Film Review: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Release Date: November 15th, 1992 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: John Hughes 
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Devin Ratray, Gerry Bamman, Hillary Wolf, Kieran Culkin, Tim Curry, Brenda Fricker, Eddie Bracken, Dana Ivey, Rob Schneider, Ally Sheedy (cameo), Donald Trump (cameo), Bob Eubanks (cameo), Rip Taylor (cameo), Jaye P. Morgan (cameo), Jimmie Walker (cameo)

Hughes Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Hey. You guys give up? Have you had enough pain?” – Kevin McCallister

As I said in my review of the first Home Alone, I hadn’t seen that movie in-full in years. Well, I hadn’t seen this one since it came out. I’ve seen scenes on television over the years but I felt like a full watch was grossly overdue.

So while this isn’t as great as the original and while I don’t think that it was necessary, it’s still really endearing and a fun, holiday movie.

All the important cast members are back but if I’m being honest, it would’ve been nice just getting a cameo from Roberts Blossom after he saved Kevin and reunited with his estranged son in the first film.

That being said, it’s kind of unbelievable that Kevin would’ve been left behind by his family once again but you’ve got to kind of suspend disbelief and just go with it. I mean, it’s also unbelievable that this kid could live and survive in New York City on his own and that while there he’d run into the same burglars from the first film but I digress. This isn’t the type of story where you should be really thinking that hard.

My only real gripe about this film is that it’s too long. I don’t know why they had to go for a full two hours, as the just over ninety minute running time of the first movie was perfect. But I guess Kevin is in a much larger environment and that provided John Hughes the luxury of writing more gags.

Despite the new, grandiose setting, though, the film is really formulaic and just tries to repeat the main beats of the first movie. That doesn’t wreck it though, it just makes it a slightly inferior but still a pretty good copy of the masterpiece it’s trying to emulate.

I really liked the cast additions of Tim Curry and Rob Schneider in this one, though. They added a lot to the movie and their interactions with Kevin and then his parents were pretty good.

It was also great seeing Kevin put the burglars through the gauntlet once again and while this sequence isn’t as iconic as the original, it still provided some great slapstick comedic moments and I love seeing Culkin, Pesci and Stern play off of each other in these scenes.

All in all, the first film is perfect but this is a worthwhile sequel that doesn’t diminish the greatness of the original while giving you a few more hours to spend with these characters you love.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor and other John Hughes holiday movies.

Film Review: Man’s Best Friend (1993)

Release Date: November 19th, 1993
Directed by: John Lafia
Written by: John Lafia
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Ally Sheedy, Lance Henriksen, Frederic Lehne, Robert Costanzo, John Cassini, J.D. Daniels, William Sanderson, Frank Welker (voice)

Roven-Cavallo Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 87 Minutes

Review:

“When you think of guard dogs, you first think of German Shepherds: they are smart, lethal… but not good enough. Now we developed the new Emax3000. They are totally obsolete.” – Doctor Jarret

This used to be one of those late night guilty pleasures of mine, as it used to be a film that you’d find on cable at like three in the morning. When I used to be a night shift security guard, this was in constant rotation. Granted, I haven’t really seen it since then, so I figured I’d revisit it, as I noticed it was streaming on Starz.

Man’s Best Friend is far from great but it’s that sort of ’90s horror/sci-fi cheese that I love. Plus, it has Lance Henriksen in it as an evil scientist, so that automatically gives it a few extra points in the cool category.

The story is about a reporter/activist that breaks into an animal lab to expose whatever weird experiments may be going on there. She discovers a big dog that takes a liking to her and she decides to keep him as a pet. Shortly after that, Max, the dog, stops a potential rapist/purse thief and the woman feels a real bond with the dog.

As the audience, we discover that the dog is a total, murderous bastard well before the woman does. Henriksen’s Dr. Jarret is also on the hunt for the dog, as he knows what kind of murderous rampage that will most likely ensue.

If I’m being honest, this is a pretty dumb and predictable movie but that also doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. I actually still like it quite a bit and it’s just solid, mindless schlock starring a really cool dog.

Additionally, it doesn’t need to employ too many special effects but when it does, they all work pretty well and I can’t really shit on the film in that regard.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi horror from the early ’90s, as well as the 1979 comedy with a similar premise, C.H.O.M.P.S.

Film Review: WarGames (1983)

Also known as: The Genius (working title)
Release Date: May 7th, 1983 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes
Music by: Arthur B. Rubinstein
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Michael Madsen, Maury Chaykin, Eddie Deezen

United Artists, Sherwood Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Which side do you want?” – Joshua, “I’ll be the Russians.” – David Lightman

In preparation for the release of the film version of Ready Player One, I have been reading the novel. WarGames plays a significant role in the story, at least in the book anyway, and reading about it got me all nostalgic and wanting to revisit the film. So I did.

I haven’t seen this in quite awhile but my fondest experience of this film was watching it in computer programming class in middle school. I had seen it before that but I didn’t have the computer knowledge to properly grasp the film when I was really young. Or at least the computer programming experience gave me more of an appreciation for the film, even if it was hokey and unrealistic.

