Film Review: Vacation (2015)

Release Date: July 29th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, Michael Pena, Hannah Davis Jeter, Colin Hanks, John Francis Daley 

BenderSpink, David Dobkin Productions, New Line Cinema, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I just wanted to sing Seal with my family like normal people.” – Rusty Griswold

Full disclosure, I’m not an Ed Helms fan. I think the main reason for that is due to him making the final season of The Office pretty damn insufferable. I also don’t necessarily blame him for that, I think it was the writing and whoever was calling the shots on that show at the end. But with that, I was burnt out on Ed Helms for several years.

So, as I approached this film, I wanted to go into it with an open mind and without my previous biases. I knew I’d have to eventually get to this, as I was already watching and reviewing all the Vacation movies and didn’t want to simply omit this one just because it didn’t feature Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the leads.

I’m happy to say that I found this to be pretty decent. It does have some laughable moments, features cameos with a lot of people I like and Ed Helms had solid chemistry with Christina Applegate. Also, he played this version of Rusty Griswold pretty straight and not as over the top as his Andy Bernard character from The Office.

Ultimately, though, this is a rehash of what the original film was with the same destination in mind. The adventure on the way to WallyWorld followed similar beats and homaged some classic moments but there was enough original stuff in this to allow it to stand on its own and to not just be a paint-by-numbers remake.

I also like that this did bring back Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in their iconic roles, even if it was just a small part within the larger movie.

I can’t really say that this is all that memorable, though. It’s better than some of the other Vacation movies but that was never really a high bar to begin with.

In the end, this is goofy, mindless escapism and while some jokes don’t land as intended, the movie still has a good, positive spirit about it and I liked the core characters.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Hotel Hell Vacation (2010)

Release Date: February 7th, 2010
Directed by: Bryan Buckley
Based on: characters created by John Hughes
Music by: Stephen Altman
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Hungry Man, 14 Minutes

Review:

So this entry into the National Lampoon’s Vacation film franchise is the most unique, simply because it isn’t a feature length film and is actually a 14 minute short that was produced to promote a website from a decade ago that was essentially Airbnb before Airbnb.

The entire short film centers around just the Griswold parents, as they go to a romantic getaway in a hotel that’s terrible in every way.

The purpose of the film was to show that hotel stays are awful and that you should be renting people’s homes instead while on your vacation.

Website marketing aside, this is a fairly funny short that stays pretty true to the characters of Clark and Ellen Griswold. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo committed to this project and their iconic roles.

Still, this is a short and it goes by rather quickly, as Clark and Ellen eventually escape “Hotel Hell” and meet up with their son Rusty, who is staying in a nice beachfront rental with his family.

While this doesn’t have the running time to tell a larger story, it’s still chock full of decent gags and it fits well within the spirit of the film series.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other Chevy Chase comedies.

Film Review: Vegas Vacation (1997)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1997
Directed by: Stephen Kessler
Written by: Elisa Bell, Bob Ducsay
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Joel McNeely
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Ethan Embry, Marisol Nichols, Wayne Newton, Wallace Shawn, Miriam Flynn, Christie Brinkley, Julia Sweeney, Siegfried & Roy, Toby Huss, Sid Caesar, Jerry Weintraub

Jerry Weintraub Productions, National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t know when to quit, do ya Griswold? Here’s an idea: Why don’t you give me half the money you were gonna bet? Then, we’ll go out back, I’ll kick you in the nuts, and we’ll call it a day!” – Marty

While this is the National Lampoon’s Vacation movie that most people like the least, it’s actually my favorite. In fact, I think I like these movies in the exact opposite order of the general consensus.

Now I didn’t realize that this was my favorite until I just watched it because I hadn’t seen it since the ’90s and well, a lot of things didn’t leave big impressions on me then because I was too busy chasing girls, smoking things and drinking things.

Anyway, I did remember thinking that this version of Audrey Griswold was gorgeous and I’m glad to see that I was right. I also thought Marisol Nichols was good in the role and brought something new to it but then again, one of the in-jokes of this series is that the kids are recast with every film and there isn’t much of an effort in trying to keep those roles consistent. I also like that the film poked fun at this by having Clark admit that he doesn’t recognize his own kids.

I think that the role of Rusty has been mostly consistent, though. I really liked seeing Ethan Embry get the opportunity to step into the somewhat iconic role, as he was emerging as a top young talent at the time and I pretty much like him in everything.

Plus, Rusty’s story was my favorite in the film and I found the gags pertaining to his side quest to be pretty good. I also liked Jerry Weintraub, one of the film’s producers, playing the part of an older gambling legend that takes Rusty under his wing. This was just good, amusing shit all around.

