Film Review: Home Alone (1990)

Release Date: November 10th, 1990 (Chicago 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, Roberts Blossom, Angela Goethals, Devin Ratray, Gerry Bamman, Hillary Wolf, John Candy, Larry Hankin, Kristin Minter, Kieran Culkin, Billie Bird, Bill Erwin

Hughes Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Down here you big horse’s ass, come and get me before I call the police.” – Kevin McCallister

I’m just going to come out and say it immediately, this is a perfect film: a true masterpiece.

I hadn’t seen this in-full in a few decades, actually, but I was quickly reminded as to why I loved this movie so much, as a middle school-aged kid back in 1990.

The film has that special John Hughes charm but it’s turned up to eleven. I think that had a lot to do with Chris Columbus’ direction and his ability to seemingly magnify Hughes’ effect into something magical, charming and so heartwarming that it’s impossible not to love.

The cast is perfect from top-to-bottom, which is difficult with big ensemble pieces. However, most of the scenes feature the trio of Macaulay Culkin, in his first starring role, as well as great actors regardless of genre, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

These three main players had immense chemistry and they looked like they enjoyed the hell out of making this movie. I’m sure they had no idea that this would blossom into a cultural phenomenon but it did and their great work paid off, immensely.

What surprised me most about this was how much heart it really had. It’s a film with soul and while I picked up on that as a kid, I see it much differently now, as an adult that has lived a much fuller life. In that time, I’ve lost several people close to me and had a deeper understanding of family that you don’t fully grasp as a child.

Home Alone really does hit you in the feels in a really profound way and I guess I can understand why my mom cried every time she saw it. I just thought she was weird but I was also a little shit obsessed with Nintendo, comics and G.I. Joe.

It’s actually kind of hard to review a perfect film. I can’t really pick anything apart or point out negatives because there aren’t any.

So I guess that’s it.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: its direct sequel and other John Hughes holiday movies.

Film Review: Ratboy (1986)

Release Date: October 17th, 1986
Directed by: Sondra Locke
Written by: Rob Thompson
Music by: Lennie Niehaus
Cast: Sondra Locke, Sharon Baird, Robert Townsend, Christopher Hewett, Larry Hankin, Sydney Lassick, Gerrit Graham, Louie Anderson, Billie Bird, John Witherspoon, Gary Riley, Courtney Gains, M.C. Gainey, Jon Lovitz, Bill Maher

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 104 Minutes

Review:

After seeing the trailer and checking out the critical consensus on this film, I thought that I might still enjoy it due to how weird it looked. But honestly, it was kind of hard to get through and the novelty of it wore off really quick. But hey, the French liked it.

This was Sondra Locke’s directorial debut and man, it was a complete misfire. So much so, that she never really bounced back from it and only had four total directing credits to her name, one of which was a television movie. She also got nominated for a Razzie for her performance in this, although she lost out to Madonna’s performance in Who’s That Girl?

I had read that this was made as a sort of allegory to her long relationship with Clint Eastwood, which was dissolving at the time. She saw herself as victimized and exploited and for whatever reason, this script spoke to her. I’m not entirely sure if she saw herself as the Ratboy character and Clint Eastwood as her character but this vapid Taylor Swift moment seems pretty petty and immature.

Locke also had Eastwood’s production company produce the film, so maybe that was her final “fuck you” to the guy.

Anyway, apart from Rick Baker’s solid effects used to create the Ratboy character, there is next to nothing about this film that is impressive. Hell, it even has a great cast with several talented character actors but they can’t come close to saving this, as it’s a complete dud from top-to-bottom. Granted, I do like Gerrit Graham in everything and I did enjoy him here, even if the film felt like a waste of his time.

This is just slow, drab, predictable and boring as fuck. There are a few amusing bits like the scene with John Witherspoon trying to hustle Ratboy but these moments are far and few between and it’s not worth sitting through the whole, dull picture to pull out the good bits. Besides, the clip is probably on YouTube.

