Film Review: Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)

Also known as: The Party (working title)
Release Date: June 12th, 1998
Directed by: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Written by: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Music by: David Kitay
Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ethan Embry, Charlie Korsmo, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Robert Jayne, Michelle Brookhurst, Chris Owen, Jason Segel, Clea Duvall, Jaime Pressly, Sean Patrick Thomas, Freddy Rodriguez, Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, Selma Blair, Sara Rue, Jenna Elfman (uncredited), Jerry O’Connell (uncredited), Melissa Joan Hart (uncredited), Breckin Meyer (uncredited), Jennifer Elise Cox (uncredited)

Tall Trees Productions, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, 100 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know about you, but I really believe that there’s one person out there, and for me it’s gotta be Amanda.” – Preston

I didn’t see this right when it came out, as it was a year after I had graduated high school and also because there were already dozens of similar movies that I had watched from the ’80s and ’90s, growing up.

I first saw this when it hit regular television but once I did, I thought it had a lot of heart while also having that heart in the right place. Sure, this is nothing new for the coming-of-age teen comedy subgenre but it’s hard not to like the main characters and their multiple story arcs.

Honestly, it also doesn’t hurt that this movie has a pretty stacked cast and even if most of these kids weren’t stars when this came out, they started to become them by the time I saw this.

The vast majority of the movie takes place in one location, a big ass house party. There are some school scenes early on but the bulk of the story takes place over one night.

To sum up the primary plot, the male lead has been in love with the female lead since his freshman year. But now that they’re graduating and the girl and her boyfriend split, this guy has one last chance to try and win her over.

Beyond that plot, the rest of the kids are dealing with the fact that high school is over and they have no idea what’s going to happen now that their lives are starting. The party is there as a way to blow off steam and distract them from the inevitable future but they all learn a lot about themselves over the course of the night.

There’s too many characters to feature for any great length and the two leads take up the bulk of the running time but each story is pretty enjoyable and endearing. I think there’s actually things that people can relate to with all of them, as they all share their own versions of doubt, insecurity and fear over what’s next.

Can’t Hardly Wait also feels a lot more like an ’80s teen movie than a ’90s one despite the music and fashion in the film. It just has that ’80s vibe to it and it’s easy to tell that the filmmakers were inspired by those movies and drawing from them.

That being said, this kind of feels like the last film of that subgenre of comedy. Sure, there were others after this but none of them are all that memorable, except for Not Another Teen Movie, which was a parody of this subgenre and kind of exposed all the tropes, making it hard to follow with another picture of this type.

In the end, the boy gets the girl and we leave these characters in a pretty positive way. Granted, the jock’s future isn’t all that promising but he went from dick to nice guy back to dick and well… karma is a bitch.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other teen comedies, specifically of the ’80s and ’90s.

Documentary Review: The Last Blockbuster (2020)

Release Date: December 15th, 2020
Directed by: Taylor Morden
Written by: Zeke Kamm
Cast: Lauren Lapkus (narrator), Kevin Smith, Doug Benson, Ron Funches, Adam Brody, Samm Levine, Paul Scheer, Brian Posehn, Jamie Kennedy, Ione Skye, Lloyd Kaufman, various

September Club, Popmotion Pictures, 1091 Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

I stumbled across this on Netflix and I was definitely interested in checking it out but it had Kevin Smith’s mug all over it and in the 2020s, that’s a big turnoff for me. That dude’s usually crying and drooling these days and it’s creepy and f’n weird. But luckily, he wasn’t a weeping, insufferable asshole in this and he’s also not in it too much. He’s just one of about a dozen celebrities who popped up to tell their personal stories about Blockbuster Video.

So this is a film about the last Blockbuster store in existence, which runs independently now, and it’s also about the history of video stores in the US from the original mom and pop shops to the mega chains like Blockbuster. In just under 90 minutes, this surprisingly covers a lot.

As I stated in the first paragraph, this also features about a dozen celebrities who talk about what Blockbuster meant to them and a few of them worked in one or simply spent a lot of time in the store.

Overall, this was a solid, fun and positive experience. You come to know the woman who runs the last store, her family, her employees and what the store means to its community and the community’s history.

