not stop… ever… until you are dead.” is from what film?

  47. The story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry is recounted in what film?*

  48. According to Conan the Barbarian, what is best in life?

  49. What's the name of the male stripper in Bachelor Party?

  50. In When Harry Met Sally, who plays the woman with the classic line, "I'll have what she's having."

July 5, 2009

Al Franken Wins Senate Seat (Finally)

We missed a lot of news over the past week or so, including the fact that the Minnesota Senatorial race was finally decided last week. (Are you kidding me? It took eight months to settle this thing?... Only in America.)

Anyway, for those who weren't aware, they've been trying to figure out who won this thing since way back on election day in November. Turns out, it was one of the closest elections in the history of American politics, with less than 300 votes finally separating the two candidates. Then there were recounts, and protests, and more recounts, and then it went to the courts and now, finally, your newest United States Senator is... former Saturday Night Live writer and cast member Al Franken...


Exactly... We barely remember this guy from SNL but we dug into the Pop Culture Fiend Archives and found this clip from 1988 that refreshed our memories. In it, Franken plays televangelist Pat Robertson (ironically enough, at a time when Robertson himself was running for President. )

Al Franken as Pat Robertson
Uploaded by popculturefiend

July 2, 2009

Is an All Star Michael Jackson Tribute Concert in the Works?

As far as the rumored All-Star Michael Jackson Tribute Concert is concerned, right now we're still trying to separate fact from fiction. We'll stay on it but in the meantime, if there is a show, here's a few things we'd like to see:

Sheryl Crow performing "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", the song she and Michael dueted on when she sang backup with him on the Bad tour.

Mariah Carey crooning "You Are Not Alone".

Usher recreating the Motown 25 "Billie Jean" performance.

Beyonce' doing anything (because she can.)

Madonna (Ditto.)

A tender performance of "Gone Too Soon" by John Legend.

The Jonas Brothers trading verses on the "I Want You Back/ABC/The Love You Save" medley.

Linkin Park rocking "Can You Feel It".

Bono doing "Man in the Mirror".

Seal doing "The Lady in My Life".

A bluesy John Mayer version of "Who's Loving You".

Black Eyed Peas taking on "Wanna Be Starting Something".

Prince, Slash and Eddie Van Halen ripping it up on "Beat It" and "Black or White".

Alicia Keys doing "She's Out of My Life".

Lady Gaga doing "Smooth Criminal".

Diana Ross holding back tears as she does "I'll Be There".

Lionel Richie closing the show and leading everyone on "We Are the World".

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July 1, 2009

The Real Reasons Why Michael Jackson Was Important

Everyone from my generation remembers where they were when certain events occurred. JFK was shot before we were born. We were toddlers for the moon landing and Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. We were a little older when Elvis Presley and John Lennon passed, but we missed seeing them in their primes and didn't fully understand their significance and their impact on the culture until later. We were grownups when Princess Diana and JFK Jr. died tragically, and yes, that was sad. But for my generation, the events we remember most... the surreal moments... the ones that touched us to core... the ones that stopped time... the Challenger explosion, OJ, 9-11... and now this... Michael Jackson's death.

Of all the landmark events mentioned, Elvis' death best approximates what my generation is experiencing with the death of Michael Jackson. In many ways, the two events are startling similar. Two individuals that were immensely talented singers and performers, but who were also transcendent artists that became absolute phenomenons. Each branched out beyond the world of music to make their marks in television, movies and, in Jackson's case, music videos. Each saw their careers dip sharply in their later years. Sadly, each contributed to their own self destruction through excess, drug abuse, and increasingly eccentric behavior. Lastly, Elvis and Michael both died unexpectedly, and at the time of their deaths, left a legacy as the best-selling artist of the rock era and the greatest entertainer of all time.

I'm not going to go on and on and provide a retrospective on Jackson's life and career. (There're a hundred websites and TV programs that have been and will continue to do that over the next several days and weeks.) Instead, I'm blogging this largely for the young people out there, many of whom, I suspect, don't fully understand the impact Michael had on music and our popular culture. The same way my generation couldn't fully understand Elvis' impact, anyone under the age of 30 probably doesn't understand Michael's.

