Film Review: Top Gun (1986)

Release Date: May 12th, 1986 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Top Guns by Ehud Yonay
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell, Barry Tubb, Rick Rossovich, Tim Robbins, Clarence Gilyard, Whip Hubley, James Tolkan, Meg Ryan, Adrian Pasdar

Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“That was some of the best flying I’ve seen yet. Right up to the part where you got killed. You never, never leave your wing man.” – Jester

If you weren’t around when this movie originally came out, it might be hard to understand how much of an impact it had on pop culture. As a kid and a big fan of G.I. Joe and movies like Iron Eagle and Red Dawn, I thought it was cool as hell. The coolness was also maximized through the casting of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, as well as the Kenny Loggins hit song “Danger Zone”.

Also, to my little mind, Maverick was about the coolest f’n name ever!

Anyway, I used to watch this a lot. It’s been years since I’ve seen it though but I wanted to get a fresh take on it before its long-awaited sequel comes out later this year, assuming it’s not delayed again.

While I actually don’t see this as a great film or have the crazy amount of love for it as many from my generation do, it’s still entertaining as hell and it’s really cool simply for the insane visuals of all the fighter jets just doing their thing. The aerial stunt work is f’n phenomenal! That being said, there just wasn’t anything like this when it came out and many have tried to replicate it with less success. Nowadays, they just opt out and go the CGI route but everything you see in this movie is real.

Apart from that, the story is just decent. It doesn’t really grab you or pull you in and it feels like its all just to set up the aerial parts of the movie. While I do like the characters, they also feel grossly underdeveloped. You spend all this time with them but it’s hard to connect to them. Sure, it’s tragic when Goose dies and you understand Maverick’s heartbreak but it doesn’t have as much impact and meaning had we seen these characters fleshed out more.

I think that the movie actually suffers from having a little too much of its best part: the aerial stunts. If that was trimmed down a bit or the film was a wee bit longer and just spent more time developing the core characters, it could’ve been something much better.

Still, it is a cool and energetic movie that’s well acted and superbly executed. And despite what I feel is a lack of character development, it does hit me in the feels when Iceman finally accepts Maverick at the end.

Also, I f’n love James Tolkan in everything.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Tom Cruise movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Pet Sematary Two (1992)

Release Date: August 28th, 1992
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Richard Outten
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Mark Governor
Cast: Edward Furlong, Anthony Edwards, Clancy Brown, Jared Rushton, Jason McGuire, Darlanne Fluegel, Lisa Waltz, Sarah Trigger

Columbus Circle Films, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No Brain, no pain… think about it.” – Gus Gilbert

While this isn’t as good as the first film, which I do see as fairly overrated, I did enjoy watching this one a bit more. I think a lot of that had to do with this movie being batshit crazy, though.

First off, Clancy Brown makes this entire film work for me. He’s absolutely great in this, completely committed to his role and elevates this picture much more than it deserves to be. While this isn’t on any all-time best horror film lists, his performance here should definitely be considered for lists about monsters or horror villains. He’s simply great and even if he knows he’s in a mostly shitty film, he certainly isn’t phoning it in. Brown makes you believe he is an insane, undead, dickhead sheriff with so much enthusiasm, you can’t deny that the guy is a master of his craft.

The film also stars Edward Furlong, coming fresh off of his film debut in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as well as Anthony Edwards, who will always be Gilbert from Revenge of the Nerds to me, and Jared Rushton, most known as the best friend of Tom Hanks in Big.

This doesn’t feature any returning characters from the first film, even though it takes place in the same town and there are mentions of the characters in subtle ways throughout the movie. What’s weird though, is that this one wasn’t filmed in Maine like its predecessor and was instead filmed in rural Georgia. So the landscape has a different look to it. There are still lots of trees but everything has a different visual feel.

Furlong is the main character and the movie starts with him witnessing his actress mother get electrocuted to death on a horror movie set. He and his veterinarian dad move to this small town. He then draws the ire of the school bully, befriends the fat kid with the mean cop stepdad and then later learns about the “pet sematary” off in the woods.

Of course, one thing leads to another and little Eddie Furlong eventually digs up his dead mommy and re-buries her in the “pet sematary”. She comes back, along with other zombie people like the mean cop, the school bully and a pet dog.