You also see what it takes to run the store in an era where it’s not as easy to acquire DVDs and Blu-rays because we now live in an age of streaming. We also learn that to use the Blockbuster name, the store has to get permission, annually, from the large corporation that still holds the trademark on the brand.

I think the real highlight for me was hearing the stories from the dozen or so people that were interviewed. For those who visited the last Blockbuster, it was great seeing them overcome with joy, stepping into a legitimate time capsule.

Whether you were a big fan of Blockbuster or just video stores in general, this will definitely give you a hearty helping of warm nostalgia.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent documentaries about retro pop culture things.

Film Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)

Also known as: Black Bart (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Al Uger
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie

Crossbow Productions, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” – Hedley Lamarr, “God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.” – Taggart

I’m a fan of Mel Brooks’ work but not as much as the hardcore fans out there. Most of the ones I’ve talked to over the years seem to like this film the best out of Brooks’ oeuvre. Young Frankenstein is my personal favorite but I’ve also got a deep affinity for the Universal Monsters, which it paradoies.

I also really love westerns too, though. So, naturally, I like this picture quite a bit too. However, I don’t hold it in the same esteem as others.

Everyone in this is pretty damn great, however. Cleavon Little stands out the most, as the actual star of the picture and because he’s just so damn charismatic and likeable. Additionally, his camaraderie and comedic timing with Gene Wilder is incredibly good.

Beyond the two leads, everyone else in the picture is well cast and this is written in a way that allows them all to play to their strengths while also maximizing their value to this large tapestry of talent.

I guess it probably goes without saying but this is a film that you couldn’t make today. It features so much language that would overwhelm the easily offended, which seems to be everyone these days. Modern filmgoers would be so fixated on the language that they’d miss the point of it all.

This was a film that came out in the ’70s and American entertainment was greatly effected by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial tensions the United States had to work through. This movie reflects that, as did most comedy of the time, and it features a lot of racially charged language and situations. But it’s how it handles all of that and presents it that is important. Nowadays, nuance and context are completely lost because fingerblasting your own pearls while on public display is the only way these kids know how to communicate, anymore.

Blazing Saddles is a film that doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. It cannonballs into the deep end of the pool, splashing everyone and everything, and it just puts it all out there, letting people express their points and their social grievances through comedy. And this is why comedy was great. It could challenge us, turn the world on its head and directly engage with tough topics and things that many would otherwise try to ignore or suppress.

In reality, comedy brought people together and it built bridges between cultures and different points-of-view born from very different experiences. Also, it didn’t allow everyone to have such thin skins. It forced most people to toughen up and deal with shit, so we could all move forward.

And while I didn’t want a movie review to devolve into a political or social discussion, I know that it’s only a matter of time before the censors retroactively try to cancel this picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mel Brooks parody films.

Film Review: The Pit (1981)

Also known as: Teddy (alternative title)
Release Date: October 23rd, 1981
Directed by: Lew Lehman
Written by: Ian A. Stuart
Music by: Victor Davies
Cast: Sammy Snyders, Jeannie Elias, Sonja Smits

Amulet Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Abergail’s missing and so is Mrs. Oliphant, aren’t they? And Freddy and Christina… They don’t eat chocolate bars. You know what they eat?” – Jamie Benjamin

As cool, bizarre and completely ape shit as this movie is, I can’t believe I had never heard of it until this year. After stumbling upon the trailer, I had to track it down and watch it, immediately.

After seeing this, I have to wonder if those Ted movies ripped it off. They’re very different films, mind you, but both deal with a talking teddy bear. In this film, however, the bear talks to a kid and it’s more like mental voice projection than just straight up having a conversation.

Also, this is horror and the teddy bear coerces the kid to feed people to these trolls that live in a hole in the ground out in the woods. Yes, there is both a psychic talking teddy bear and a pit in the ground full of man-eating trolls. Why settle on one strange monster threat when you can have two strange monster threats?

Additionally, the kid in this is great. He plays creepy and weird really well but he’s also strangely likable and amusing. He’s also sexually frustrated, going through the early stages of puberty and I think that most males can relate to him. But honestly, he’s just a goof and everyone else in the movie, especially other kids, just continually fuck with him.

I though that the other core actors in this were good, which was impressive, as this still mostly unknown Canadian horror flick put together a competent, entertaining cast.

