Film Review: European Vacation (1985)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: July 26th, 1985
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: John Hughes, Robert Klane
Music by: Charles Fox
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Dana Hill, Jason Lively, Victor Lanoux, Eric Idle, William Zabka, John Astin, Paul Bartel, Robbie Coltrane, Moon Unit Zappa

National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 95 Minutes

Review:

“[repeated line] God, I miss Jack!” – Audrey Griswold

I was a bit underwhelmed by the first Vacation movie after revisiting it a few weeks ago. While I wasn’t a massive fan of this film series, as I’m not really a fan of Chevy Chase, they’re still amusing enough to hold my attention and make me laugh in spots.

Now having revisited the second movie, I like this one more. I think that the European setting made it better, overall, and I this set of Griswold kids is my favorite in the series, as a tandem.

While the original seems to be the most beloved of the series, with Christmas Vacation being a very close second, this is just more interesting, as I find the culture clash stuff funnier than the family just driving through the desert, meeting their redneck kin and then riding some rollercoasters.

This also has more action and a pretty good, high energy finale for an ’80s comedy movie.

Additionally, it fleshes out the kids more and gives them their own subplots apart from just making them accessories to their parents on a road trip. In fact, the subplots with the kids I found to be more enjoyable.

All in all, I’m still not in love with this series but it’s not a bad way to kill some time on a rainy day. There are much better ’80s comedies and much better ’80s comedic leads than Chevy Chase.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Film Review: Into the Night (1985)

Release Date: February 22nd, 1985
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Ron Koslow
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Farnsworth, Irene Papas, Kathryn Harrold, Dan Aykroyd, Bruce McGill, David Bowie, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, Art Evans, John Hostetter, Jack Arnold, Rick Baker, Paul Bartel, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Demme, Amy Heckerling, Jim Henson, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Mazursky, Carl Perkins, Dedee Pfeiffer, Don Siegel, Jake Steinfeld, Roger Vadim

Universal Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“[to Diana] I need you to appease Shaheen. She will demand blood; yours will do.” – Monsieur Melville

After recently watching Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, I couldn’t help but want to revisit a similar film from the same year by John Landis.

However, after revisiting this, it’s not all that similar other than it’s a “yuppie in peril” story. Also, the girl makes it to the end of this film and it’s more of an actual love story while also being more lighthearted and action heavy. The two films certainly have some parallels but this one is more accessible and probably more fun for most filmgoers.

Personally, I don’t like this as much as After Hours but it’s still a movie that I enjoy quite a bit.

It’s hard not to enjoy a film with Jeff Goldblum and Michele Pfeiffer as its stars, though. Both of them are great in this and I liked their chemistry and kind of wished they were paired up in more movies.

Beyond the two leads, we have a film full of lots of great talent, as well as more than a dozen cameos with other filmmakers and behind the camera legends in small, bit parts. Hell, even this film’s director, John Landis, plays a roll throughout the film as one of the four thugs in pursuit of the main characters.

I really liked David Bowie in this, though. He steals the scenes he’s in and it made me wish that his role was bigger.

The story sees a man, after catching his wife cheating, stumble upon a woman running away from some dudes with guns in an airport parking garage. They speed off together and we’re sent on an action adventure romp through Los Angeles, as they try to figure out how to get her out of trouble and survive all the trouble that’s coming for them.

There are so many great characters in this and every sequence in the film is pretty damn memorable because of that.

It’s strange to me that this isn’t considered one of Landis’ top films but it was also the first film of his to come out after the tragedy that happened on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. I think that because of that, this wasn’t promoted as well as it should have been and the public already had a bad taste in their mouths and probably, rightfully so.

However, looking at this as its own thing, separate from the grim reality of an unrelated picture, this is a solid comedy that did just about everything right.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: After Hours and other “yuppie in peril” movies.

Film Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Also known as: Fast Times (working title, informal title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Based on: Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe
Music by: various pop bands
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston, Amanda Wyss, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli, Lana Clarkson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, Taylor Negron, Lana Clarkson, James Russo, Pamela Springsteen

Refugee Films, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Why don’t you get a job, Spicoli?” – Brad Hamilton, “What for?” – Jeff Spicoli, “You need money.” – Brad Hamilton, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli

Teen sex comedies were all the rage in the early 1980s. However, unlike all the others, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was much more than just a teen sex comedy. It was a film with purpose, heart and characters that you actually cared for and felt connected to. It had high drama, human emotion but it was still true to the spirit of the genre it was actually better than.

There were several factors that contributed to this movie being better than one would expect at first glance.

First, the story came from a book written by Cameron Crowe, who spent some time undercover in high school to capture the real lives of the teenagers around him. The book was full of true stories, which got adapted into this fictional movie tale. Crowe’s work gave this film a sense of realism and human emotion that other films like it were lacking.

Also, this was directed by Amy Heckerling and even though it was her first feature film, she was young, hip and connected to a lot of cool people at the time. She gave this picture a sort of life and energy that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. She also pulls off similar magic with 1995’s beloved teen comedy Clueless.

Additionally, this film benefits from having an incredible cast for its time. It has Sean Penn, just before he became a superstar, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the best actresses of her generation. The shy kind of nerdy character was played by Brian Backer, who had already won a Tony Award the year before for his leading role in Woody Allen’s The Floating Light Bulb on Broadway. You’ve also got quintessential ’80s cool guy Judge Reinhold, the always lovable Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Amanda Wyss, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, as well as veterans Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli. How many other ’80s teen sex comedies can boast a lineup that impressive? And this didn’t even have a single person from the Brat Pack in it.

The film is well balanced between all of its main characters. It also doesn’t showcase the token stoner as just a token stoner. The chemistry between Penn’s Spicoli and Walston’s Mr. Hand is fabulous and makes for some of the best moments in the film. Seeing Walston go that extra step for a student that most teachers would just roll their eyes at is both sweet and refreshing. I could’ve watched a spinoff movie of just Spicoli and Mr. Hand and been happy, even if it had a lackluster script.

I also loved the chemistry between best buds Mark Ratner (Backer) and Mike Damone (Romanus). The shy Ratner needs Damone’s help in getting with the ladies and their exchanges are hilarious and entertaining. Life throws these best buds a curveball though but it was great seeing real friendship conquer all.

There are several good stories sprinkled throughout this ensemble piece. And it is sort of timeless in that the jokes still work, the characters are amusing and even though this gets very serious at points, it is never short on laughs and keeps things generally lighthearted.

It also has one of the best soundtracks of its decade.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a perfect template on how to create a teen coming of age movie. Sure, it is sex heavy, as it was the ’80s, but it’s light-years more mature than similar films like Private School and The Last American Virgin.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Dazed and ConfusedThe Last American Virgin and Private School. Also, Gremlins, as that features both Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold. Plus, Clueless, another teen coming of age comedy directed by Heckerling.