Film Review: Pollyanna (1960)

Release Date: May 19th, 1960
Directed by: David Swift
Written by: David Swift
Based on: Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter
Music by: Paul Smith
Cast: Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, Richard Egan, Adolphe Menjou, Agnes Moorehead

Walt Disney Productions, 134 Minutes

Review:

“We looked for the good in them, and we found it, didn’t we?” – Reverend Paul Ford

There are few motion pictures as sweet and heartwarming as this one.

It’s been at least three decades since I’ve seen this film but just about everything that Disney put out with Hayley Mills as the star was a classic in my book. Well, except maybe those ’80s Parent Trap sequels but I guess I’ll revisit those in the future to see how they measure up.

But this is a pretty good film that showcases Mills’ natural talent and displays just how charismatic she was and how infectious her charm could be.

I didn’t really love this movie as a kid. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t something I wanted to watch more than a few times because I would’ve rather spent my time watching action, adventure, monsters and spaceships.

As an adult, I was really impressed with this film and I kind of felt like I bonded with it in a way that I never had before. Sure, it’s more of a girls’ movie if you take it at face value but it has a message for all humans and it’s a great message: always look for the positives even in the worst situations.

While that may sound cliche and cheesy, this film presents it in a really lighthearted, digestible and pleasant way. And I don’t think that the film’s message and impact would have been nearly as strong without Pollyanna being played by someone as capable as Mills.

The film is actually an ensemble piece that Mills is the center of. She comes to town to live with her rich aunt after the death of her missionary parents. Pollyanna then touches everyone in town in a pretty profound way that brings people together and helps to unite a community that really needs it.

But there are so many colorful and unique characters that every interaction that Pollyanna has with someone is pretty entertaining and serves a real purpose in progressing the plot towards its emotional conclusion.

Pollyanna might feel dated and slow in parts but it’s a movie with a good message that is timeless. It’s also a well made and beautiful film with equal parts drama, comedy and charm.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hayley Mills Disney movies.

 

Film Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Also known as: Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (complete title), Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (poster title)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Earl Felton
Based on: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Music by: Paul Smith, Joseph S. Dubin
Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“I am not what is called a civilized man, Professor. I am done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.” – Captain Nemo

Even though I own most of the stuff I want to see on Disney+, I love the streaming service because I’m exceptionally lazy and it allows me to stay sitting on my ass because I don’t have to walk across the room and get the physical disc.

I’ve wanted to revisit and review this for awhile but it’s one of the films I was waiting to re-watch once Disney+ debuted. Plus, the HD quality of the streaming version is better than my two decades old DVD.

Anyway, this was one of my favorite adventure movies as a kid and still, to this day, this is my favorite Jules Verne film adaptation.

This motion picture is close to perfection from top to bottom. It is the best big budget live action film of its decade and it captures the spirit of the book, the magic of Disney and the incredible fun of high adventure done right!

Richard Fleischer has done several films that I’m a fan of but I have to say that this is truly his best work. Although, I’m not sure how much control he had over the production and how much Walt Disney himself was involved. Whatever the case may be, this was a perfect storm behind the scenes that gave the world one of the greatest adventure movies ever put to celluloid.

As old as this movie is now, it doesn’t feel dated other than how it looks. It still flows nicely, has a great pace and there isn’t a dull moment in its 127 minutes. Everything that happens on the screen is necessary and enriches the story. It’s not bogged down by filler, unnecessary side plots or characters and it doesn’t dilly dally.

The film is also greatly accented by its four leads: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Peter Lorre and Paul Lukas. Each man played their part to perfection, each had unique voices and points of view and it was their chemistry and camaraderie that was the glue of the picture.

The special effects were also the best of the era. I’ve really tried to think of anything that can compare to it and there really isn’t anything, at least not in the decade that this came out in. It was ahead of its time and the effects were done so superbly that even now, 65 years later, it’s hard to tell what shots are actual effects. Everything looks good and seamless. Even the big rubber tentacles of the giant squid hold up. Plus, that sequence is still captivating and hasn’t become cheesy in the way that giant rubber monsters of yesteryear have become.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an incredible picture and it also launched its own genre for awhile, as a slew of Jules Verne adaptations and ripoffs started to flood theaters for twenty years following this. Frankly, I think they only died off due to the disaster movie trend that really took off in the ’70s.

It’s probably hard to quantify just how much of an impact this movie had on the film industry and American culture but I don’t think that the modern blockbuster would exist in the same way without this film’s existence.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the era.