This is a surreal and wonderful film. It does move slow at times but it still keeps your attention because it’s so unique and original that it’s impossible not to be ensnared by it and glued to it.

Now that I know of its existence, I’m pretty sure this will be something I revisit every few years for the rest of my life.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other fantasy horror of the era but this is so bonkers and original that it’s really hard to pair.

Film Review: Maniac (1963)

Release Date: May 20th, 1963 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Carreras
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Stanley Black
Cast: Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Liliane Brousse, Donald Houston

Hammer Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You take a man’s wife, Mr. Farrell, but not his money?” – Georges

Maniac is a pretty neat, lesser known Hammer picture. It’s written by Jimmy Sangster, who has written pretty much nothing but good shit for the studio. He’s probably Hammer’s most prolific writer and the films where his talent really shines are in smaller, lesser known ones like this.

This almost has a noir vibe to the story and like noir, it’s got some really wretched people and some surprising plot twists in it.

The killer is just really damn cool looking, especially for the early ’60s and in a lot of ways, the character feels like a prototype for a slasher flick bad guy, even though those weren’t a thing yet.

The killer wears a welding mask and carries a blowtorch. Granted, we see his face and he is very much just a human dude. Still, it gives off slasher vibes and the bad guy is pretty damn good and menacing. Most importantly, all the stuff with the killer in this is really damn effective.

The highlight of the film, to me, was the finale, which was shot in a cavernous tomb looking location. It was actually filmed in the huge stone galleries that were dug into the rock of the Val d’Enfer of Les Baux-de-Provence in southeastern France. The location really ups the ante in the picture and gives it something else memorable other than the killer.

My only real issue with the film is that the acting was a bit meh. I wouldn’t call it bad but the cast really could’ve used more coffee throughout the shooting day. I wouldn’t call the performances understated as much as I’d call them disinterested. Honestly, though, this really falls on the shoulders of the director or the casting agent.

Maniac is another Hammer film that has been kind of lost to time but after seeing it, the movie exceeded my expectations. It also makes me glad that I really started digging deeper into the Hammer vaults beyond the Victorian horror stuff and the films starring Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known Hammer horror thrillers.

Film Review: Boomerang! (1947)

Also known as: The Perfect Case (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy
Based on: The Perfect Case 1945 article in The Reader’s Digest by Anthony Abbot
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Cara Williams, Arthur Kennedy, Sam Levene, Ed Begley Sr.

Twentieth Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“McDonald, I just made one mistake. I should have known by now that there’s one thing you can’t beat in politics, and that’s a completely honest man.” – T.M. Wade

Out of all the film-noir directors of the ’40s and ’50s, I’ve always held Elia Kazan’s visual style in pretty high regard. His movies, especially in the noir genre, always have this pristine visual look. They’re crisp, utilize great set and costume design with damn near perfect lighting and a mastery of that high contrast noir aesthetic. Granted, he also does all this more subtly than some of the directors that went more extreme with it.

Kazan’s pictures just seem to have a really good balance, boasting a certain style without overdoing it. In fact, you almost don’t notice it at first but as his pictures roll on, you find yourself a bit mesmerized by them.

Boomerang! is one that I haven’t seen in a really long time but it was one of my granmum’s favorites, as she had it on multiple times when I’d go to her house after school as a kid. Well, at least in the non-summer months when the Cubs weren’t on WGN.

The film is based on a true story where an innocent man was accused of murder by an incompetent police force and had to rely on a smart prosecutor to clear his name and save him from a fate he didn’t deserve.

Now this isn’t in my upper echelon of noir classics but it’s still a good movie with very good acting, especially on the part of Dana Andrews, who plays the prosecutor, as well as Lee J. Cobb, who plays the police chief. I also really enjoyed Jane Wyatt in this for obvious reasons but she definitely holds her own in the acting department, as well, and this made me wish that she had become a bigger star, especially in pictures of the noir style. I also didn’t realize, until today, that she played Spock’s mother in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

For the most part, the story is compelling but if I’m being honest, it is a bit paint-by-numbers and it’s fairly predictable and doesn’t throw any shocking patented noir curveballs at you.

Still, this is a good example of a standard film-noir. Especially in regards to those that deal with the legal system, as opposed to just schemers doing something dirty and paying the price for it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s, especially those by Elia Kazan.

