Film Review: Jingle All the Way (1996)

Also known as: Could This Be Christmas? (script title)
Release Date: November 16th, 1996 (Mall of America premiere)
Directed by: Brian Levant
Written by: Randy Kornfield
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Jake Lloyd, Curtis Armstrong, Robert Conrad, Martin Mull, Jim Belushi, Richard Moll, Mickey Rooney, Paul Wight, Mo Collins

1492 Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 89 Minutes, 94 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“We get one day a year to prove we’re not screw-ups, and what do we do? We screw it up.” – Myron Larabee

I never saw this movie in its entirety until Christmas Day, 2018.

When it came out in 1996, I thought it looked terrible. I was also a senior in high school and going out with girls was more important than watching bad movies with Arnie, Sinbad and young Anakin Skywalker crying over a lame toy.

Since I have exhausted so many Christmas classics, I figured that I’d give this a chance. Besides, I actually love Arnie, Sinbad and the great Phil Hartman. Plus, this also has small roles for Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds), Martin Mull, Jim Belushi, Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court), Mickey Rooney, Robert Conrad, Mo Collins and “The Big Show” Paul Wight.

So if I’m being honest, which I always am, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this stupid movie. It’s a lot of fun, there isn’t a dull moment and the chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Sinbad is really good. I actually just wish that they would’ve shared more scenes together.

The rest of the cast also did well and the rivalry between Arnold and Phil Hartman was entertaining. Man, Hartman was great as a neighbor creeper moving in on Arnold’s wife but in all seriously, was he insane? Arnie’s the f’n Terminator!

The only big problem with the movie is that it all falls apart in the finale. I was on board and digging everything up until the parade where Arnold and Sinbad are dressed up like a superhero and a supervillain and Arnold actually has a functioning jetpack. I know that this is a dumb, mindless movie but watching Arnold fly around downtown without proper jetpack training, moving in a way that isn’t possible by physics, made it so that I couldn’t suspend disbelief any longer. It was total cringe and destroyed the fun movie that this was before that shoddy action sequence kicked off.

Ignoring that atrocious ending, I probably would have given this about a 7.25. Seriously, I enjoyed it that much for 90 percent of the movie.

Still, I’d watch this again but probably not for several years once I’ve run through a few dozen other holiday films.

Plus, the cast keeps things pretty engaging for the most part and the reindeer fight was the stuff of legend.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Schwarzenegger comedies: Kindergarten CopTwins and I guess Junior but no one should suffer through that one.

Documentary Review: Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask (1996)

Release Date: 1996
Directed by: Bret Wood (uncredited)
Written by: Bret Wood

Kino International, 75 Minutes

Review:

Lon Chaney Sr. was really the first horror icon. So his story is quite an interesting one.

This documentary does a decent job of giving context to Chaney’s work and a bit about his life.

However, like many older documentaries about old school Hollywood legends, this doesn’t do much to excite you about its subject or that subject’s body or work.

This is more academic and informative than it is exciting. I feel like film history documentaries have gotten much better in the last decade or so. At least, much better than the slew of ’90s PBS style documentaries that I grew up with.

I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing this film, as I enjoyed it and found a lot of it interesting but it was pretty dry and relied on playing old footage too much.

If you are a big fan of the man’s work, this is worth a look but if I’m being frank, I wish someone in the modern era would work on a documentary worthy of the man’s stature.

Also, no trailers are available that I can embed here, so I put something cooler at the bottom.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other biographical documentaries on Chaney, as well as other legends of the silent era. There are a ton of documentaries like this one.

Film Review: Kazaam (1996)

Release Date: July 17th, 1996
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Christian Ford, Roger Soffer, Paul Michael Glaser
Music by: Christopher Tyng
Cast: Shaquille O’Neal, Francis Capra, Ally Walker, James Acheson, Da Brat (cameo)

Touchstone Pictures, Interscope Communications, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“He’s A Rappin’ Genie With An Attitude… And He’s Ready For Slam-Dunk Fun!” – marketing tagline

I’ve never seen this until now. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s f’n terrible but it’s not 2.9 on IMDb terrible. More like a solid 4.

Anyway, the story is bad, the special effects are really bad and the acting may be even worse. But this is a film that has some charm to it.

At this point in his career, Shaq couldn’t act himself out of a wet paper bag and he’s not much better over twenty years later but man, he needed some acting coaches before jumping into this weird movie.

