Film Review: Summer School (1987)

Release Date: July 22nd, 1987
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Jeff Franklin, Stuart Birnbaum, David Dashev
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Robin Thomas, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Dean Cameron, Gary Riley, Patrick Labyorteaux, Kelly Jo Minter, Shawnee Smith, Richard Steven Horvitz, Ken Olandt, Fabiana Udenio, Duane Davis, Carl Reiner

Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Our next field trip has to be to the beach.” – Chainsaw, “We have to see Annamaria in a bikini. It’s very important.” – Dave

I feel like Summer School was lost in the shuffle all of all the teen comedies back when it came out. I mean, there were a ton of these type of movies in the late ’80s. I never even saw it until the early ’90s on cable but I immediately loved it.

For one, I’ve always liked Mark Harmon. He was on a few shows that my mum watched and he just always came across as a cool and likable guy. But in Summer School he’s probably even more so, especially from the perspective of a kid growing up, as he was the sort of teacher you always wanted.

Additionally, the kids in this are all pretty great and many of them went on to have pretty good careers in television and film.

The story centers around Harmon’s Freddy Shoop, a high school P.E. teacher off to Hawaii for the summer when he gets stuck having to teach summer school to a class of losers. Although, as we learn, the kids aren’t losers, they just need a different kind of approach to learning and some motivation. Over the course of the story, Shoop and the kids build a great bond and by the end, they’ve all vastly improved under his style of teaching, which irritates the snooty principal.

This film really solidified Dean Cameron as one of the best guys to play a stoner type. His best friend in this, Gary Riley, was another young actor that always made me smile when I’d see him pop up in things.

Additionally, this film really benefits from Kirstie Alley’s involvement. This is right before she rose to prominence on Cheers but this movie allowed her to exercise her solid comedic acting chops, which would go on to define her career going forward.

While I don’t think that this movie will play well for those who didn’t grow up in the ’80s or ’90s and don’t already like these sort of goofy, teen comedies, I still think it’s a better film than one might expect. In a sea of similar pictures, it’s definitely better than average and just has fun characters while being an entertaining and amusing movie about a teacher giving a crap about kids that everyone else has given up on.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Also known as: Austin Powers (working title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Mike Myers
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Mimi Rogers, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Fabiana Udenio, Will Ferrell, Joe Son, Paul Dillon, Charles Napier, Elya Baskin, Clint Howard, Tom Arnold (uncredited), Carrie Fisher, Larry Thomas, Burt Bacharach, Michael McDonald, Cindy Margolis, Christian Slater (UK version only), Rob Lowe (scene deleted) 

Capella International, Gratitude, Juno Pix, New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes, 68 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my underground lair. I have gathered here before me the world’s deadliest assassins, and yet each of you has failed to kill Austin Powers. That makes me angry. And when Dr. Evil gets angry, Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset. And when Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset… people die!” – Dr. Evil

I, like most people, was a big fan of this film series when it was current. Weirdly, I hadn’t watched any of these since the third movie, Goldmember, came out in theaters. I had seen the first two at least a half dozen times, however, leading up to that third and final chapter.

Revisiting these now was a lot of fun. Even though I remembered just about everything and knew all the jokes and gags, it still felt like I was seeing it fresh and frankly, it made me nostalgic for a time when you could make movies like these because the world wasn’t so f’n PC and sensitive. If they ever made a fourth film, it would be a neutered and unfunny bitch.

This first film is still a hell of a lot of fun and it’s great, solid escapism. Especially in the early 2020s, as the world is really turning into a big ball of shit. Not having much in the way of real entertainment has also taken its toll on people, so looking back at stuff like this is kind of comforting.

In spite of the adversity nearly everyone has gone through as of late, it’s still hard not being happy watching Mike Myers ham it up as an uglied up, horny, British spy that’s part playboy, part buffoon and somehow still a hero when the odds are against him.

Like the ’90s, as a whole, this movie is crass and low brow. But growing up in that time is why I love that shit and probably why I miss it. Then again, people still knew how to laugh back in 1997.

Anyway, Myers also plays Dr. Evil, the film’s villain and his greatest character. But Myers also had the benefit of playing off of so many other great actors in this film. It’s this series that really cemented Seth Green as a legitimate talent for me and it also helped me fall in love with the comedic greatness of Mindy Sterling. Plus, Robert Wagner has never been better and that guy is always f’n great!

Additionally, this movie is full of hot babes, most notably the angelic Elizabeth Hurley. We also get Mimi Rogers at her all-time hottest, as well as Fabiana Udenio, a long time favorite babe of mine, and the glorious and sultry Fembots.

Austin Powers wasn’t the first film to parody the James Bond franchise but honestly, it’s probably the best and I say that as someone that adores the Dean Martin Matt Helms quadrilogy. 

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Austin Powers films and other ’60s styled spy spoofs like the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies and the original Casino Royale.

Film Review: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Also known as: RoboCop II (working title)
Release Date: June 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Tom Noonan, Belinda Bauer, Gabriel Damon, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Willard E. Pugh, Stephen Lee, Frank Miller, John Glover, Fabiana Udenio, Mark Rolston, Patricia Charbonneau (uncredited)

Tobor Productions, Orion Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes we just have to start over, from scratch, to make things right, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to build a brand-new city where Detroit now stands – an example to the world.” – The Old Man

Do you remember that time that RoboCop showed up on a WCW pay-per-view to rescue Sting from the Four Horsemen? Well, that was a stunt to promote this movie. That being said, it would have been a better stunt to promote the third film, as this one wasn’t quite as cheesy as that terrible professional wrestling segment. Spoiler alert: the third movie is terrible but I’ll review that one at a later date.