I had hoped that there would be something worthwhile in this. Other than the few things I already mentioned, there isn’t.

The end.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: I honestly don’t know, as it’s so bizarre and unique.

Film Review: One Crazy Summer (1986)

Also known as: Greetings from Nantucket (working title)
Release Date: August 8th, 1986
Directed by: Savage Steve Holland
Written by: Savage Steve Holland
Music by: Cory Lerios
Cast: John Cusack, Demi Moore, Curtis Armstrong, Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray, William Hickey, Joe Flaherty, Mark Metcalf, John Matuszak, Kimberly Foster, Matt Mulhern, Tom Villard, Jeremy Piven, Rich Hall, Taylor Negron, Billie Bird

A&M Films, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“[Reading the obituaries] “Hey, Hoops, you ever notice how people die in alphabetical order?” – George Calamari

One thing that makes this film so damn fun to watch is that it was chock full of a lot of talent from the time.

While it stars John Cusack and Demi Moore, it boasts great comedic and character actors like Bobcat Goldthwait, Curtis Armstrong, Joel Murray, William Hickey, Joe Flaherty, Taylor Negron, Rich Hall and Billie Bird. It also features big man John Matuszak a.k.a. Sloth from The Goonies and a very young Jeremy Piven.

This is a really goofy and surreal film but I don’t feel like it gets too lost in its zaniness. It does stay pretty well grounded and just works as a great ensemble comedy that is very much a product of its time. While that might mean that it hasn’t aged well to some, I still found it to be energetic, charming and goofy while still being an entertaining and mostly mindless pleasure.

The story focuses on a summer vacation to Nantucket for two buddies that recently graduated high school. One falls for a musician girl and there is a romantic subplot there but it isn’t heavy handed or really even the centerpiece of the movie’s plot. Most of the film is a series of gags with an overall story that connects everything and gives the characters more of a purpose and an objective towards the end.

Additionally, the film’s director is an animator and he incorporates his animations into the film. I found that stuff to be pretty cool and it just fit the film well. In fact, it really sets the tone from the opening credits, as it then slides the viewer into live action. The director, Savage Steve Holland would go on to create Eek! The Cat.

My favorite part of the film was the bit where Bobcat Goldthwait got stuck in a rubber Godzilla suit and accidentally crashed a party, which also saw him stomp across a miniature real estate model of a residential community. Granted, I’m a massive Godzilla fan, love Bobcat and this was at the height of his awesomeness.

One Crazy Summer is silly but it is enjoyable silly. I still like it quite a bit and it’s a good flick to cheer you up on a gloomy day.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other teen comedies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Sixteen Candles (1984)

Release Date: May 4th, 1984
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, Gedde Watanabe, Billie Bird, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jami Gertz, Brian Doyle-Murray, Zelda Rubinstein

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Can I borrow your underpants for 10 minutes?” – The Geek

This was the movie that put John Hughes on the map and made him one of the most prolific directors and writers of the ’80s and ’90s. While not my favorite Hughes film, it still has some charm, resonates today and set the stage for his better films that would follow.

One thing Hughes was really good at doing was tapping into the teenage psyche and making it relatable to audiences of any age. In a way, his approach makes his films feel timeless, even if they are bogged down in ’80s cliches and tropes. While his films may feel like a cultural time capsule they still feel genuine and his characters still feel authentic.

While the teen comedy genre was already booming by the time that Sixteen Candles came out, it was this film that created some of the tropes that became synonymous with the style. While Fast Times at Ridgemont High predates it by two years and set the stage, it was a much more serious film at its core. Sixteen Candles keeps things fairly lighthearted and it also doesn’t delve into the teen sex comedy well as deeply as most of the similar films of the time like Private SchoolThe Last American Virgin, etc.