Beverly D’Angelo’s Ellen spent the movie smitten with Wayne Newton and honestly, I enjoyed this too, especially getting to see Newton play a fictional, over-the-top, womanizing version of himself.

Chevy Chase’s Clark was more chill than he normally is, which I actually found refreshing as his antics can grow tiring by the end of the film. In this, he just wanted to spend time with his family, who were all off doing their own things.

Clark also gets his own side plot where he develops a rivalry with a Vegas dealer played by the always stupendous Wallace Shawn. In fact, outside of The Princess Bride, this may be his best character.

I guess what I like about this so much is the same thing I like about European Vacation and that’s seeing each character go off and have their own adventure and story arc. Granted, I like seeing these characters come together, and they always do, but the multiple plot threads, weaving in and out, is just more entertaining and keeps the movie flowing at a good pace.

Vegas Vacation has an unfair, bad rap for some reason. Sure, it came out after a long hiatus in the series and is the only picture of the original four that didn’t come out in the ’80s. With that, the formula was stale by 1997. However, seeing it, nearly twenty-five years removed from its release, it isn’t bad and it fits well within the series and has the right sort of spirit.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Film Review: Christmas Vacation (1989)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: November 30th, 1989 (Australia)
Directed by: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written by: John Hughes
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Miriam Flynn, William Hickey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest, Brian Doyle-Murray, Sam McMurray

National Lampoon, Hughes Entertainment, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

Worse? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell.” – Clark Griswold

I know that this is many people’s favorite Christmas movie but I also don’t trust people who say this. Seriously, this is the most beloved thing that you have to revisit every December? This?

Honestly, out of the Vacation films, I think that this one is, by far, the worst. It just doesn’t appeal to me and it’s full of really unlikable characters that are selfish and stupid.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Chevy Chase fan and think he’s rarely funny. He just makes dumb faces and fucks up all the time. But I guess dumb people need a dumb “comedian” to make them cackle.

The one thing working against this film is that it breaks the framework of what these movies should be, which is a vacation that takes the family on a trip. Here, they just host a bunch of unlikable assholes in their own home on a street that looks like it’s a festive matte painting, static and devoid of any real life.

Half the movie deals with Chase trying to get Christmas lights to work. This would’ve been fine as a one or two scene gag but it’s like half of the f’n film. The other half is him failing at everything else while also pissing off his ungrateful family and terrorizing Elaine from Seinfeld and her effeminate, yuppie, bitch boy husband.

I also hate the theme of this movie, which gets stuck in my head for weeks if I even hear a few notes.

Kids I always hated, always wanted to watch this movie. I was always like, “Let’s watch Scrooged or Gremlins or Die Hard!” And they’d be like, “This is my house! We watch Chebby Chabe! So funny!” These kids always had the shittiest Nintendo games too.

Anyway, I have to sort of grin it and bear it whenever this movie is on around the holidays, as my family tends to watch everything Christmas-y on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But then I usually pick that time to go outside and escape loud kids and drunk aunts, as I stare blankly at the lake pondering about how humans evolved from lake slime over millions of years and somehow, one of them evolved into Chevy Chase. It’s one of the cosmos’ greatest mysteries.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

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: Vacation (1983)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: July 29th, 1983
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: John Hughes
Based on: Vacation ’58 by John Hughes
Music by: Ralph Burns
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, John Candy, Christie Brinkley, Brian Doyle-Murray, James Keach, Eugene Levy, Frank McRae, Jane Krakowski, John Diehl

National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t give a frog’s fat ass who went through what. We need money! Hey, Russ, wanna look through Aunt Edna’s purse?” – Clark Griswald

Full disclosure, I’ve never been a huge Chevy Chase fan. However, the Vacation movies still hold a special place in my nostalgic heart.

I think my reason for liking these films has more to do with John Hughes’ writing and just the bonkers scenarios that the family constantly fall into.

Additionally, I think that these are Chase’s best comedies but Beverly D’Angelo seems to be a perfect balance to his over-the-top shenanigans and every movie did a good job casting the kids. Why do they change every movie? I’m not sure but they’re always pretty good, regardless.

I also enjoy Chase’s scenes with Randy Quaid and they’re the highlight of most of these films for me. In this one, however, I also liked seeing Chase’s scenes with John Candy and Eugene Levy.

I think that this film works pretty well because of Harold Ramis’ direction, though. He got the best out of his cast and he has always had a great sense of comedic timing and how to build a comedic scene. Case in point, look at his great work as one of the creative minds behind the great SCTV sketch comedy television series.

From memory, all of these films are pretty equal and consistent. This is the one I’ve seen the most, though, and it may have the slight edge for being the first. However, I’ll probably review the others in the near future, as it’s been way too long since I’ve seen them and want to see how well they’ve held up.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation pictures, as well as other movies by National Lampoon.

