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: Last Action Hero (1993)

Also known as: Extremely Violent (working title)
Release Date: June 13th, 1993 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited), Zak Penn, Adam Leff
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin O’Brien, Bridgette Wilson, Ian McKellen, Tina Turner, Rick Ducommun, Angie Everhart, Al Leong, Colleen Camp, Professor Toru Tanaka, Sharon Stone (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Joan Plowright (cameo), Danny DeVito (voice), MC Hammer (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Maria Shriver (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Timothy Dalton (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Wilson Phillips (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but you’re gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer – acne, shaving, premature ejaculation… and your first divorce.” – Jack Slater

Man, this was a film I really loved when it came out. It was imaginative, fun and truly balls to the wall, even for not being an R-rated movie.

While it is still pretty fun, it isn’t a movie that has aged very well. At its heart, it is still a great homage to over the top, high octane action films from the ’80s, much like the ones that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It features lots of explosions and a ton of gun action and great vehicle chases but it is pretty toned down for a PG-13 audience unlike the hard R-rating that these movies typically get. Overall, it is more like a tongue in cheek parody of the genre. Schwarzenegger and the director, John McTiernan, poke a lot of fun at themselves and the films that they were instrumental in creating.

One cool thing about this movie is the over abundance of cameos it has. Since it takes place in a fantasy world and also goes into the “real world”, we get to see a lot of stars playing themselves, as well as some of their most famous characters within the fantasy movie world.

The story sees a young boy get a magic golden ticket that was supposedly passed down from Houdini. The ticket whisks the boy away into the movie he is watching, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a character named Jack Slater. The boy gets caught up in Slater’s in-movie adventure and gets to experience the fantasy fiction world of action films, which just so happens to overlap with other genres. Eventually, the big bad guy discovers the power of the ticket and uses it to go from world to world in an attempt to pull off heists and to gather other villains to stand against Slater.

The movie is full of late ’80s/early ’90s cheese but it is the best kind. Sure, the kid can get a bit grating at times but he’s not as bad as a lot of the kid actors from the time. This was also the young Austin O’Brien’s first movie. But ultimately, he is the eyes and ears of the audience, swept into this world and it was effective. Plus, I was the right age for this movie when it came out and he really just seemed like one of my peers from school.

Last Action Hero wasn’t a hit when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It’s a better picture than the experts would have you believe though, especially if the subject matter is something you’re a fan of. I grew up loving ’80s and ’90s action movies, so this is my cup of tea. Besides, Schwarzenegger is always great when he’s hamming it up. He really hams it up here.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The ‘Caddyshack’ Film Series (1980-1988)

Caddyshack was a phenomenon that no one really expected. Panned by critics initially, it went on to be a box office hit and a launching pad for the film careers of Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. It was the final film for Ted Knight but he quickly followed it up with his hit sitcom Too Close For Comfort – one of my favorite shows, as a kid. The film also starred the Gopher, who should have gone on to star in his own animated series and toy line but someone missed the boat on that one.

This film also spawned a sequel, a fairly awful sequel, but we will get to that after I talk about the original.

Caddyshack (1980):

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: Douglas Kennedy, Harold Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray
Music by: Johnny Mandel
Cast: Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Michael O’Keefe, Bill Murray, Cindy Morgan

Orion Pictures, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

caddyshackReview:

The first film is kind of a sentimental piece of art to me.

Reason being, not only does it feature several comedians I adored as a kid of the 1980s, and that I still love and respect, but it was shot near my home. As a kid and teenager, I have been to the golf course and pool used in the film multiple times. Actually, I didn’t even know that the pool I used regularly, was the Caddyshack pool until a few years after the fact.

Personal stories aside, it may not be a flawless film or even a great film but it is still a gem and a classic. It put the spotlight on several actors who went on to achieve greatness. It was a smorgasbord of different comedy styles that meshed well together. It featured two greats from Saturday Night Live, at a time when that show was still breaking ground and changing the television game. It also featured veteran funny men who created iconic characters.

The only people who suffered and maybe didn’t get their proper moment to shine were the regular cast of caddies and club goers. Would it had been a better, more fluid film, had the regular cast been allowed to tell their characters’ stories? Perhaps. But would it have been as beloved?

Caddyshack is a fun movie. It is simple in its execution but stellar in its heart. Whether you even like golf or not, is of no consequence here. The country club is just the backdrop for comedic geniuses at the top of their game.

And I should point out that rock legend Kenny Loggins made one of the best movie themes of all-time for this picture.

Rating: 9/10

Caddyshack II (1988):

Release Date: July 22nd, 1988
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Harold Ramis, Peter Torokvei
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Jackie Mason, Robert Stack, Dyan Cannon, Dina Merrill, Jonathan Silverman, Brian McNamara, Marsha Warfield, Paul Bartel, Randy Quaid, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd

Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

caddyshack_iiReview:

The problem with Caddyshack II, in my estimation, is that they waited too long to make it. The only cast member that they could lure back was Chevy Chase and he is barely in it.

Replacing Bill Murray, as the gopher hunter, is Dan Aykroyd. Even though he was at the height of his career, Aykroyd’s character was too bizarre for its own good. He kind of took the weird Murray shtick from the first film and turned up the volume a little too high.

You have Robert Stack as the new villain, replacing Ted Knight, who passed away before this film. Stack was not the great comedic bad guy that Knight was. And it was strange watching the guy who was the face of Unsolved Mysteries trying to fill in for the lovable and hilarious Knight.

Jackie Mason, an old comedian that I love, was the sole bright spot of the movie. However, he was chosen to be the Rodney Dangerfield character. While I enjoyed Mason, he just didn’t have the chops Dangerfield had 8 years prior. But I certainly appreciate the enthusiasm he showed in this role.

Jonathan Silverman, was in this too. He was was a non-event here but would go on to star alongside Andrew McCarthy in the classic Weekend At Bernie’s a year later. You can go ahead and ignore Weekend At Bernie’s II though.

The movie also features the talents of Marsha Warfield, Dyan Cannon, Randy Quaid and a favorite of mine, Pepe Serna.

Caddyshack II was just a bad movie. It was barely funny and the gags were just too far out there. It is worth a watch just to see it but don’t expect an urge to revisit it often like the original.

Rating: 3/10