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: 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: 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: The Blues Brothers (1980)

Also known as: The Return of the Blues Brothers (original script title)
Release Date: June 20th, 1980
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: various
Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson, John Candy, Kathleen Freeman, Twiggy, Frank Oz, Charles Napier, Steven Spielberg, Steven Williams, Paul Reubens, Chaka Kahn, John Lee Hooker, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Joe Walsh, Armand Cerami

Universal Pictures, 133 Minutes, 148 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” – Elwood, “Hit it.” – Jake

This was a favorite comedy of mine, as a kid. It also probably helped develop my love of music, as it exposed me to styles that weren’t simply the standard pop tunes of the day. Given the film’s name, one could assume that this is full of blues music but it also features some soul, jazz, rock and a bit of country and western.

The Blues Brothers also solidified John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as two of the coolest guys working in Hollywood. Sadly, Belushi died two years later but my exposure and love of this movie led me down the path of watching everything Dan Aykroyd did for well over a decade. It also made me appreciate and love the work of director, John Landis.

A movie like this reminds of what movies used to be. It came out in a stupendous era for film and provided audiences with legitimate escapism from the harsh realities of the real world. This didn’t try to preach to you or force fed you some lesson, it was just a hell of a lot of fun, featured incredible music, didn’t take itself too seriously and offered up a tremendous dose of comedy when you didn’t have to worry about offending a small percentage of people that don’t buy anything, anyway.

This reminded me of why I watch so many retro movies and why I don’t really give a shit about new stuff coming out. At least for the most part. I’m am really intrigued by the newest adaptation of Dune, even if it is only going to be relegated to the small screen. But I digress, as I’ve gotten side tracked here. I just thought that it was necessary to explain what sort of feeling and thoughts this movie generated, seeing it in 2021 for the first time in quite awhile.

The Blues Brothers features dozens of great cameos of legitimate musicians essentially playing fictional versions of themselves. Strangely, this works. I think that also has to do with the film jumping around a lot and by putting the bulk of the acting work on Belushi and Aykroyd, who proved that even at their young age, they could certainly carry a motion picture and entertain just about everyone through their brand of comedy and music.

That being said, it also made me miss the really old days of Saturday Night Live. I was born after that show started but I did have access to a lot of those classic episodes growing up thanks to my uncle’s massive VHS library.

Anyway, this is just an energetic, lighthearted movie with soul and personality. It’s the type of picture that brings people together and leaves them all with a smile. I fucking miss movies like this.

I should also get the soundtrack on vinyl because not owning it should be a crime and I’m disappointed in myself for not having it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other comedies by John Landis, also those by Ivan Reitman, as well as comedies starring Dan Aykroyd.

Film Review: Home Alone (1990)

Release Date: November 10th, 1990 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: John Hughes 
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Roberts Blossom, Angela Goethals, Devin Ratray, Gerry Bamman, Hillary Wolf, John Candy, Larry Hankin, Kristin Minter, Kieran Culkin, Billie Bird, Bill Erwin

Hughes Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Down here you big horse’s ass, come and get me before I call the police.” – Kevin McCallister

I’m just going to come out and say it immediately, this is a perfect film: a true masterpiece.

I hadn’t seen this in-full in a few decades, actually, but I was quickly reminded as to why I loved this movie so much, as a middle school-aged kid back in 1990.

The film has that special John Hughes charm but it’s turned up to eleven. I think that had a lot to do with Chris Columbus’ direction and his ability to seemingly magnify Hughes’ effect into something magical, charming and so heartwarming that it’s impossible not to love.

The cast is perfect from top-to-bottom, which is difficult with big ensemble pieces. However, most of the scenes feature the trio of Macaulay Culkin, in his first starring role, as well as great actors regardless of genre, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

These three main players had immense chemistry and they looked like they enjoyed the hell out of making this movie. I’m sure they had no idea that this would blossom into a cultural phenomenon but it did and their great work paid off, immensely.

What surprised me most about this was how much heart it really had. It’s a film with soul and while I picked up on that as a kid, I see it much differently now, as an adult that has lived a much fuller life. In that time, I’ve lost several people close to me and had a deeper understanding of family that you don’t fully grasp as a child.