Film Review: The Sentinel (1977)

Also known as: Hexensabbat (Germany), De Watcher (Netherlands)
Release Date: January 7th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Jeffrey Konvitz, Michael Winner
Based on: The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
Music by: Gil Melle
Cast: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Deborah Raffin, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Hank Garrett, Nana Visitor (as Nana Tucker), Tom Berenger, William Hickey, Jeff Goldblum

Jeffrey Konvitz Productions, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It’s all right. Listen, listen. I know everything now. The Latin you saw in that book was an ancient warning from the angel Gabriel to the angel Uriel.” – Michael Lerman

The Sentinel came out in a decade that was packed full of religious themed horror movies after the successes that were 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1973’s The Exorcist. So it’s easy to see why it may have gotten lost in the shuffle. However, in my opinion, it is one of the better ones out there.

The film also has a really great cast, even if most of the parts are fairly small, except for the two leads: Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon. Sprinkled throughout though are Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Nana Visitor (of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Tom Berenger, William Hickey and Jeff Goldblum. Needless to say, there’s a lot of great talent here and the film truly benefits from it, as just about every scene includes someone of note and none of them are simply dialing in their performance.

The plot revolves around a young woman with a pretty screwed up past, wanting to live on her own for awhile. She moves into an old building near the water in New York City. However, the attic apartment has an old blind priest that just sits in the window 24/7. The place is also full of bizarre residents and as the film rolls on, we come to learn that these people are ghosts. We also learn that the building is a gateway to Hell and the old priest sits there to keep the evil from escaping the walls of the house.

The story almost feels like it’s ripped from a ’70s Italian demon movie. But also like Italian demon movies, this is eerie as hell and really effective. It’s just creepy as shit in the greatest way possible.

I like how the story evolves and brings in the detectives played by Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken. I like both of those actors tremendously and they were great together in this. In fact, I kind of wished they had their own film as two NYC detectives in the gritty ’70s.

The real scene stealer for me was Chris Sarandon. I’ve loved the guy since I first saw him in Fright Night when I was a little kid. He’s just solid in this and I like what they do with his character over the progression of the story.

I was definitely pleasantly surprised by this movie. I’ve known about it for years but never got around to seeing it. Had I known how many great actors were in this, I probably would’ve watched it years earlier.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other religious horror of the ’70s.

Film Review: Annie Hall (1977)

Also known as: It Had to be Jew, Anhedonia (working titles)
Release Date: March 27th, 1977 (Filmex)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Janet Margolin, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Colleen Dewhurst, Dick Cavett, John Glover, Mark Lenard, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo, Tracey Walter, Sigourney Weaver, Truman Capote, Laurie Bird

Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions, Rollins-Joffe Productions, United Artists, 93 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to California] It’s so clean out here.” – Annie Hall, “That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows.” – Alvy Singer

I’m not what you would call a big Woody Allen fan but I do find a lot of his films to be amusing. This is one of them and this is also probably my favorite out of the Allen pictures that I’ve seen.

While I’ve seen all of the famous scenes from Annie Hall time and time again in documentaries and shows about movies, I’ve never seen this film in its entirety and in the proper sequence with all of the narrative context. In some ways, this film is actually kind of genius in how refreshing, original and authentic it feels. But I also didn’t know, until now, that this was sort of autobiographical in regards to Allen and Diane Keaton’s real romantic relationship a few years before this movie.

What makes this work so well is the natural chemistry between Allen and Keaton. But even then, Allen had solid chemistry in his scenes with Shelley Duvall and Carol Kane. It’s hard to say that he’s a great actor when he’s essentially just playing himself but his natural charm works wonders in this picture and it gives a certain life to scenes that may have felt dry if played by someone else.

Diane Keaton was lovable and fun in the picture and I think she is the real glue of the film, even more so than Allen. The reason being is that she just radiates a glow that encapsulates anyone on the screen with her. You clearly see the woman that Woody Allen is legitimately infatuated with.

From a narrative standpoint, this is Allen writing what he knows most intimately. But even then, I don’t think that this authentic tale would have had the magic without the performances in the film. This is lightyears better than a standard romantic comedy but I feel like that’s because the main players felt very at home with the material and they took this very seriously, where most romantic comedies tend to by cheesy and lacking depth in the performances of their actors.

Allen certainly knows how to direct and it is very apparent here. He gets the most out of everyone on screen, including himself. It’s easy to write about your life but it’s difficult to make something so genuine.

In the end, this is a fun, cute, lighthearted picture that presents romance and comedy in a unique way that is very much Woody Allen. He’s had similar films but nothing that hits the right notes in quite the same way.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Woody Allen films.