He was still really likable in this, however, but rapping half of his lines was probably unnecessary. Then again, this came out at the same time he was a few albums deep into his short rap career. I just felt like this movie and his rap albums were the result of people not being able to tell him “no” when he wanted to do other things outside of basketball.

I think the glue of this picture was the kid Max, played by Francis Capra, who wasn’t a one-off child actor, he still works consistently in Hollywood today. The kid had charisma and as a character, I cared about him, even if this was a stupid and strange movie. His East Coast, New York attitude kind of reminded me of Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid.

The premise is about this bullied kid who frees a genie from a magic boom box. Yes, you read that right. Genie Shaq then spends a lot of time trying to convince the kid that he is a genie but his magic never works. Then it starts working and the kid takes the whole damn movie to come up with his three wishes. Genie Shaq, in the meantime, starts a rap career in the movie. So he is literally a rapping genie. You also read that right.

So the kid is trying to connect with his scumbag, criminal father. Eventually, the biological dad decides to fix his life and do what’s right by his son. The son then also learns to accept his step father, who really is the better male role model in his life. Genie Shaq eventually gets free and leaves to have a life with some chick that’s into rapping genies the size of a Sasquatch.

Anyway, you could probably go your entire life not knowing that this film even exists but what fun would that be? Sure, it’s probably a waste of your time but sometimes wasting time is a good use of time… or so a fortune cookie said to me once. Granted, I was hammered on Zhujiang and tweaking from monosodium glutamate, so I could have read it wrong.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Steel with Shaq.

Film Review: Mission: Impossible (1996)

Release Date: May 20th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Koepp, Robert Towne, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez

Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Can I ask you something, Kittridge? If you’re dealing with a man who has crushed, shot, stabbed, and detonated five members of his own IMF team, how devastated do you think you’re gonna make him by hauling Mom and Uncle Donald down to the county courthouse?” – Ethan Hunt

I wasn’t super fond of this when it first came out but I must have been stupid at 17 years-old. Revisiting this movie over two decades later was a real treat.

Full disclosure, I haven’t seen any Mission: Impossible movies since the second one and I haven’t watched any of them since that one came out in 2000. Friends always rave about them but I’ve always been like, “Meh, whatever.”

Since I’ve heard exceedingly good things about the last few, I figured that I’d start the series over and see how I feel about them now. Well, this one was a hell of a lot of fun and it resonated with me much more now than it did in 1996.

I really like Tom Cruise in this picture and Ethan Hunt really is the American equivalent to James Bond. However, he isn’t quite there yet, as far as being as cunning and as suave as Bond, but it is a work in progress. While this isn’t Ethan Hunt’s rookie mission, this story feels like the moment where he becomes more than human and actually evolves into a super spy or really, a superhero without a cape.

Brian De Palma did a nice job of creating an interesting and rich world. This is the smallest and most confined of the Mission: Impossible films, as they would get more and more grandiose with each release, but it is still a real big screen extravaganza. It feels and looks like a blockbuster. And while I’ve been a massive James Bond fan my whole life, I think it was the slightly more realistic approach with this series that didn’t allow it to click for me, as I had just come off of Goldeneye, a year prior. You see, Bond still had a good amount of cheesiness to it then.

Now don’t get me wrong, Mission: Impossible had some cheese too but it was less gadget-y and not full of sexy one liners and sexual tomfoolery every five minutes. That final confrontation where we see the helicopter go into a subway tunnel is absolutely insane and it bugged me in 1996 but in a way, it still kind of does because it didn’t feel like it fit the tone of the film. It felt like the movie jumped the shark there and even though I appreciate this more, that scene still made me cringe a bit in 2018.

But that’s really my only gripe about this motion picture. It had a very capable director and a solid cast, although I wish Emilio Estevez wouldn’t have gotten killed off so damn fast.

Most importantly, this gave birth to a massive film franchise and looking back, this wasn’t a bad launching pad.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Mission: Impossible sequels, the Bourne film series and the Kingsman movies.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Erick Avari, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.

Film Review: The Craft (1996)

Release Date: April 26th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Andrew Fleming
Written by: Andrew Fleming, Peter Filardi
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Cliff DeYoung, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer

Columbia Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Girls watch out for the weirdos.” – Driver, “We are the weirdos, mister.” – Nancy

Man, I hadn’t seen this in a long time but I used to take a copy home to watch a lot when I worked at a video store in the ’90s. I’ve also seen it on television a bunch of times. But I came across it on my Starz app and thought, “Hmm… I haven’t seen that in ages.” So I decided to fire it up.

