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: Heavy Metal (1981)

Also known as: Universo en fantasía (original Spanish language title)
Release Date: July 29th, 1981 (premiere)
Directed by: Gerald Potterton
Written by: Daniel Goldberg
Based on: original art and stories by Richard Corben, Angus McKie, Dan O’Bannon, Thomas Warkentin, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, various
Cast: Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis, Susan Roman, Richard Romanus, August Schellenberg, John Vernon, Zal Yanovsky

Canadian Film Development Corporation, Guardian Trust Company, Columbia Pictures, 86 Minutes, 90 Minutes (premiere cut)

Review:

“A shadow shall fall over the universe, and evil will grow in its path, and death will come from the skies.” – Narrator

Fuck, this movie is so damn cool!

However, it does lack in the “heavy metal” department, as far as the music goes. That’s not to say the music is bad, this is just a lot less heavy than the title implies. Still, this developed a really strong cult following and for very good reason.

I love the rock and pop tunes in this, though. I mean, where else can you see a sword and sorcery story with sci-fi elements playout to a Devo song? Nowhere!

This entire movie is an animated anthology. The various segments were inspired by some of the stories and art that appeared in the pages of the Heavy Metal comic magazine. This is also a very adult cartoon, as it features nudity, sex and violence. There really isn’t anything here for kids but I saw it as a kid and it blew my mind. The ’80s were a different era, though. Kids today can’t watch Gremlins without needing the light on till they turn thirty.

Anyway, this was produced by Ivan Reitman and it featured a lot of his regular actors in voice roles. It’s kind of neat watching this for the first time in years and hearing John Candy, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty. It almost needed Bill Murray in there to round it out but it was still pretty dope hearing these comedic legends voices pop up in something like this.

That being said, this is just a really unique experience and it still conjures up a sort of magical feeling when watching it.

Despite the action and violence, the film has a calming, chill vibe to it and I think that has a lot to do with its visual style, tone and the superb use of music to season the already flavorful meal.

Heavy Metal is a weirdly comforting movie that reminds me of a time when filmmakers were still daring and experimental and with that, often times gave us movies that were really interesting, wonderfully eccentric, bizarre and special.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other late ’70s and ’80s adult animated films.

Film Review: Stripes (1981)

Also known as: Cheech and Chong Join the Army (original script title)
Release Date: June 26th, 1981
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Dan Goldberg, Harold Ramis, Len Blum
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, Sean Young, John Candy, John Larroquette, John Diehl, Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Bill Paxton

Columbia Pictures, 106 Minutes, 122 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“Who’s your friend? Who’s your buddy? I am, aren’t I? You’re crazy about me, aren’t you?” – John Winger

This is considered one of the all-time great Bill Murray comedies. While I do like it, it was never really at the top of my list. I’m not quite sure why, as it also features Harold Ramis, John Candy, John Larriquette, Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas: all comedy legends I love.

Stripes is funny and amusing but from a narrative standpoint, it always felt kind of sloppy and pointless. Sure, these new recruit losers (mainly Murray and Ramis) do rise to the occasion and become heroes for a day, however, things in this movie just sort of happen without much purpose.

I get it, though, this is sort of just a goofy, mindless comedy. However, I guess I hold these guys and director Ivan Reitman to a higher standard because they’ve made much better films.

Without Bill Murray and someone as great as Ramis to play off of in nearly every scene, this would be reduced down to just a run of the mill screwball comedy like Meatballs or Porky’s.

I also know that Reitman probably didn’t have much of a budget to work with but this picture looks more like a television movie than a cinematic one. However, the film’s success did pave the way for the Ghostbusters movies, which are, to this day, my favorite comedy films of all-time.

Stripes is a movie that I still watch about twice a decade, as I can put it on and not think. But ultimately, it’s just never been as beloved by me as it seems to be by many others.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bill Murray films of the ’80s, as well as comedy pictures directed by Ivan Reitman and John Landis.

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: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Buck Flower, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage), Mary Ellen Trainor (uncredited)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Detroit Rock City (1999)

Release Date: August 13th, 1999
Directed by: Adam Rifkin
Written by: Carl V. Dupre
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Edward Furlong, Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello, Sam Huntington, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Natasha Lyonne, Lin Shaye, Melanie Lynskey, Shannon Tweed, Joe Flaherty, Ron Jeremy

Base-12 Productions, Takoma Entertainment Group, New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes

Review:

“God forbid one day you have a son like you, Jeremiah. A boy who lies through his teeth, buys demonic records, and smokes the dope!” – Mrs. Bruce

A lot of people a generation older than me usually get miffed when I tell them that I don’t like KISS. They have a song or two I can tolerate but I’ve just never been a fan of the Coca-Cola of rock and roll and I really just don’t get it. But I was born after KISS and can’t really understand what it was like to be there, in the moment, when they took over the airwaves in the early 1970s and had their likeness all over every product imaginable like Chewbacca and E.T. That being said, I don’t hate KISS and some of them are pretty amusing guys when I see them in interviews. Plus, Gene Simmons was a marketing genius: the Don Draper of rock and roll.

I did enjoy this film though, regardless of how I personally feel about KISS’ music and cartoon nature.

I’ve always liked Edward Furlong, even if he’s been a thorn in Hollywood’s side due to his issues when he was younger. However, just watch American History X or Animal Factory if you don’t think the kid can act, he can. This is one picture where Furlong just seems to be having a lot of fun and enjoying the material. He’s also the glue that holds this thing together.

You also have Giuseppe Andrews, an actor that I have always felt should be working more than he does. He’s a fantastic talent and has had a wide range of characters. But like Furlong, he got to sink his teeth into something fun and straightforward with this movie and he does a good job with it.

Sam Huntington and James DeBello round out the group of friends and both carry their own, as well. You also have a lot of great actors in minor roles: Natasha Lyonne, Lin Shaye, Melanie Lynskey, Shannon Tweed, Joe Flaherty and Ron Jeremy. And of course KISS is in the movie.

The story follows four friends and band mates, as they travel to Detroit to see KISS. However, they don’t have tickets and each friend goes on their own adventure in an effort to secure tickets with less than two hours to spare. The film essentially breaks out into four separate adventures that weave back together by the end. I actually really liked the narrative structure and it was well handled, well edited and flowed nicely.

Detroit Rock City is not a teen sex comedy classic but it is as good as some of the films that many consider to be classics of the genre. Had it starred someone like James Van Der Beek or Freddie Prinze Jr. it would have probably gotten more recognition, at the time. However, it stars the kid John Connor from the Terminator franchise before he fell off the map, two guys from Cabin Fever and Superman Returns‘ Jimmy Olsen. That’s not a knock against any of these guys but three out of the four hadn’t quite gotten bigger opportunities before this.

This is definitely a movie worth checking out if you like mostly mindless fun, especially from the teen sex comedy drama. Plus, it is less derivative than most of the films in the genre.

Rating: 7.5/10