This was really Molly Ringwald’s breakout performance. She had appeared in a few films and was on the early episodes of the sitcom The Facts of Life but it was here that she became a major bankable star in the ’80s.

This film also helped Anthony Michael Hall become a household name, even though he had already done National Lampoon’s Vacation, by this point. He would be a pivotal part in two more of Hughes’ teen films: The Breakfast Club and Weird Science.

It’s worth noting that the sibling duo of John and Joan Cusack also had roles here.

Sixteen Candles was a great foundation that Hughes used to propel his career forward, thus giving us several great pictures. Without this movie, Hollywood in the ’80s and what became known as teen comedies, would be very different. Hell, everything today could still just be Porky’s and Meatballs clones.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The ‘Police Academy’ Film Series, Part I – The Mahoney Years (1984-1987)

As a kid, no comedies brought me as much replayable joy as the Police Academy films. Yes, they are cheesy and the humor is crude and low brow with slapstick thrown in but to a kid in the 1980s, that is what I liked. And it may have been the first film where I saw boobs.

Still to this day, I enjoy it. And even though this comedy method is generally used poorly in most modern films, it worked in these movies and for the time they were current.

This series spawned a new movie every spring from 1984 through 1989 and then gave us an unwatchable seventh film in 1994. Up until the end though, this was a great series. I’m not sure how new audiences would take to them today but from 1984 to 1989, the Police Academy franchise was adored by fans even if it was generally panned by critics.

Police Academy (1984):

Release Date: March 23rd, 1984
Directed by: Hugh Wilson
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Hugh Wilson
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Kim Cattrall, Bubba Smith, George Gaynes, Donovan Scott, Michael Winslow, Andrew Rubin, David Graf, Bruce Mahler, Marion Ramsey, Brant von Hoffman, Scott Thomson, G.W. Bailey, Leslie Easterbrook, George R. Robertson, Debralee Scott, Doug Lennox, Georgina Spelvin

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Good speech.” – Carey Mahoney

The first film in the series introduces us to many of the characters we will see over the course of several films. Most importantly, this movie gave the world the comedic talents of Steve Guttenberg. Guttenberg’s Sgt. Carey Mahoney would be the central character of these films over the first four installments.

We also got to meet Michael Winslow’s Larvell Jones, Bubba Smith’s Moses Hightower, David Graf’s Eugene Tackleberry, Leslie Easterbrook’s Sgt. Callahan, Marion Ramsey’s Sgt. Hooks, G.W. Bailey’s Lt. Harris and George Gaynes’ iconic Commandant Eric Lassard. Other major characters would come in other films but these characters lasted over most of the series and each one of them are memorable and lovable in their own way. The Police Academy series is an example of large ensemble comedies done right.

This film in the series had the most overall narrative and is considered by most to be the best film. Later films in the series were full of long-running jokes chaining back to this film, as well as being structured by a series of gags and funny bits that were only lightly threaded together by an actual plot. This one was an adult comedy, full of a large cast of kooky characters – in many ways it was similar in style to Slap Shot, Caddyshack and in some regards, MASH. The great use of this formula in Police Academy also inspired a slew of knock-off films throughout the mid 80s.

The plot is about a bunch of screw ups who join the Police Academy after the mayor declares that anyone can join the academy and be given a fair shot. It concludes with a sequence that sees these screw ups go into the field with minimal training and finding themselves in the middle of a downtown riot.

As stupid and absurd as this film can be, it does create a solid sense of camaraderie among the characters. You care about them, their relationships with one another and the crazy situations they find themselves in. This is why this movie became a hit and why this series lasted for seven pictures. You wanted to see more of these people and their antics.

Police Academy was a huge hit at the time and deservedly so. Each subsequent film dropped of a bit in success but they all still did pretty well through the 80s.

Rating: 8.5/10

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985):

Release Date: March 29th, 1985
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Bruce Mahler, Colleen Camp, Art Metrano, Marion Ramsey, Howard Hesseman, George Gaynes, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, Rich Hall

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t make me flare my nostrils!” – Zed

The first sequel quickly followed the original film.