Sure, the movie feels dated but it’s the best kind of dated. It’s chock full of ’80s-ness and backed up by a talented cast. The threat feels legitimate and the suspense and tension still work really well when experienced today. Maybe it’s because we now live in a time where our world leaders threaten each other with nukes over Twitter. The thing is, Cold War fears didn’t just go away with the Cold War itself, they just evolved in different ways and attached themselves to newer boogeymen.

WarGames isn’t what I would call an exceptional film but it tapped into societal fears, similar to Red DawnThe Day After and hell… Rocky IV. It is effective in that regard. It sort of exploits those feelings for its story but it does it in a cool and hip way, presented for teen audiences that were just starting to grasp their modern world, at the time.

It doesn’t just tap into Cold War fears though, it also taps into fears surrounding emerging technologies like home computers and the Internet. While everyone wishes they could hack their school and change their grades like Matthew Broderick in this film and in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there was real concern over what these technologies could do in the wrong hands. It also looks at the potential negative effects of technological automation, where certain tasks and decisions are taken out of the hands of human beings and given over to computers. It’s possible that this movie had some influence on James Cameron, who was making the first Terminator film at the time of this picture’s release.

This film was a good vehicle to really launch the careers of Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. Both had done a bit of work before this but WarGames quickly cemented them as teen stars, as the ’80s moved towards teen movies and MTV was becoming a household name: changing pop culture forever. There are also small but good roles here for a young Maury Chaykin, character actor Eddie Deezen and eventual ’90s badass Michael Madsen.

The adult cast is rounded out by the great mix of Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin and John Wood. All brought some good veteran leadership to the film and each was likable in their own distinct way, even if Corbin was a hot headed general that didn’t want to deal with Broderick and his brainy youthful antics.

WarGames is still pretty damn good and I was glad that I fired it up for the first time in several years. If you ever wanted to have a fun double feature, this pairs well with Real Genius.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Real GeniusFerris Bueller’s Day Off

Film Review: The Breakfast Club (1985)

Release Date: February 15th, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Keith Forsey, Gary Chang
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

A&M Films, Channel Productions, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

I got to see this on the big screen thanks to Flashback Cinema, who are doing a fantastic job at bringing classics back to participating theaters.

It is really a rare thing for a film to transcend its time. For a film that is so very much 80s, it is even rarer.

The Breakfast Club is certainly a representation of the era in which it came out in but it carries a message and a feeling that is timeless. Frankly, 1980s American teen life is on display here but John Hughes created something so deep that it reflects the attitude and feeling of the youth from any generation. While I don’t think that was his intention, at the time, his magnum opus The Breakfast Club, over thirty years later, still gives a voice to teenagers struggling with their growth into adulthood.

Being shot in under two months, primarily in a high school gymnasium made to look like a school library, the film far exceeds its spacial and production limitations. The first cut of the film, before heavy edits, came in at 150 minutes. It’d be great to see that version but an extended cut has never been released, even though it still supposedly exists.

Hughes also assumed that this would be his first film, as he had no directing experience and wanted to create it in a single space in quick time. However, he did do Sixteen Candles before The Breakfast Club, which thankfully lead to the casting of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, after their performances in that film.

Hall played Brian, the brainy character. Ringwald was originally supposed to play the recluse Allison but she begged to be Claire, which lead to the casting of Ally Sheedy as Allison. Emilio Estevez was initially slated to play the rebellious John Bender but was switched to the jock Andy after the casting of Andy didn’t go well. Judd Nelson beat out John Cusack for the role of Bender, as he was able to come off as meaner. He also took the method acting route which caused Hughes to want to fire him due to how he treated Ringwald off camera. The cast ultimately stuck up for Nelson and he stayed in the film.

I don’t often times describe the casting process in the films I review but when you have an ensemble that is near perfect, it is interesting to see how things came together in that regard, especially with all the shifting that happened in pre-production. The end result was a perfect storm that gave us characters that are bigger than the film itself.

The acting was superb, even though some of the dialogue is 80s cheesy, primarily the insults. This was a quintessential Brat Pack movie though and they weren’t all famous because they were cool kid actors, they were famous because they had acting chops. Compare the Brat Pack starring teen flicks of the 80s with those not starring Brat Pack members and there is a huge gap in talent and quality. Granted, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is a rare exception to this point.

I have watched this film many times throughout the years but each time is a reminder of just how good it is. The characters are all pretty relatable in their own unique ways. And as I move into middle adulthood, it is kind of a character check on myself, as I am reminded of the struggle that teens go through and how they view older people and authority in general. I’m not a parent but I hope that this film at least opened the eyes of many of the young teens who grew up and are parents now. It is hard to remember your emotions and thoughts from your teen years but somehow The Breakfast Club brings it all back.

The Breakfast Club is the finest film John Hughes ever made, which is a pretty big deal when almost everything he did became iconic. He didn’t just define a teenage generation, he defined all teenage generations. And all these years later, the film still resonates pretty profoundly.

Rating: 9.25/10