Film Review: Malone (1987)

Release Date: May 1st, 1987
Directed by: Harley Cokeliss (as Harley Cokliss)
Written by: Christopher Frank, Rudy Wurlitzer (uncredited)
Based on: Shotgun by William P. Wingate
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Kenneth McMillan, Cynthia Gibb, Lauren Hutton, Cliff Robertson, Scott Wilson, Alex Diakun, Philip Anglim, Tracey Walter, Dennis Burkley

Orion Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve got socks older than you.” – Richard Malone

While I had hoped that this would be incredibly high octane, it paled in comparison to Charles Bronson’s awesome Death Wish movies. However, it’s still a much harder movie than what Burt Reynolds typically did, so it was cool seeing him go badass vigilante in order to help a small town combat a scumbag that was trying to buy everyone out for very nefarious reasons.

This movie also had a pretty solid cast with Cliff Robertson being the villain, Scott Wilson playing a good guy mechanic and Tracey Walter a.k.a. Bob the Goon playing a total shithead that got his back blown out with one of the largest squib explosions I’ve ever seen that represented just a single bullet.

Additionally, the women in this, Cynthia Gibb and Lauren Hutton, were damn enjoyable.

This is kind of a paint-by-numbers small town protector movie, though. These things were super common back in the ’80s but also, it’s a formula that most dudes love and why shouldn’t Burt Reynolds have had his go with one?

It didn’t really offer up anything new or bold but seeing a bunch of shitheads take a bullet from an all-time masculine great like Reynolds is a treat. His rivalry with Robertson in this was pretty well managed and both men performed well with one another.

Malone is just a mindless, entertaining action movie that features an aging cool guy showing that he’s still pretty fucking cool. It’s also got a good villain, a decent supporting cast and leaves you nodding your head with the type of satisfaction only these sort of movies can bring.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Wildcats (1986)

Also known as: American Wildcats, First and Goal (alternative German titles)
Release Date: February 14th, 1986
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Ezra Sacks
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Goldie Hawn, James Keach, Swoosie Kurtz, Robyn Lively, Brandy Gold, Jan Hooks, Bruce McGill, Nipsey Russell, Mykelti Williamson, Tab Thacker, Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Nick Corri, M. Emmet Walsh, LL Cool J, George Wyner, Ann Doran, Gloria Stuart

Hawn / Sylbert Movie Company, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck you!” – Marvel, “Fuck you what?!” – Molly McGrath, “Fuck you… Coach McGrath.” – Marvel, “Better.” – Molly McGrath

I know that Wildcats isn’t the greatest football movie ever made but it’s always been my personal favorite and my favorite movie starring Goldie Hawn, who I thought was awesome in pretty much everything, back in the day.

This film also gave us Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, two actors I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over their decades long careers. In fact, they’d even work together again, multiple times. I kind of wish they’d still do stuff together on the regular. C’mon guys, can we get a Money Train 2 or White Men Can’t Walk?

Overall, this movie did more to sell football to me as a kid than my football fanatic uncles and growing up in Florida ever did, where high school and college football team allegiances were like religious cults.

I love that this movie takes a strong woman, dealing with real struggles as a single mother, and pushes her to the limit, where she overcomes all of her challenges and proves that she’s got what it takes.

I also like these stories where the right kind of mentor comes in and helps troubled kids that society has already given up on and pushes them towards a much better life. There were a lot of these types of films in the ’80s, many of them serious but also some of them funny.

This is one of the funny ones but that doesn’t make what Hawn’s Molly McGrath accomplishes any less impactful or important. And while real life often times leaves kids like these without the right sort of mentor or guidance, as a kid in similar situations, I always found encouragement in stories like this. This also might explain why some of my favorite movies growing up were Lean On Me, Stand and Deliver and Summer School, which many adults and critics just dismissed as a stupid stoner comedy. 

Now the story and sequence of events in this are far from perfect but the heart and soul in the picture really elevates it. You like these kids, you like all the characters except for the ones that are supposed to be shitty but in the end, the angry ex-husband sees the light and the scumbag rival coach gets what he deserves.