In this one, we see our beloved officers take their first job at a precinct ran by Howard Hesseman’s Pete Lassard, younger brother to Commandant Lassard. Also, Lt. Harris is replaced as the main antagonist by Art Metrano’s Lt. Mauser. This creates a lot of debate between Police Academy fans as to who was the better series antagonist: Harris or Mauser. I will say that they are both awesome.

We are also introduced to Lance Kinsey’s Lt. Proctor, who went on to become one of the funniest and most iconic idiots in cinema history. This is also the first of three films featuring Bobcat Goldthwait as Zed and Tim Kazurinsky as Sweetchuck. Zed is the big villain of the film and he is fantastic. He is also Goldthwait’s most recognizable character and plays much better as a goofy bad guy in this film than as a cop in the later ones.

This movie is still a great continuation of the Police Academy series and expands on the characters enough to where you enjoy seeing them growing up and taking on new roles.

Also, the big finale at the abandoned zoo was really cool. It was an awesome location for the gang’s hideout.

Rating: 7.5/10

Police Academy 3: Back In Training (1986):

Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Art Metrano, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, Bruce Mahler, Lance Kinsey, Scott Thomson, Brant von Hoffman, Debralee Scott, Brian Tochi, George R. Robertson, Ed Nelson

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Mahoney must think he’s as dumb as we are.” – Captain Proctor

The third film rehashes the formula of the first Police Academy but doesn’t do it as well.

Here we have a new class of cadets joining the academy but now the cadets from the original film are there to train them. It is a passing of the torch to a new generation but the new generation didn’t give us many new characters to sink our teeth into. Zed and Sweetchuck return and become cops in this one but they are the brightest spot by far of the new cast of recruits.

The film is still funny, it employs a lot of the same gags and it ends with a pretty decent water action sequence for a film that is a low budget 80s comedy.

The main plot focuses on two academies going head-to-head in a competition, as the worst of the two is going to be shutdown due to budget cuts. The evil academy is ran by Mauser from the previous film. Mauser and Proctor, when together, are comedy gold.

Rating: 7.25/10

Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol (1987):

Release Date: April 3rd, 1987
Directed by: Jim Drake
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Sharon Stone, Colleen Camp, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Brian Tochi, Scott Thomson, Billie Bird, David Spade, Brian Backer, Tab Thacker, Corinne Bohrer, Tony Hawk, Randall “Tex” Cobb

Warner Bros. Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t touch those! Don’t you ever touch my balls without asking!” – Captain Harris

In an effort to not completely redo the plots of the first and third movie, this film sees Commandant Lassard start a new program that allows citizens to train at the academy with real police officers in an effort to build up a better relationship with the community. Essentially, it is a rehash of the first and third films but the little twist makes it a bit more interesting.

Billie Bird steals the show here as the elderly Mrs. Feldman. She is a tough as nails, take no shit, bad ass old lady that is the perfect compliment to the big gun-toting maniac that is Sgt. Tackleberry.

Sharon Stone is in this film too but you’ll barely notice. You can also enjoy the small roles played by a young David Spade, Brian Backer and a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo by Tony Hawk.

Also, due to a bad back injury that Art Metrano suffered, Mauser was out of the picture and G.W. Bailey’s Capt. Harris was brought back as the antagonist of the series. Harris and Proctor together were even better than Mauser and Proctor in the two previous films.

The gags are great, the pranks are awesome and this film embodies the spirit of the installments before it. Unfortunately, it is the last film to star Steve Guttenberg and a drop off in quality over the course of the next three films was a result. We also lost Goldthwait and Kazurinsky after this chapter in the series and they were definitely missed.

The highlight of this movie is the big action sequence at the end, which featured biplanes, hot air balloons and a whole lot of mayhem.

Rating: 7.25/10