Film Review: The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Also known as: Zombie Hell House (alternative title)
Release Date: August 14th, 1981 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Lucio Fulci, Elisa Livia Briganti
Music by: Walter Rizzati, Alessandro Blonksteiner
Cast: Katherine MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Lucio Fulci (uncredited)

Fulvia Film, Medusa Distribuzione, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Ann? Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true?” – Bob Boyle

This is one of the few Lucio Fulci horror films from this era that I hadn’t seen until now. That being said, this was pretty much what I expected, however, the movie’s monster was fucking cool and the last ten minutes or so of this exceeded my expectations and enhanced the overall experience I had with this film.

It’s honestly a fairly cookie cutter haunted house flick where a family moves into a new home with some scary secrets. For one, there’s a tomb hidden under the house. There were also some bizarre killings.

Being that this is Italian horror, though, the plot is kind of all over the place and nonsensical. It’s hard to really know what the hell is actually happening but at least most of it is pretty cool.

The dubbing, especially for the kid, is really bad but it also makes the movie enjoyable in a sort of goofy way. I also thought it was funny that this little tyke’s name was simply Bob.

Anyway, crazy shit happens, the family doesn’t move, weird dialogue is exchanged in nearly every scene and we get a cool finale with a legitimately creepy monster.

All in all, this isn’t a must see but if you like Fulci’s work, it’s worth checking out. Plus, the ending makes up for the weaker aspects of the film.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Lucio Fulci movies of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Film Review: Circle of Iron (1978)

Also known as: The Silent Flute (working title)
Release Date: July 25th, 1978 (France)
Directed by: Richard Moore
Written by: Bruce Lee, James Coburn, Stirling Silliphant, Stanley Mann
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: David Carradine, Christopher Lee, Jeff Cooper, Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, Anthony De Longis, Earl Maynard, Erica Creer

Sandy Howard/Richard St. Johns Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Tie two birds together. Even though they have four wings they cannot fly.” – Blind Man

The concept and story for this film were developed by the legendary Bruce Lee and he was even slated to star in it but, as we all know, he died really young and with that he never got to see this go into production.

A few years after Lee’s death, however, this project got the green light and David Carradine was given the multiple roles that would’ve gone to Lee. What’s strange about that is Carradine was also given the main role in the television series Kung Fu, which Lee said was a role that was also originally meant for him.

This movie also has several legendary actors in minor roles. We see Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall and Eli Wallach all pop up for different sequences. And honestly, all of them took this really seriously and gave solid performances.

The lead actor was the only really unknown to me but he was good with the material, believable as a hero and you bought into his arduous and challenging journey, which was more about self discovery than what he thought it was about upon starting the journey.

One thing I personally dig about this is that it’s a martial arts flick but it has more of a sword and sorcery aesthetic to it. Granted, there aren’t buff dudes with swords, it’s just a really cut, physically fit guy using his kung fu to conquer his challenges.

Being that this was Bruce Lee’s concept also means that it is much more philosophical than your standard beat’em up movie. It probably isn’t as philosophical as what Lee would’ve done had he been alive to make this but his spirit still exists in this and is weaved into every important scene.

This film surprised me. I figured that I would enjoy it but it definitely exceeded the expectations I had for it and I’d now rank it pretty high up on my list of favorite David Carradine movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other martial arts flicks of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as sword and sorcery pictures of the same era.

Film Review: Mother’s Day (1980)

Release Date: September 19th, 1980
Directed by: Charles Kaufman
Written by: Charles Kaufman, Warren Leight
Music by: Phil Gallo, Clem Vicari Jr.
Cast: Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce, Tiana Pierce, Gary Pollard, Michael McCleery, Beatrice Pons

Duty Productions, Saga Films, Troma Entertainment, 91 Minutes, 76 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“You’ll get what you deserve in them Deep Barons, you lez-beans! You won’t be causin’ no one no trouble no more!” – Storekeeper

This movie just flew under my radar for decades, which is surprising to me as I’ve seen dozens of films put out by Troma since the ’80s and this is something that I would’ve dug when I was obsessed with slasher flicks as an ’80s kid.