This is a feel good movie and even if some of it feels paint-by-numbers and formulaic, that doesn’t make it a bad or even a derivative movie. This has enough unique flourishes in it to make it stand out.

Plus, Goldie Hawn is just so damn likable and adorable but she’s also driven, strong and earns the respect of her players, her critics and the film’s audience. And she does it the hard way.

It’s also kind of sad that Hollywood seems incapable of telling these stories well, anymore.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Summer School (1987)

Release Date: July 22nd, 1987
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Jeff Franklin, Stuart Birnbaum, David Dashev
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Robin Thomas, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Dean Cameron, Gary Riley, Patrick Labyorteaux, Kelly Jo Minter, Shawnee Smith, Richard Steven Horvitz, Ken Olandt, Fabiana Udenio, Duane Davis, Carl Reiner

Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Our next field trip has to be to the beach.” – Chainsaw, “We have to see Annamaria in a bikini. It’s very important.” – Dave

I feel like Summer School was lost in the shuffle all of all the teen comedies back when it came out. I mean, there were a ton of these type of movies in the late ’80s. I never even saw it until the early ’90s on cable but I immediately loved it.

For one, I’ve always liked Mark Harmon. He was on a few shows that my mum watched and he just always came across as a cool and likable guy. But in Summer School he’s probably even more so, especially from the perspective of a kid growing up, as he was the sort of teacher you always wanted.

Additionally, the kids in this are all pretty great and many of them went on to have pretty good careers in television and film.

The story centers around Harmon’s Freddy Shoop, a high school P.E. teacher off to Hawaii for the summer when he gets stuck having to teach summer school to a class of losers. Although, as we learn, the kids aren’t losers, they just need a different kind of approach to learning and some motivation. Over the course of the story, Shoop and the kids build a great bond and by the end, they’ve all vastly improved under his style of teaching, which irritates the snooty principal.

This film really solidified Dean Cameron as one of the best guys to play a stoner type. His best friend in this, Gary Riley, was another young actor that always made me smile when I’d see him pop up in things.

Additionally, this film really benefits from Kirstie Alley’s involvement. This is right before she rose to prominence on Cheers but this movie allowed her to exercise her solid comedic acting chops, which would go on to define her career going forward.

While I don’t think that this movie will play well for those who didn’t grow up in the ’80s or ’90s and don’t already like these sort of goofy, teen comedies, I still think it’s a better film than one might expect. In a sea of similar pictures, it’s definitely better than average and just has fun characters while being an entertaining and amusing movie about a teacher giving a crap about kids that everyone else has given up on.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Also known as: Majo no takkyûbin (original Japanese title, lit. Witch’s Special Express Delivery) 
Release Date: July 29th, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Based on: Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Minami Takayama, Rei Sakuma, Keiko Toda, Kappei Yamaguchi, Koichi Yamadera; English Language: Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Tress MacNeille, Janeane Garofalo, Matthew Lawrence, Debbie Reynolds, Edie McClurg, Pamela Segall, Lewis Arquette

Kiki’s Delivery Service Production Committee, Nibariki, Nippon Television Network, Studio Ghibli, Toei, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself and find out how I did it.” – Kiki

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a pretty cute movie. Well, not as cute as My Neighbor Totoro but that film is on a different level of cuteness.

Here, we meet a teenage witch that goes off into the world to train as a witch but also has to survive and thus, gets a delivery job for a baker that also lets her live upstairs.

Ultimately, this is a sweet coming of age story where the character is full of doubt and lacks confidence but has to find those things within herself and does.

If you don’t love the character of Kiki, you’re probably not a human being. Also, her cat Jiji is the perfect feline sidekick. I loved the hell out of him, especially in the English language dub where he’s voiced by Phil Hartman, sadly in one of his last roles.

The American voice cast in this is great all around, though. While I typically watch anime with subtitles because of their history of shitty dubs, the second generation English dubbings of the Studio Ghibli films are top notch and it’s this one that really solidified it for me.