Film Review: Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

Also known as: Big Baby, Honey, I Blew Up the Baby (working titles)
Release Date: July 17th, 1992
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Garry Goodrow, Thom Eberhardt, Peter Elbling
Based on: characters by Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Ed Naha
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Rick Moranis, Marcia Strassman, Robert Oliveri, Amy O’Neill (cameo), Lloyd Bridges, John Shea, Keri Russell, Gregory Sierra, Julia Sweeney, Ron Canada

Touchwood Pacific Partners 1, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“There’s one thing every little kid knows. Daddies mean fun; mommies mean business.” – Diane

This is a bad sequel. In fact, it’s a horrendous sequel.

And that sucks because Rick Moranis is a Canadian national treasure.

The reason this film is terrible is because it completely lacks the most important element of its predecessor: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. That element is adventure.

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid is just a goofy comedy where a giant toddler descends upon downtown Las Vegas and brings no real kaiju level terror. He just picks up random things and plays with them like an actual f’n toddler.

The previous film saw four kids get shrunk to a size smaller than ants and then saw them have to make it across their backyard, fending off giant bees, fighting giant scorpions, surviving a lawn mower and dealing with a half dozen other threats to their lives.

This film dealt with babysitting a giant toddler that just ends up escaping anyway. None of this is fun, funny or all that entertaining. The jokes are weak, the gags are lame and the only giant props in the film are the random pieces of crap the toddler has in his front pocket.

There’s honestly not a whole lot to say about this movie. It’s bad on just about every level and it shouldn’t exist.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: I guess the other Honey, I Re-Sized A Family Member movies.

Film Review: Return to Oz (1985)

Also known as: Oz, The Adventures of the Devil In the Sky (working titles)
Release Date: June 21st, 1985
Directed by: Walter Murch
Written by: Gill Dennis, Walter Murch
Based on: Oz books by L. Frank Baum
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Piper Laurie, Deep Roy

BMI (No. 9) Ltd., Oz Productions Ltd., Silver Screen Partners II, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Distribution, 113 Minutes, 110 Minutes (“uncut”), 109 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“I have always valued my lifelessness.” – Tik-Tok

I saw this in the theater when it came out. I’m not sure how this was a kid’s movie because it scared the shit out of me. Granted, it scared the shit out of me in that really cool way that made me re-watch the film again and again once I copied it onto my own VHS after renting it. Yes, I was a bootlegger creating my own entertainment library at six years-old.

Anyway, usually things that I found scary as a kid aren’t scary in adulthood. However, the two key creepy scenes in this film still hold up and are actually still effectively creepy. In a time when kids are much bigger pussies than my generation, this movie would wreck six year-olds’ brains.

The two scenes I’m talking about are the introduction of the evil Wheelers and the hall of severed heads, especially when their headless host awakes and the heads all come to life in their glass display cases.

In fact, that latter scene is pretty over the top and kind of a mindfuck even though I know it’s coming and honestly, that’s incredibly rare for a movie rated PG.

Moving beyond those two moments, the film itself is still pretty damn dark. I mean, any film that starts with a child being locked up in an asylum and about to receive electroshock therapy is quite unsettling.

Unfortunately, despite a few moments with some imagination and potential, the picture as a whole is kind of drab and definitely fifteen or so minutes too long.

The whole third act is really drawn out.

Once Dorothy and her friends get to the Nome King’s mountain, things screech to a halt. It’s not that this portion of the film is uninteresting, it’s just dragged out to an ungodly length and moves at a snail’s pace.

I still really enjoy the flick as a whole and it’s worth a watch for fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. However, it lacks energy in most places and getting from one sequence to the next can be like waiting for an elderly turtle to pull his dangling balls across a pool of molasses.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Oz films, as well as ’80s family fantasy movies.

Film Review: Manhunt In Space (1954)

Also known as: Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Manhunt In Space (complete title)
Release Date: 1954
Directed by: Hollingsworth Morse
Written by: Arthur Hoerl
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Richard Crane, Scotty Beckett, Sally Mansfield

Official Films, Roland Reed Productions, Space Ranger Enterprises, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Well, the Double M just became the scrambled M.” – Winky

Like the recently reviewed Crash of the Moons, this movie is actually just three episodes of the syndicated television show Rocky Jones, Space Ranger edited into a singular feature length picture.

Also, like Crash of the Moons, this is a pretty awful flick that was a product of its time but with seemingly less of a budget than other productions like it.

Rocky Jones is very similar to the motion picture serials of the time. It’s obviously this studio’s attempt at trying to create their own sci-fi hit like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

Out of the two Rocky Jones films I’ve seen now, I’d have to say that this is the weaker one.

Not a lot goes right with this production but I can imagine that 1950s boys didn’t care. The show was short-lived, living and dying in the same calendar year, but it did stretch over two seasons in that short time and thirty-plus episodes were made.