I discovered it just recently when it was featured as the first movie of the third season of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs. That episode had Eli Roth on as a guest and he revealed that this was one of his all-time favorites. So much so, that he watched it with the other kids celebrating his bar mitzvah.

This takes the Texas Chain Saw Massacre formula and moves things to New Jersey and gives us a film that is a lot more comedic and playful than its terrifying inspiration. By 1980, this formula had already been recycled quite a bit but this picture is more memorable and entertaining than most of the others.

I really liked the killer family, even though they were evil and batshit crazy. All three of the actors really hammed it up and gave their performances their all. I also liked that the head of the family was the mother, who somehow could play a sweet, charismatic old lady while also being completely deranged and sadistic, as she commanded her demented, pervert sons to, “Make mommy proud!”

I also thought the three females leads were decent. The one with the glasses actually had a pretty good character arc over the course of the movie, as she starts out as the shy, reserved girl scared of everything and eventually steps up to the plate to take this evil family out of existence. The final kill was bizarre yet very satisfying.

Although, the girls trashing that dude’s store in beginning was pretty fucked up. Clean up your mess, don’t be an asshole. Honestly, by slasher film logic, they all should’ve died horribly for knocking over that guy’s shit and bolting after acting like complete jackasses.

Anyway, this is a solid horror comedy with lots of violence and gore. It fits well within the patented Troma style and if those movies are your thing, this will most assuredly entertain you.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other slasher films with crazy families, as well as other Troma pictures from the ’80s.

Film Review: The Elephant Man (1980)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1980 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch
Based on: The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves; The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Hannah Gordon, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Dexter Fletcher, Kenny Baker

Brooksfilms, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!” – John Merrick

Few motion pictures are truly perfect. This is one of those few.

As far as I’m concerned, this is still the greatest thing that David Lynch has ever done. And while I like his visual style and artistic quirkiness, I’m not a big fan like many other film aficionados are.

That being said, this is his most normal picture. He doesn’t get overly bizarre and lost in trying to put his own dreams to celluloid. Here, he has a real story to tell and given a more defined framework, I think he excelled as a director with this movie above all of his others.

What’s strange about that, is that this is only his second feature film after the absolutely bonkers, shrill and disturbing nightmare known as Eraserhead.

The success of this film led to Lynch getting the offer to direct Return of the Jedi, which he turned down, as well as 1984’s Dune, which I like but ended up being such a bad experience for Lynch that he pretty much quit mainstream movies and went back to making bizarre, personal art films more akin to what he did with Eraserhead and his short films before that.

Anyway, this is a review of The Elephant Man and not a review of Lynch’s career.

I love that this was presented in black and white, as it gives it a truly timeless feel and it generates the same sort of aesthetic as many of the great classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. It also has the same sort of cinematography, as it employs a chiaroscuro visual style with high contrast between light and shadow.

Given the film’s setting and the makeup of the title character, this visual style gives it a real majestic, classic cinematic feel that probably wouldn’t have been possible if this was released in color. It helps set the mood with the more horrific elements, while also giving the film a quality of old world naivete, which is important in allowing the audience to connect to the pure innocence of Merrick, the Elephant Man.

The picture is stupendously acted. Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are absolute perfection in this and you really fall in love with both men through this incredibly emotional and very painful journey. But you also feel their emotion to the bone when the best parts of humanity find a way to outlast the worst parts. This is a film that is just as much about the darkness of humanity as it is about humanity’s light. That’s probably another reason why presenting this in black and white is so effective.

There are terrible human beings in this movie and frankly, it’s impossible to watch this and not be emotionally effected by that darkness. This is a really hard film to experience because of that but ultimately, a positive light does push the darkness back and while the ending is tragically sad, it’s also strangely satisfying knowing that the film’s subject left on his own terms in the only place he truly felt at home.

That being said, for me at least, this is one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had with a movie. It’s not something I can go back and watch often because it really does drain on your soul, even with the mostly positive outcome.

I have no idea what it is about this film that makes it a legitimate masterpiece. I think it’s simply a perfect storm of everything just working together, wonderfully.

The Elephant Man is truly cinematic magic in how it can give you both the worst of human nature and the best. It is an astounding, exhilarating and terrifying experience.

And again, it’s motion picture perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: David Lynch’s earlier work, as well as other top notch period dramas of its era.