The Craft is about four teenage girls that dabble in witchcraft, which was pretty normal for some high school girls when this came out. I went to a few schools and there was always some sort of neo-pagan clique hanging about. I don’t know if that’s still the case because if I hung out around high schools now, I’d get arrested.

These girls take their dabbling to all new levels and their magic starts to work pretty effectively. The jerk guy at school obsesses over one girl, the racist mean girl starts losing her hair, the burnt girl gets healed and becomes a slut, the psycho girl just starts magic murdering people and ocean life. It all culminates in the psycho girl embracing her psycho tendencies and getting into a magic cat fight with the only rational character in the entire group.

The movie is cheesy but it’s the right kind of cheese and now it’s well aged and has a thick layer of nostalgia around the edges. Point being, this was still enjoyable and I was pretty tuned in from start to finish.

The four main actresses all did a good job and Fairuza Balk owned her character’s insanity and gave one of the most memorable performances of her career. In fact, she still kind of frightens me because of this movie.

I thought Robin Tunney also gave one of her best performances, as she was the one beacon of light in the evil witchcraft storm. She had a good presence and was still able to offset some of Balk’s over the top antics and keep things mostly grounded.

The Craft has its hardcore fans. Or, at least, it used to. I don’t hear people talking about it much these days. I was never a hardcore fan but I always thought it was a solid way to spend 101 minutes of my time.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Other ’90s teen horror movies: Idle HandsScream and The Faculty.

Film Review: Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Also known as: Star Trek VIII, Star Trek: Borg, Star Trek: Destinies, Star Trek: Future Generations, Star Trek: Generations II, Star Trek: Renaissance, Star Trek: Resurrection (working titles)
Release Date: November 18th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Rick Berman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith, Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Neal McDonough, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, Alice Krige, Robert Picardo (cameo), Adam Scott, Majel Barrett (voice)

Paramount Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“[Quoting “Moby Dick”] And he piled upon the whale’s white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

After the torch was passed from one generation’s crew to the next in the appropriately titled Star Trek: Generations, it was only a matter of time before The Next Generation‘s cast got their own film series. This is the first movie that is wholly theirs.

This is also the first and only movie to utilize the Borg as a threat on the big screen. Really, the next film should have probably followed this up with a bit more Borg stuff instead of whatever the hell Insurrection was supposed to be. However, the Borg would be used a lot on Star Trek: Voyager where things got more intense and the Borg mythology was greatly expanded.

I love that this film added in a bunch of talented actors other than just the standard crew. Alfre Woodard and James Cromwell are both great in this and are two of my favorite Trek characters because of this film. Cromwell would reprise his role again on television but Woodard sadly never returned for more. Also, you have a very young Neal McDonough in this. I wish he would have gone on to continue to appear in these films but he met a bad end. Then there is Alice Krige as the Borg Queen and while this is probably her most famous role, she’s had a great career in the horror and sci-fi genres. You also get to see Adam Scott and a cameo by Robert Picardo, which was a nod to his Star Trek: Voyager character.

The plot of the film sees the Borg go back in time to prevent humanity from inventing warp drive and thus, attracting the first alien contact with Earth. The reason behind this was that the Borg would have an easier time assimilating Earth and its population. The Enterprise crew also goes back in time to prevent this from happening.

The story is pretty good and although this isn’t the first Star Trek movie to utilize time travel as its main plot device, this all still takes place in the future, so the “fish out of water” shtick that made Star Trek IV so friggin’ great, wasn’t rehashed. But that’s good because this wasn’t trying to be Star Trek IV, it was certainly its own thing and the film worked on its own merits.

While this is considered to be the best of The Next Generation set of films, I’m the weirdo that really likes Nemesis. But that’s probably because I had been yearning for a movie featuring Romulans since around the time of Star Trek IIIFirst Contact is still really damn good and my favorite after Nemesis.

I like that Jonathan Frakes got to direct this, which followed the path of the original cast’s films where Nimoy and Shatner both got chances to direct.

First Contact is in the upper echelon of Star Trek movies. It is much better than its followup, Insurrection, and it had an edge over Generations.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: Insurrectionand Star Trek: Nemesis.