To correct this, I won't rehash the usual list of stats and achievements (this many million albums sold, this many number one hits, that many Grammys.) Again, I'll leave that to others. Truth be told, there've been a lot of artists who have reached the top, sold millions, won countless awards, and will be long-remembered. But Jackson's uniqueness, the hows and the whys of his revolutionizing of the music world, the way he and his music uniquely resonated with Americans and others all over the world, and the ways in which he continuously broke new ground during his career -- that's what needs to be underscored right now.

The first thing that needs to be understood, is that the word I mentioned earlier, "phenomenon", is not one to use lightly. As far as the music world is concerned, Spice Girls', and New Kids On The Block tours broke box office records; Bruce Springsteen was on cover of both Time and Newsweek; Mariah Carey signed a record-breaking $80 million dollar recording contract. But when it comes to actual phenomenons, there was Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson.

So how did these phenomenons come to be? Well, Elvis was at the forefront of popular music's defining movement of the 20th century -- rock and roll. In the mid and late 50s, Elvis succeeded in rising above his contemporaries and it was HIS voice and face that became synonymous with the rock and roll style that would come to dominate American popular music.

The Beatles were a little different. One of the definitions of phenomenon is "an unsually significant, often unaccountable occurrence." The key word in this instance is "unaccountable". In no way am I disparaging the band or dismissing their talent (I am in fact, a HUGE Beatles fan.) But the Beatles phenomenon began, in many ways, as case of "right time, right place", as the charismatic group inexplicably captured the imaginations of Germans in Hamburg, their fellow Brits, and finally Americans.

The Michael Jackson phenomenon has similarities to both Elvis' and the Fab Four's. Jackson came along at a time when the new medium of music video was fundamentally changing the way artists were performing, connecting with their fans, defining their images, and marketing themselves and their music. Many of the top acts of the time (Springsteen, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne) as talented as they were, struggled with how to leverage this new medium to its fullest. But Jackson's natural ability and creativity as a singer, dancer and performer gave him the total package and he alone emerged as the single greatest artist of the MTV era (1981-1991).

Indeed, Jackson practically invented the music video, taking it from its primitive beginnings as simple filmed live or studio performances (sometimes enhanced with cheesy special effects) to expressionistic narratives with creative cinematography and choreography. Jackson pioneered the "performer out front with backup dancers" style of video, which became the paradigm for many other artists from the eighties (Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefied"), nineties (Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation"), into the new millineum (Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again"), and even today (Beyonce's "Single Ladies".) Also with regard to music videos, Jackson's "Billie Jean" (along with Prince's "1999" and Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue") were the first videos by black artists to be played on MTV.

A gifted dancer from birth, Jackson enhanced this natural ability by adding in double and triple James Brown-like spins, as well as pops, locks and moonwalks he borrowed from 80s b-boys.

As a result of all this, Jackson forever raised the bar for what we could expect from artists in concert. Singing AND dancing became much more of an expectation, and Michael represented the zenith of the multi-talented performer, paving the way for the likes of Madonna, Paula Abdul, MC Hammer, Jennifer Lopez, Usher, Shakira, and countless others.

Right around the same time that MTV and music videos were taking hold, radio was also changing. FM had recently surpassed AM as the dominant band, and stations were still scrambling to define their formats and find their niche among listeners. Radio though, was still very much segregated. As far fetched as it may seem now, the fact is that right until the early eighties, there was often a considerable gulf between the musical preferences of whites and blacks. "White music" and "black music" and "white radio stations" and "black radio stations" were often mutually exclusive. This not to say that black artists weren't played on white radio (Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and others certainly were) but as he did with MTV, Michael Jackson, moreso than any other, was the artist that contributed most to completely erasing that color line. Tracks from his debut solo album, Off the Wall dominated Top 40 stations. In an era when the public was railing against disco, Jackson was able to blend it with elements of other traditionally black music (pulsing r&b, horn-driven funk, and lush Philly Soul) and inject it with a pop sensibility that appealed to a wider (and "whiter") cross section of listeners. Radio stations, which typically leak singles out 6 to 8 weeks apart, took Off the Wall and ran with it, and "Rock With You", "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough", "She's Out of My Life", and the album's title track received airplay simultaneously. Tracks from 1982's Thriller and 1987's Bad would later get the same treatment.