Overall, this is a great feel good movie that should appeal to all ages but especially kids closing in on their teenage years.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

Release Date: February 9th, 1989 (Barcelona premiere)
Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
Written by: Robert Klane
Music by: Andy Summers
Cast: Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Terry Kiser, Catherine Mary Stewart, Don Calfa

Gladden Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 97 Minutes

Review:

“What kind of a host invites you to his house for the weekend and dies on you?” – Larry Wilson

When this movie came out, I fucking loved the shit out of it. I never quite understood why but over the years, I still find myself revisiting it every so often because it’s just good, hilarious escapism. It also still amazes me how committed Terry Kiser was at playing a dead guy.

Also, Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman are great in this and they have such natural chemistry that one would have to assume that they were good friends in real life or had become good friends while making this movie. It’s their camaraderie and charm as a duo that also salvaged the very weak sequel.

For those who have never seen this, the story follows two young corporate guys that find a very questionable accounting error and bring it to their boss’ attention in an effort to finally move up the corporate ladder. However, that boss is the one committing fraud, so he invites the duo to his beach mansion in an effort to have them killed. However, the boss’ mobster friend decides to have his hitman kill the boss instead. When the duo arrives at the house, they discover their dead boss but ultimately decide to pretend that he’s alive so they can enjoy the weekend before calling the cops. This confuses the hitman and ultimately puts the target on the duo’s back as well.

The story has noir vibes but I wouldn’t really put it in that genre, as this is really just a goofy buddy comedy and focuses more on their antics with the dead guy than the crime and murder part of the story. Granted, there is still a big showdown with the hitman, that plays well and is really funny in a juvenile, slapstick sort of way.

The film also features Catherine Mary Stewart, a favorite actress of mine since I saw her in The Last Starfighter and Night of the Comet. She plays a love interest for Jonathan Silverman but I thought she was underutilized and really put on the backburner for most of the movie. But she does get to be involved in the finale where the hitman shows up at the house with his two new targets still inside.

Even though this movie feels very ’80s, it’s weirdly timeless in that it could take place anywhere. The gags, as goofy as they are, just work and a lot of that is because of how greatly Terry Kiser embraced the role of playing a dead guy out on adventures.

I can’t say that this is as good of a movie as I thought it was when I was eleven years-old but I still enjoy it enough to throw it on every few years.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Also known as: Tonari no Totoro (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cast: Japanese Language: Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Shigesato Itoi; English Language: Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Frank Welker

Tokuma Japan Communications, Nibariki, Studio Ghibli, Toho, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Trees and people used to be good friends. I saw that tree and decided to buy the house. Hope Mom likes it too. Okay, let’s pay our respects then get home for lunch.” – Tatsuo Kusakabe

Considering that this was released with Grave of the Fireflies, I don’t know how Japanese families got through both movies, as the feels are so damn strong in both of them. However, I hope that this one was shown second, as it’s the one that leaves you on a positive note.

This is one of the cutest movies ever made and I think it’s damn near impossible not to love, unless you’re a heartless heathen that hates everything wholesome and sweet in the world.

The story follows two very young sisters as they move into a new house with their father in the Japanese country. Their mother is sick in the hospital, so throughout the film, they visit her when they can but as the story rolls on, you learn that her condition has worsened.

All the while, supernatural things are happening in and around their home. The girls eventually meet a spirit named Totoro. As legend would have it, he only appears to those who are near death. The girls can see him because of their mother’s condition.

The girls have a few cool adventures in this and the spirit world opens to them more and more. However, even if it feels like the writing is on the wall regarding their mother’s mortality, this does have a wonderfully positive ending that I wasn’t expecting, especially after seeing Grave of the Fireflies before this movie.