The end is silly, the plot makes very little sense and the motivations of the characters are confusing, especially Edward Furlong turning crazy, realizing his dead mother is murderous and then switching back to normal almost immediately.

There’s some stuff I like in this other than just Clancy Brown, though. The biggest thing that sticks out, is when the school bully is murdered with a fast spinning dirtbike tire grinding into his face. Also, the car chase scene where the zombie cop is trying to murder his family was fun to watch, even if the action played out in a nonsensical way.

Pet Sematary Two is a goofy movie. But it’s that fun sort of goofy that makes a hardcore ’90s horror fan smile. It’s really just one of many Stephen King adaptations or spinoffs from the early ’90s that missed the mark, as far as its source material, but still delivered and entertained in spite of its flaws.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise (1987)

Release Date: July 10th, 1987
Directed by: Joe Roth
Written by: Dan Guntzelman, Steve Marshall
Based on: characters by Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores, Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald V. Casale
Cast: Robert Carradine, Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Curtis Armstrong, Larry B. Scott, Donald Gibb, James Cromwell, Anthony Edwards, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Bradley Whitford, Ed Lauter, James Hong

Interscope Communications, 20th Century Fox, 89 Minutes

Review:

“There could be a nuclear war; there’d be nothing left but cockroaches and nerds.” – Roger

I wouldn’t say that this is a better movie than its predecessor but for some reason, I enjoy Nerds II more than I enjoy Nerds I. That could also be because of the fact that I was briefly on the set of this film when they were shooting the scenes at the front exterior of the hotel, which was the Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale, which wasn’t too far from my father’s house back then.

Another benefit of this movie is that it doesn’t feature any creepy behavior from the nerds. As I discussed in my review of the previous film, Louis raped a girl, filmed and broadcasted an entire girls’ dorm in their private moments and even hid in a girl’s shower to see her naked.

This film was also PG-13 and not R, so that probably had a lot to do with the lack of boobies and rape behavior. But being that this was PG-13 made it just a stoner comedy and not a teen sex comedy. However, by 1987, teen sex comedies had sort of run their course.

The plot for this film isn’t to dissimilar from its predecessor. The nerds have to rise to the challenges put in front of them by the jocks and the cool kids. The Alpha Betas return to be the villains but this is a new group where Ogre is the only returning member from the previous movie. The new group is lead by quintessential ’80s dickhead Bradley Whitford. I call him a “dickhead” but that was what he played a lot back then. He’s grown to become a pretty accomplished actor but I still remember him most fondly for his roles like the one here, Adventures In Babysitting and Billy Madison. He was superb in Get Out and I am really looking forward to seeing him in next year’s Godzilla sequel.

Most of the key nerds return for this film except for Brian Tochi. Also, Anthony Edwards wasn’t a fan of the script and even though he is in this, his role was significantly reduced to being a glorified cameo in a few scenes. Ted McGinley and John Goodman aren’t in this either, which kind of sucked but Whitford really carried the ball and ran with it.

We also get the addition of Courtney Thorne-Smith but she doesn’t have a lot to do other to to pine over Louis but nothing happens between them and Louis is still with Betty, the girl he raped into a relationship in the first movie. Louis and Betty are married by the time Nerds III rolled around.

So the main difference between this movie and Nerds I is that it is set in a “tropical paradise”: Fort Lauderdale. Also, the nerds are holed up in a really shitty hotel that has a boisterous Cuban lady and the legendary James Hong as a sort of zen master for Booger’s gross antics. Also, Ogre becomes a nerd by the end of the film. I actually kind of liked this bit, as Ogre doesn’t really fit in with the jocks, other than being used for his muscle power and intimidation.

Based off of the reviews and ratings I’ve seen for this film, it’s not as beloved as the original. But in all honesty, it’s not that bad if you are a fan of the first one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The original Revenge of the Nerds but the sequels after this one get pretty terrible.