Songwriting ability, mellifluous voice, and all other talent aside, like The Beatles, there was also something undefineable about Michael Jackson. Despite his shyness, he was tremendously charismatic. Even from his earliest beginnings, when he was signed (along with his brothers) to Motown as a ten year old, Suzanne DePasse, Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, and others at the label agreed that the group had talent, but Michael had "it."

Jackson was long considered a prodigy, but by the time he was twenty-one, he would exceed everyone's expectations by breaking free from both his brothers and Motown and proving himself one of the best voices and creative forces in the business. EVERYONE recognized this, even his peers, the most famous names in music. During the last three decades of the 20th century, many of the top singers (Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Lionel Richie, The Winans, Stevie Wonder, Heavy D., James Ingram, Boyz II Men), producers (Quincy Jones, Bill Bottrell, Teddy Riley, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Dallas Austin, David Foster), and studio musicians (Rod Temperton, Brothers Johnson bassist Louis Johnson, Toto's Steve Lukather and Steve and Jeff Porcaro) collaborated with Michael on projects. And when Michael enlisted axemen Eddie Van Halen and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol's guitarist) to play on "Beat It" and "Dirty Diana", respectively, many fans were introduced to hard rock/metal guitar licks for the very first time.

Pop culture figures outside the music world also teamed with Michael on various projects. He shot videos with Marlon Brando, Michael Jordan, Naomi Campbell, Eddie Murphy, Martin Scorcese and John Landis; made movies with Academy Award winners Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas; performed onstage with Diana Ross, Cher, and James Brown; and launched the careers of Siedah Garrett and Sheryl Crow (whose first big break was as a backup singer on the Bad tour.) Little sister Janet owes a debt to Michael as well. Her career was floundering (with a mediocre debut album and an even less successful sophmore effort) until the fallout from Michael's fame helped refocus attention on her and her Control album.

As I suggested in a previous blog post, it's been said that there often comes a time when a man meets his moment. For Michael, that moment was at the Motown 25 TV Special, where he reunited with his brothers onstage for the first time in eight years, and then brought the house down with a solo performance of "Billie Jean." Though the show included performances by legends like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and The Supremes, all anyone could talk about for the next several days was Michael. It was this performance that saw Michael's instantaneous ascension into the pantheon of not just pop music but pop culture as a whole.

It's hard to deny that Michael was an icon of the highest magnitude. He had the highest selling album of all time and was featured in his own animated TV series. He starred in his own prime time variety show and had Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire publicly marvel at his dancing ability. He was honored by President Reagan at the White House and guest voiced on The Simpsons. And, lest we forget, Michael was also one of the organizers and creative forces behind U.S.A. for Africa and co-writer of "We Are the World". Indeed, Michael contributed so much time and money to charities and humanitarian causes that the Guiness Book of World Records honored him as the "Most Charitable Pop Star of All Time."

For the last week, I've listened to the MJ tributes on various radio stations and watched the retrospectives on BET, MTV, and VH1. What sticks out to me and offers the most consolation for this loss is the stunning amount of music Michael left behind. I've had Jackson's music on vinyl, cassette, and digitally for years, yet still, I'm staggered by both the volume and quality of the music he produced with the Jackson 5, The Jacksons, and on his own. The worst tracks on Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, and Dangerous, are measurably better than most of the cuts by many of today's most popular rock, r&b and hip-hop artists (and I'm sorry, but that's FACT not opinion...)

And it's great that Michael is being shown so much love. It seems very few are remembering the negative about him, including those disturbing accusations of child molestation. I, like most, certainly haven't forgotten about that, or the fact that in this, the age of steroids, philandering politicians, and rampant corporate corruption, you simply can't believe anyone anymore. (In light of the prevailing evidence, the claims made against Michael may very well be much more than just "allegations.")

We also (regrettably) have to acknowledge, the way he destroyed his body with cosmetic surgery. (It's difficult for me to even look at pictures of him in his later years.) We all remember the sham of a marriage to Lisa Marie Presley (which seemed half a clumsy attempt at damage control, and half publicity stunt) and all those increasingly disturbing eccentricities -- from the elephant man's bones, to dangling his baby over the balcony.

But through all of this, what we'll remember most about Michael Jackson is his music, his amazing voice, and all the good memories... J5... Motown... The Ed Sullivan Show... "I Want You Back"... "I'll Be There"... the giant 'fro... dancing the robot... The Jacksons... The "Thriller" video... the glove... the moonwalk... and on and on...

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