Up to the point of this film’s release, this was Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus and for great reason. It’s his most endearing and human story out of his earliest pictures. This is also the first that I feel became truly iconic outside of Japan. In fact, Totoro went on to be Studio Ghibli’s mascot.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: The War of the Roses (1989)

Release Date: December 4th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Danny DeVito
Written by: Michael J. Leeson
Based on: The War of the Roses by Warren Adler
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Marianne Sagebrecht, Dan Castellaneta, Sean Astin, G.D. Spradlin, Roy Brocksmith

Regency International Pictures, Gracie Films, Twentieth Century Fox, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I think you owe me a solid reason. I worked my ass off for you and the kids to have a nice life and you owe me a reason that makes sense. I want to hear it.” – Oliver Rose, “Because. When I watch you eat. When I see you asleep. When I look at you lately, I just want to smash your face in.” – Barbara Rose

When this came out, I remember my mum rushing out to see it based off of her love of Romancing the Stone and to a lesser extent, The Jewel of the Nile. I then remember her coming home upset because it didn’t have a happy ending and in fact, had a really dark, tragic one. While my mum was a fan of comedy and romance pictures, she was never too keen on black comedy or dark humor in general.

I had never seen this one until now. Sure, I had seen scenes and knew how it would end but I was always kind of disappointed that in the final act of the Douglas-Turner-DeVito trilogy we didn’t get another fun adventure movie akin to their previous films together. I’m still kind of bummed we never got a third Romancing the Stone film but Turner wasn’t happy with The Jewel of the Nile and most people saw it as a big step down.

Anyway, this certainly isn’t a bad film and I find it more palatable than my mum did. But I’ve also always loved dark humor because I was a teenage male in the ’90s and everyone was an edgy boi in love with edgy shit. Also, watching Turner start to go off the deep end in this reminded me a lot of another one of her movies I love: Serial Mom.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this. It’s hard watching this married couple fall apart, though. Also, by the end of the story, neither of them are good people. They just become obsessed with trying to hurt one another and its a game of escalating one-upmanship that ends in their demise.

Some of this really stung because the performances were so good and after the setup and their backstory, it’s hard watching things fall apart and to the extreme extent that they do. I also think that in my mind, as it’s still fresh, and in many people’s minds, we were still in love with the couple we got in their two other movies.

Danny DeVito was just kind of there to be the eyes and ears of the audience, observing and ultimately reporting and telling the story to a client in his office. DeVito starts out as this sort of sleazy lawyer but evolves, as the tale rolls on.

In the end, this isn’t the way I wanted to see this creative partnership between these three great talents end but for decades, this was it. At least Kathleen Turner popped up as Michael Douglas’ ex-wife in his show The Kominsky Method, which I’ve heard is good. I’ll probably give it a watch down the road. Danny DeVito appeared on the show, as well.

Rating: 6.25/10

TV Review: Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX (1982-1983)

Original Run: October 13th, 1982 – March 30th, 1983
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Tomoharu Katsumata, Masamitsu Sasaki
Written by: Leiji Matsumoto, Hiroyasu Yamaura, Hiroyuki Hoshiyama
Based on: Space Pirate Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi

Discotek Media, Toei Animation, Tokyo Broadcasting System, 22 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This second Captain Harlock series served as a loose sequel to the Arcadia of My Youth feature film that came out in the same year.

Following the events of the film, Harlock and the crew of the Arcadia are exiled from Earth, which has been taken over by the Illumidas, along with several other planets.

For much of the series, Harlock explores space while also having battles with the Illumidas. He’s also searching for the mythical “Planet of Peace”, a place where all intelligent species can live free of war and interplanetary conflict.

The show was originally planned to have double the episodes that it got. It struggled in the ratings due to competition from new series like the original Gundam, which was a quicker paced, more action oriented show.

Still, this did have a proper and good conclusion, even if production was cut short.

I also liked this show a hair bit more than the earlier Captain Harlock series. I enjoyed the stories, the characters and the overall style of it.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: The Jewel of the Nile (1985)

Release Date: December 4th, 1985 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: Mark Rosenthal, Lawrence Konner
Based on: characters by Diane Thomas
Music by: Jack Nitzsche
Cast: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Holland Taylor, Spiros Focas, Avner Eisenberg

SLM Production Group, Stone Group Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, 106 Minutes

Review:

“How much romance can one woman take?” – Joan Wilder

This very rapidly produced sequel to Romancing the Stone is better than I remembered but I also hadn’t seen it since about 1987ish.