Film Review: Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Release Date: July 20th, 1984 (limited)
Directed by: Jeff Kanew
Written by: Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai, Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Ted McGinley, Bernie Casey, Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Curtis Armstrong, Larry B. Scott, Brian Tochi, Julie Montgomery, Michelle Meyrink, Donald Gibb, James Cromwell, John Goodman, David Wohl

Interscope Communications, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“You know, when you were a baby in your crib, your father looked down at you, he had but one hope – ‘Someday, my son will grow to be a man.’ Well look at you now; you just got your asses whipped, by a bunch of goddamn nerds. Nerds! Well, if I was you, I’d do something about it. I would get up and redeem myself in the eyes of my father, my Maker, and my coach!” – Coach Harris

I probably haven’t watched this in ten years and I guess when I was a kid in the ’80s, this was a lot of laughs. It’s still got some funny moments but I’m not as nostalgic about it as I thought I would be. I know that some people consider this a classic ’80s comedy and while I guess it was popular enough and has sustained some of the popularity over the decades since its release, as they tease a remake every few years, it just doesn’t feel like a classic in the same way that GhostbustersPolice AcademyFast Times at Ridgemont High or even Real Genius does.

It is also a teen sex comedy, which were all the rage back then. This one is kind of light on the sex but you do get some solid nudity and sexual tomfoolery. However, some of it seems really weird when you watch it now but I’ll explain that in a minute.

The story is about these nerds that go to college and soon discover that they are nerds because somehow this never came up in their lives before. Sorry, but I find it hard to believe that these 18 year-old young men weren’t made fun of before they arrived at college, especially with how society in this film responds to them. Everyone hates nerds with extreme passion. Not just the jocks, mind you, but everyone.

So the jocks take the nerds dorms after they burn down their own frat house. The nerds try to make do with the situation but everyone rejects them and not just college kids but absolutely every single person they turn to. Even the fraternity they become a member of doesn’t want them and they only get their foot in the door due to a loophole in the fraternity’s own rule book.

Eventually the nerds win everyone over (except the jocks) but the extreme hatred of nerds is so outlandish and ridiculous that even though this is an over the top oddball comedy, none of this is remotely believable.

But the gags and the characters are still good and that’s what makes the film work. I love the ensemble and some of these characters are still great, three decades later. Lewis and Gilbert, the two main nerds are pretty boring but the supporting characters are lovable and fantastic.

Booger, played by the underappreciated Curtis Armstrong, is a rude and crude bastard but he’s hilarious. Timothy Busfield’s Poindexter is a one note character but he constantly hurts himself and screams like a nitwit. Larry B. Scott’s Lamar is a flamboyantly gay nerd and probably the first outlandish gay character I ever saw in a movie. I love Lamar and his friendship with the young Wormser is great, especially the bits where they do aerobics and dance together.

The real show stealers in this are the two main villains, actually. The main jock is played by Ted McGinley and it is the best role he’s done other than playing Jefferson D’Arcy on Married… with Children. You also have John Goodman as the drill sergeant like coach of the jocks. But I also have to point out how much I like Donald Gibb in this, as he plays the jocks’ muscle, a beefy bonehead named Ogre.

Now watching this thirty-plus years later, some parts of this movie are really fucked up. The nerds are actually terrible people and frankly, I kind of wanted the jocks to bash their heads in, even though they were shitheads too.

You see, the nerds invade the girls’ dorm and setup cameras everywhere in an effort to spy on them in their most private moments. This is played up for comedy, as I guess this sort of behavior was okay in the ’80s. Louis even hides in the shower of a girl to surprise her when she’s naked. Seriously, if some dude in a black hoodie was hiding in a girl’s shower in 2018, he’d probably get shot. Well, not on 2018 campuses where people hate guns and need safe spaces. Louis then ups his creep factor when he disguises himself as the girl’s boyfriend and has sex with her. M’kay… is this not rape? But the girl responds by falling in love with him. She probably won’t even care that Louis and his nerd buddies were watching her sleep in her panties for weeks.

Now I’m not really in an uproar about these things because this is a dumb ’80s teen sex comedy but watching those scenes is sort of cringy in 2018. But again, this is supposed to be a funny, stupid movie that plays best when you’re stoned on the couch with your friends spilling cheap beer on room temperature pizza that’s been sitting out for three days since your weekly Atari tournament.

Anyway, this is still a goofy movie that’s good at killing 90 minutes of your time. I don’t like this as much as Weird Science but hey, it’s got more tits in it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise but the sequels after that get pretty terrible.

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.