In retrospect, it doesn’t have the lasting impact that other sci-fi space operas of the era had. In fact, I think that the only way people today might even know about Rocky Jones is because two of the film versions were lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, as well as other ’50s and ’60s sci-fi that was shown on MST3K.

Film Review: Crash of the Moons (1954)

Also known as: Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Crash of the Moons (complete title)
Release Date: July 10th, 1954
Directed by: Hollingsworth Morse
Written by: Warren Wilson
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Richard Crane, Scotty Beckett, Sally Mansfield

Official Films, Roland Reed Productions, Space Ranger Enterprises, 78 Minutes (original cut), 86 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“Without a fixed position in outer space, they’re unable to make astronomy an exact science.” – Rocky Jones

Like several other science fiction pictures that were lambasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000Crash of the Moons is actually a couple of television episodes chopped up and re-edited into a movie format.

The footage is taken from three episodes of the short-lived syndicated TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

This film is low budget even for the television standards at the time.

I can’t fault the creative team behind this though. Their hands were tied, their funds were limited and they at least tried to make something imaginative and fun that sort of captures the film serial, space opera trend that was popular back in the day.

And honestly, even though this was on television for less than a year, it helped pave the way for science fiction on the medium. For the time, it also isn’t terrible and I can imagine a lot of young, 1950s boys sitting in front of the TV with their toy rocket ships, playing along with the action.

But when I look at it alongside other ’50s pictures and serials of the sci-fi genre, it is fairly boring and uneventful. I can’t speak for the entirety of the Rocky Jones show, I can only speak in regards to this film version.

While the episodes here mostly work as one body of work, things still feel disjointed and the story is bogged down by its pacing and editing. Its like we’re given a small chunk of the show without the added context of what happens around it and even if this were made to be episodic, it’s like big pieces of the plot, that we’re supposed to know, seem to be missing.

This just isn’t very exciting. I can imagine that it was for young males in 1954 but they also didn’t have a lot to compare it to back then, as television was a new medium and young boys tend to be captivated by outer space shit and adventure.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: the TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, as well as other ’50s and ’60s sci-fi that was shown on MST3K.

Film Review: The Goonies (1985)

Release Date: June 7th, 1985
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Chris Columbus, Steven Spielberg
Music by: Dave Grusin
Cast: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Jonathan Ke Huy Quan, John Matuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano, Anne Ramsey, Mary Ellen Trainor

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t you realize? The next time you see sky, it’ll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it’ll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what’s right for them. Because it’s their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it’s our time. It’s our time down here. That’s all over the second we ride up Troy’s bucket.” – Mikey

Cyndi Lauper sang that the “Goonies ‘r’ good enough” and frankly, I have to agree with her.

This is a perfect movie for kids… and adults, really. It’s fun, funny, full of adventure, danger, treasure, good feelings, friendship, imagination, wonderment and a bit of swashbuckling.

On top of that, every single person in the cast is absolutely perfect, top to bottom. This was just a special movie where everything seemed to go right, especially in regards to the actors chosen for each specific role.

On one side, you have the kids and their hulk-like ally Sloth. On the other side, you have the Fratelli crime family.

Every kid in this is great and they had spectacular chemistry. You believed that they were all friends and it was impossible not to root for them. With the Fratellis, you had another group that worked damn well together. Honestly, as a kid I kind of wanted a Fratelli spinoff movie. Sadly, Anne Ramsey died a few years after this but I’ve always wanted to see Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano come together as gangster brothers again.

Apart from the casting, you had a wonderful script penned by Chris Columbus from a story written by Steven Spielberg. With Richard Donner directing, it’s kind of hard to imagine this failing, even before seeing the picture.

It’s very rare that I come across someone that hasn’t seen the film. It’s reputation precedes it and for good reason. It has stood the test of time and it’s not something that loses steam the more you watch it. In fact, at least for me, it’s a film that I appreciate more with every viewing. It’s hard to peg as to why that is but man, it’s a film that just brings you to a special place; it’s magical and it is full of optimism when most entertainment, at least in modern times, is pretty nihilistic.

The Goonies gives one hope because it is exactly what entertainment needs to be, pleasant and enjoyable escapism that leaves you with a positive feeling despite whatever crap your day threw at you.

It’s perfectly paced, there isn’t a dull moment and every frame of the film… hell, every line spoken, has a purpose and has real meaning behind it.

The Goonies also benefits from its stupendous score by Dave Grusin, a guy who isn’t as well known as John Williams, James Horner or Alan Silvestri but was still able to create a theme and a score that was good enough to rival the best work of those three great film composers.

For what it is, The Goonies is absolutely perfect. If you don’t like it, you probably aren’t human or at least don’t have a heart.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: The Monster Squad, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Explorers.