RoboCop 2 is no RoboCop but it is still a pretty solid sequel, all things considered, and it is still to this day the second best RoboCop film.

Now this isn’t, by any means, a classic. It is, however, a pretty good example of a sequel that can expand on an already established mythos and expand on it in a new way, enriching the world these characters live in and giving us new material that isn’t simply just a retread of the already proven formula.

Peter Weller is still excellent and I was glad that we got to see more of him playing off of Nancy Allen. They have a nice chemistry, which existed in the first movie but didn’t really flourish until the end of it. Sadly, this would be the last time they’d share scenes together, as Weller dropped out of the series before RoboCop 3 was filmed.

The real scene stealer in this film is Tom Noonan, who just plays creepy bad guys so damn well. This was the first time that I remember seeing him but he went on to be one of my favorite character actors of his day. Although, the scenes with the young Gabriel Damon, who plays the child gangster Hob, were pretty f’n great too. The villains here aren’t as great as Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox in the first RoboCop but they are still fantastic foils and gave RoboCop two new types of threats that he didn’t face in the first movie.

I also liked the girl, Angie, and the top level henchman that looked like a cross between Joe Bob Briggs and Elvis.

Additionally, I love that Tom Noonan’s Cain is made into a new cyborg, appropriately called “RoboCop 2”. This was the first time that we got to see RoboCop fight a big villain that was similar to himself and not just a human meatbag. Granted, he has two run ins with ED-209 in the first film but those were relatively easy confrontations for him.

I liked that they really embraced the dark humor a bit more in this film too. The use of kids as legitimate juvenile delinquents in an almost post-apocalyptic Detroit was damn cool. Especially when I saw this as a kid.

A real standout for me though was Willard E. Pugh. I talked about him a bit when I reviewed the severely lackluster The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 because he stood out in that film and was pretty funny and the same can be said here. In this film, he plays the mayor of Detroit and he’s just so enjoyable that it’s almost a crime that he didn’t come back for RoboCop 3. Other than this film, he is probably most famous for playing Trustus Jones in CB4.

My only real complaint about this film is that the score was all new. Basil Poledouris did not return so I guess they didn’t use his iconic themes. The score here is decent but it lacks the extra gravitas that the original RoboCop theme had. Poledouris would return for RoboCop 3, however.

RoboCop 2 is a sequel worthy of following its predecessor. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, or so they say, but this was much better than other sequels to sci-fi classics.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first RoboCop movie and the first two Terminator movies.

Film Review: Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

Release Date: October, 1989 (Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Rick Fry, Woody Keith, Brian Yuzna
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, David Gale, Fabiana Udenio, Kathleen Kinmont

Wild Street Pictures, 50th Street Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Blasphemy? Before what? God? A God repulsed by the miserable humanity He created in His own image? I will not be shackled by the failures of your God. The only blasphemy is to wallow in insignificance. I have taken refuse of your God’s failures and I have triumphed. There! There is my creation!” – Dr. Herbert West

I know I am in the extreme minority here. However, I actually prefer Bride of Re-Animator to Re-Animator. Not that I dislike the original in the slightest. This one just has an edge on it, in my opinion. But I will get into that.

This film brings back the important people. Jeffrey Combs returns as Herbert West, the mad doctor behind the grisly experiments that are responsible for the monsters in these films. Bruce Abbot returns as his reluctant partner Dan Cain and David Gale reappears as the villainous Dr. Carl Hill. In this film though, the severed head of Hill is given bat wings so that it can travel around with ease, scaring the crap out of everyone at every turn once we get to the final act of the story.

The film also adds in Fabiana Udenio, as a nice love interest for Dan. However, Dan is also obsessed over Gloria (Kathleen Kinmont), a deceased patient that becomes re-animated as the title character of the film in a similar fashion to the Bride from various Frankenstein stories and adaptations.

The reason I like this film better than the original, is that it seems to have a higher level of quality. The practical special effects have improved, the lighting, cinematography and overall camera work are also better. Plus, the characters are more established and the actors seem to be really embracing their roles and the story with much more vigor than in the first film. There is just a level of comfort and familiarity that seems to come through the lens and onto the screen.

Also, I just like this story better. Where the first film was a reinvention of the Frankenstein tale with an H.P. Lovecraft touch, this one is a reinvention of the Bride of Frankenstein. While I love Frankenstein it is the Bride of Frankenstein that I have always loved more and the same is true with these great reinventions of those stories.

Jeffrey Combs is just so at home here, as Dr. Herbert West. This is the film where he became more than just a one off character and really cemented himself as a horror icon. It was unfortunate that it took so long to get another sequel after this one, as he could have become his generation’s version of Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein. And maybe he has reached that status but I could have watched him do this for six or seven films like Cushing’s awesome run from the late 50s into the early 70s.

As good as the first Re-Animator was, I wouldn’t have bought into the concept of it as much, had it not been for this film turning it into a series, albeit a short one with just three films.

Rating: 8.25/10