While it’s not quite on the same level as Romancing the Stone it’s still a fun movie with enjoyable characters and exudes Indiana Jones vibes while being made in the best era for movies like that.

Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner are, once again, a great pairing. However, this time around, Danny DeVito is more directly involved with them and it just adds a new element that’s amusing to watch.

In this story, the two leads are now in love and traveling the world. While at a book event on the southern French coast, Turner’s Joan Wilder is recruited by a rising dictator, who she believes is a good leader, to return with him to his country and pen his biography. She leaves Douglas’ Jack Colton behind where he is lucky enough to dodge an assassination attempt. Joan quickly discovers she must write propaganda and is a prisoner that must comply with this dictator’s wishes. Jack and DeVito’s Ralph travel to the dictator’s homeland. While looking to rescue Joan, Jack finds her just as she is escaping with an ally, who is actually the MacGuffin of the story.

As an adventure comedy, this hits the right notes for the most part. There are solid action sequences and everything was pulled off wonderfully for a movie that was rushed and also had major production issues.

Kathleen Turner actually didn’t want to do the film because she didn’t like the script. Michael Douglas, who was the producer, told her it would improve with some rewrites, so she went along with it. In the end, she wasn’t happy with the final product and she isn’t wrong in seeing this as inferior to its predecessor. However, it’s still a great film to escape into for a few hours and these characters are just fun to watch.

It could also be possible that this just didn’t have the right sort of feminine touch and lacked the kind of perspective needed for Turner’s character arc. Romancing the Stone was written by a woman and had the right energy in regards to the feminine half of the film. This picture was written by two men and with that, this comes across as more action and adventure driven where the romance sort of takes a backseat other than a few small scenes.

The Jewel of the Nile was still a decent follow up but I get why it’s become a somewhat forgotten film while its predecessor is still beloved by many. I can also see why this didn’t lead to a proper sequel another year or so later. But in the end, both movies are entertaining.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Also known as: Hotaru no haka (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Based on: Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka
Music by: Michio Mamiya
Cast: Japanese Language: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi; English Language: Adam Gibbs, Emily Neves, Shelley Calene-Black, Marcy Bannor, Andrew Love

Shinchosha Company, Studio Ghibli, Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” – Seita

Man, this is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen but it is also one of the greatest anime pictures ever crafted. It’s a massive gut punch to the soul and it’s also one of the sweetest, beautiful films I’ve ever experienced.

This was made by Studio Ghibli and it was the first film they did that was directed by Isao Takahata, as opposed to Hayao Miyazaki. Upon its release, it was paired up with another Studio Ghibli film, Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro.

The story is about a fourteen year-old boy and his four year-old sister, whose father went off to war and whose mother was burned alive by an American attack on their town during the height of World War II. The orphaned kids go to live with their horrible aunt but eventually, she rejects them and they have to try to survive on their own, living in a cave by a lake. They have no money, no food and eventually the little girl gets very sick. Once the boy finds out that his father is most likely dead, things really, really get dark and whatever hope these kids had is gone.

Yet, in spite of all that, the bond of these siblings is powerful and there’s nothing but love between them and that’s what makes the picture so precious and so heartbreaking once you reach the tragic, immensely depressing end of the film.

I respect that this movie shows the horrors of war and also that it shows it from the perspective of the other side, at least for those of us in America. I think it’s an important story to tell, as these are things that most people don’t want to think about. Especially, when our government is at war with another government because its not the regular civilians that are generally doing the fighting but it’s those people who are the victims of the fighting, more times than not.

The fact that this is a story about kids is supposed to make the message more powerful.

Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible, beautiful and emotional picture about what can happen to innocence when it’s confronted by the worst parts of humanity. The film is astonishingly effective and it not only accomplishes what Isao Takahata wanted to say but it greatly exceeds it.

Rating: 10/10