Home Alone really does hit you in the feels in a really profound way and I guess I can understand why my mom cried every time she saw it. I just thought she was weird but I was also a little shit obsessed with Nintendo, comics and G.I. Joe.

It’s actually kind of hard to review a perfect film. I can’t really pick anything apart or point out negatives because there aren’t any.

So I guess that’s it.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: its direct sequel and other John Hughes holiday movies.

Film Review: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Release Date: December 19th, 1986
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Howard Ashman
Based on: Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman, The Little Shop of Horrors by Roger Corman, Charles B. Griffith 
Music by: Miles Goodman (score), Alan Menken (songs)
Cast: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, James Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, Levi Stubbs (voice), Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Michelle Weeks, Vincent Wong

The Geffen Company, 94 Minutes, 102 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Does this look “inanimate” to you, punk? If I can move and I can talk, who’s to say I can’t do anything I want?” – Audrey II

I used to watch this quite a lot when I was a kid. It was always on cable and I liked everyone in it, so when channel surfing in the late ’80s, I often times stopped when this was on.

Oddly enough, I haven’t seen it since the ’80s but I’ve always meant to go back and revisit it, especially since I love the original Roger Corman film and revisit that one every five years or so.

This version of the story was actually an adaptation of the off-Broadway musical, which was inspired by the Corman film from 1960. I’ve never seen the musical on-stage and there are some story differences but it’s something I’d like to see, even if it’s just on television, assuming there’s a version I can watch.

Anyway, back to this film.

This will always hold a nice spot in my heart because it features two I guys I really enjoy, especially when together, Rick Moranis and Steve Martin. This also sprinkles in Bill Murray, Jim Belushi, John Candy and Christopher Guest. Needless to say, it’s chock full of great ’80s comedic talent.

I also dig the hell out of Ellen Greene and Vincent Gardenia, who rounded out the cast nicely and played their parts perfectly.

The real gem of this picture, though, is the monster, Audrey II. The monster evolves into a massive, talking, man-eating venus flytrap. Audrey II is actually an alien trying to kickoff a full alien invasion but to do so, he needs to grow and to do that, he needs human blood.

What makes the monster so cool is two things, the first of which is the voice acting of Levi Stubbs, the lead vocalist of the Four Tops. Stubbs was stupendous and he made Audrey II one of the coolest villains in ’80s cinema.

The second thing is the practical effects, animatronics and puppeteering that brought the giant plant to life. This isn’t some CGI bullshit that takes you out of the movie, this is a real, physical beast that was live and on the set, interacting with the actors on film. The character just looks great, moves great and it’s incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and get caught up in this bonkers movie.

The real cherry on top of it all is the music. It’s great and I say that as someone that usually turns away from musicals because it’s the one genre that doesn’t really resonate with me. For me to care about a musical, it’s got to work on a level beyond that and attract me to it with some sort of cool twist. This picture does that well and I honestly don’t simply see it as a musical.

In the end, I’m glad that I finally revisited Little Shop of Horrors and it somewhat exceeded the expectations my memory had for it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the original film, as well as other comedies featuring Rick Moranis, Steve Martin and John Candy.

Film Review: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Release Date: November 25th, 1987
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon, Dylan Baker, Larry Hankin, Richard Herd, Edie McClurg, Bill Erwin, Ben Stein, Martin Ferrero, Lyman Ward

Hughes Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you… but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like… I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ‘Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.” – Del

While I don’t love this movie as much as most people, it’s still something I watch leading up to Thanksgiving almost every year. The main reason, is it focuses on what’s important in life while also reminding its audience to open up to other people, even those who may seem difficult, because human beings are human beings and we’re all in this ride together.

Plus, I love buddy comedies and the pairing of legends Steve Martin and John Candy was a great one.

The film benefits from John Hughes’ masterful skill in blending comedy and drama, tackling tough subjects while also remaining lighthearted and hopeful. I miss good, positive films like this and even if it’s a “very ’80s thing” on the surface, it’s still sort of timeless and has a real charm about it that most modern films can’t replicate even when they really try.

