Film Review: 1941 (1979)

Also known as: The Night the Japs Attacked (working title)
Release Date: December 13th, 1979 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, John Milius
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Ned Beatty, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Toshiro Mifune, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Treat Williams, Penny Marshall, Nancy Allen, Eddie Deezen, Slim Pickens, Dianne Kay, Wendie Jo Sperber, John Candy, Frank McRae, Lionel Stander, Michael McKean, Joe Flaherty, Don Calfa, Elisha Cook Jr., Mickey Rourke, John Landis, Dick Miller, Donovan Scott, James Caan, Sydney Lassick (uncredited)

A-Team, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, 118 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 142 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“You get me up in that plane, then we’ll talk about forward thrust.” – Donna Stratton

Considering that this was directed by Steven Spielberg and is loaded with dozens of stars that I like, having not seen this until now seems like a crime. But honestly, it came out when I was a year-old and it wasn’t something that I saw on TV growing up in the ’80s. Frankly, it flew under my radar for years and even if I saw the VHS tape in a mom and pop shop, the box art wouldn’t have piqued my interest.

I have now seen the film, though, and while I enjoyed it, I can see why it wasn’t held in the same esteem as Spielberg’s other work at the time.

This features a lot of characters and ensemble pieces like this can be hard to balance. With that, this felt more like an anthology of separate stories that don’t really come together until the end, even if there is a bit of overlap leading to the climax.

Everyone was pretty enjoyable in this but at the same time, they all just felt like tropes and caricatures, as none of them had much time to develop. That’s fine, though, as this isn’t supposed to be an intense dramatic story about war coming to US soil.

One thing I will point out as great in this movie is the special effects and being that this featured World War II military vehicles, it almost felt like Spielberg’s test drive before directing the Indiana Jones ’80s trilogy, which employed some of the same techniques and effects style that this film did.

The miniature work was superb and I loved the sequence of the airplane dogfight over Hollywood, as well as the submarine sequence at the end. The action was great, period.

I also generally enjoyed the comedy in this. It’s almost slapstick in a lot of scenes and it kind of felt like Spielberg’s homage the comedy style of Hollywood during the time that the movie takes place in.

That being said, the costumes, sets and general design and look of the film was great and almost otherworldly. This felt fantastical but in the way that the films of the 1940s did. There was a cinematic magic to the visuals and the film should probably get more notoriety for that.

What hurts the film, though, is that it just jumps around so much and it’s hard to really get invested in anything. There’s just so much going on at all times that your mind loses focus and starts to wander.

The story, itself, isn’t hard to follow but nothing seems that important, other than the Americans need to defend their home from this rogue submarine that appeared off the coast of Los Angeles.

In the end, this is far from Spielberg’s best and I’d call it the worst film of his uber successful late ’70s through early ’90s stretch. However, it’s still an enjoyable experience.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other comedies with Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi or other Saturday Night Live cast members of the era.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part III (1990)

Also known as: Three (fake working title)
Release Date: May 25th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Donovan Scott, Bill McKinney

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Listen up, Eastwood! I aim to shoot somebody today and I’d prefer it’d be you. But if you’re just too damn yella, I guess it’ll just have to be your blacksmith friend.” – Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen

The Back to the Future trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. It’s damn near perfect and the films are still just as enjoyable now, as they were thirty years ago.

Each one is a tad bit weaker than the previous but since the first one is an absolute masterpiece, the sequels are still better than 95 percent of all the movies ever made.

Part III is my least favorite chapter in the trilogy but it is still one of the best popcorn movies a film fan could ask for.

This takes the Back to the Future formula and throws it into the Old West. I like that they did this and it opens up the series for some fresh takes on some of its tropes but I also feel like the western twist maybe wasn’t strong enough on its own to carry the whole film. What I liked most about the second film, the one I find to be the most entertaining, is that it jumped around and showed us a variety of different times and alternate timelines.

Also, I feel like going further back in time to the Old West might have worked better in the second film. Like maybe they could have flip-flopped the second and third pictures. Which also could have given us the wonderful Mary Steenburgen in two movies instead of just this one where she was actually a bit underutilized. Sure, you’d have to rework some narrative details.

I am going off on some tangents and most people will probably disagree with my take but in the end, this was still a superb motion picture and one of the best from its era.

While it is still exciting it is a bit bogged down by the scenery and is the slowest of the three films, which also adds to my thoughts on it not being the best choice for the final chapter. This feels more like a second act and when it ends, it ends quite abruptly.

But I love the tone of the film and it still captures the amazing Back to the Future spirit. It also probably would have played better, at least for me, if they kept making these and just didn’t cap it off at three films like every other movie franchise of its time. They could’ve given us two more of these pictures, had they made them shortly after this one and frankly, I’m pretty sure they would have maintained the same quality had they utilized the same creative team.

Back to the Future, Part III is the weakest of the three but the bronze medal winner in the strongman championships is still stronger than just about everyone else in the world.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Psycho III (1986)

Release Date: May, 1986 (Seattle International Film Festival)
Directed by: Anthony Perkins
Written by: Charles Edward Pogue
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Donovan Scott

Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Conservative clothes never go out of style.” – Norman Bates

As impressed and surprised as I was by Psycho II, I was kind of hoping that the magic would sustain into the third film in the series. Also, considering that this one was directed by Anthony Perkins, a man who knew Norman Bates better than anyone on the planet, I was hoping that he’d bring some real depth to the character and story.

Well, this doesn’t live up to the quality of Psycho II and it’s nowhere near as clever but it works alright as an ’80s slasher picture, as long as you aren’t looking for a massive body count or an overabundance of gore.

The film benefits greatly from the performances of Perkins, as well as Jeff Fahey, who has been a favorite of mine for years and who always brings a little something extra to every movie that he’s in.

Although, apart from the two male leads, the rest of the cast is pretty damn weak.

Also, the story just isn’t there for me. It’s kind of like a rehash of elements from part II but mostly comes off as a fairly mindless slasher movie. It lacks the psychological terror of the first two pictures and Perkins doesn’t seem to have the acumen, behind the camera, to really propel this story forward visually or from narrative standpoint.

The script, however, is pretty terrible and it doesn’t seem to understand some of the things that worked so well before. For instance, it has always been assumed, at least by me, that Norman was actually speaking to himself in his mother’s voice. Here, it’s as if his mother’s voice is in his head because we often times see Norman reacting to the horror of her requests as she talks to him off screen. It takes the magic away and there’s just something more batshit about Norman speaking, as his mother, to himself. The film also cuts to shots of Norman’s dead mother pointing and changing her position from shot to shot without his assistance. Maybe the film is trying to take some sort of artistic liberty in trying to show these moments through Norman’s eyes but it doesn’t work.

Where you weren’t sure if Norman was the killer in part II, that mystery is gone here, as he’s pretty much just a slasher, cutting his way through some ladies. But he still has that good side in him and doesn’t necessarily want to do evil but the ending of the second film set him off and there are certain moments in this one that pull the triggers to propel Norman to murder, once again.

This isn’t a waste of time, if you like the Norman Bates character, but this chapter in the original string of films is weak. I can’t speak yet for the fourth and final film, as I haven’t seen it and I actually can’t find it streaming anywhere.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

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, Ted Ross

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