This is why John Hughes was so great, though, because even though other filmmakers were able to make similar, feel good movies in the ’80s, Hughes’ films just had an extra sprinkle of something special that not only transcended the screen but also the time in which they were made.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles isn’t even the best of Hughes’ comedies (or even his holiday themed ones) but it captures that magic exceptionally well and it’s hard not to smile while watching these guys bumble through one crappy situation after another, seemingly attached at the hip all the way till the end.

That being said, I also don’t know how well this would’ve worked with other actors. Martin and Candy were reaching legendary status with each passing film and the merging of their talents in this took this picture to a level that it otherwise probably wouldn’t have reached, even with Hughes behind the camera and the typewriter.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other John Hughes holiday comedies, as well as comedies starring Steve Martin and John Candy.

Film Review: Summer Rental (1985)

Release Date: August 9th, 1985
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Mark Reisman, Jeremy Stevens
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: John Candy, Karen Austin, Kerri Green, Joey Lawrence, Rip Torn, Richard Crenna, John Larroquette, Richard Herd, Lois Hamilton

St. Petersburg Clearwater Film Commission, Paramount Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“I love you Scully. That’s not the booze talkin’ either.” – Jack Chester

This was one of those movies I used to watch a lot as a kid. I hadn’t seen it in years though but after recently revisiting The Great Outdoors, I wanted to give this similar movie some love.

Sadly, it’s nowhere near as good as I remembered it being. But that’s not to say that it isn’t amusing and funny. It is, but that’s mainly due to how charming and lovable John Candy is regardless of the quality of the production he finds himself in.

The story follows a guy who is forced to take a vacation so he packs up the family and heads to Florida for the summer. Once there, a series of mishaps happen and the vacation is turned into a bit of a nightmare but ultimately, he has to come to look at the silver lining and reconnect with those he loves most while also challenging himself in a new way in an effort to succeed at something important to him.

This is a lighthearted positive film and it feels like a relic because there are few movies like this anymore, which is kind of sad. But even with all the shit that is thrown at John Candy’s Jack Chester, he tends to find a way to get over it and be optimistic.

Apart from Candy, I really liked Rip Torn as his buddy that teaches him how to sail and helps inspire him to win a sailing race against the town’s rich asshole.

That asshole is played by Richard Crenna, who I also liked a lot in this, as he isn’t playing his typical tough guy role but is instead playing a pompous old yuppie that gets to ham it up and have fun. In fact, he and Candy made such good rivals in this, I’m surprised Crenna didn’t get more similar roles following this film. But then again, this just did okay in theaters and was critically panned at the time.

Summer Rental isn’t the best John Candy movie, by any means, but it still showcases the guy’s magnetic charm and it makes you want to root for him and his family.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other vacation comedies of the ’80s, most notably The Great Outdoors, also with John Candy.

Film Review: The Great Outdoors (1988)

Also known as: Big Country (working title)
Release Date: June 17th, 1988
Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Stephanie Faracy, Annette Bening, Robert Prosky, Lewis Aquette

Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I gotta go to the John, I’ll be right back. Gonna introduce Mr. Thick Dick to Mr. Urinal Cake!” – Roman

I used to watch the hell out of this movie when it first came out on VHS back in the day. I probably single-handedly wore down the tape at my local video store. As a kid, I just loved it and that has a lot to do with it starring two of my favorite movie comedians, as well as just being fun, lighthearted, goofy and a bit of a coming of age tale where it focuses on the oldest kid.

Also, I loved the raccoon and bear scenes.

Seeing this as an adult with a hell of a lot of movie watching mileage under my belt, I still enjoy this film. I think a lot of that enjoyment is due to the nostalgia bug latching onto me like a lamprey but even if I had never seen this, I’m pretty sure it would still amuse me like many other ’80s comedies do.

John Candy and Dan Aykroyd were both at the top of their game and in this, they had good chemistry that provided the moviegoing audience with a great rivalry that blossomed into something positive and strong. And at this film’s core, it’s really about loving your family in spite of your personal differences.

For the most part, this is really just a series of funny gags and sequences. There isn’t much story, as things just sort of happen, but it still does a good job with its characters and establishing their conflicts and their underlying love for one another.

Ultimately, it’s just mindless escapism that will still probably make most people laugh. It has that patented John Hughes charm to it, even if it isn’t as good as the films he personally directed.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s “summer” comedies, specifically Summer Rental, also with John Candy, and One Crazy Summer.