Film Review: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Release Date: November 15th, 1992 (Century City 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, Devin Ratray, Gerry Bamman, Hillary Wolf, Kieran Culkin, Tim Curry, Brenda Fricker, Eddie Bracken, Dana Ivey, Rob Schneider, Ally Sheedy (cameo), Donald Trump (cameo), Bob Eubanks (cameo), Rip Taylor (cameo), Jaye P. Morgan (cameo), Jimmie Walker (cameo)

Hughes Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Hey. You guys give up? Have you had enough pain?” – Kevin McCallister

As I said in my review of the first Home Alone, I hadn’t seen that movie in-full in years. Well, I hadn’t seen this one since it came out. I’ve seen scenes on television over the years but I felt like a full watch was grossly overdue.

So while this isn’t as great as the original and while I don’t think that it was necessary, it’s still really endearing and a fun, holiday movie.

All the important cast members are back but if I’m being honest, it would’ve been nice just getting a cameo from Roberts Blossom after he saved Kevin and reunited with his estranged son in the first film.

That being said, it’s kind of unbelievable that Kevin would’ve been left behind by his family once again but you’ve got to kind of suspend disbelief and just go with it. I mean, it’s also unbelievable that this kid could live and survive in New York City on his own and that while there he’d run into the same burglars from the first film but I digress. This isn’t the type of story where you should be really thinking that hard.

My only real gripe about this film is that it’s too long. I don’t know why they had to go for a full two hours, as the just over ninety minute running time of the first movie was perfect. But I guess Kevin is in a much larger environment and that provided John Hughes the luxury of writing more gags.

Despite the new, grandiose setting, though, the film is really formulaic and just tries to repeat the main beats of the first movie. That doesn’t wreck it though, it just makes it a slightly inferior but still a pretty good copy of the masterpiece it’s trying to emulate.

I really liked the cast additions of Tim Curry and Rob Schneider in this one, though. They added a lot to the movie and their interactions with Kevin and then his parents were pretty good.

It was also great seeing Kevin put the burglars through the gauntlet once again and while this sequence isn’t as iconic as the original, it still provided some great slapstick comedic moments and I love seeing Culkin, Pesci and Stern play off of each other in these scenes.

All in all, the first film is perfect but this is a worthwhile sequel that doesn’t diminish the greatness of the original while giving you a few more hours to spend with these characters you love.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor and other John Hughes holiday movies.

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: 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: 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.

Film Review: Weird Science (1985)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchel-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rusler, Suzanne Snyder, Judie Aronson, Vernon Wells, Michael Berryman, Steve James, Wallace Langham (as Wally Ward)

Silver Pictures, Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?” – Lisa

This was one of those films that I used to watch constantly when I was a kid. I loved this picture and, at the time, it was one of the coolest movies I had ever seen.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it but I still really enjoyed it, even if it’s much harder for me to suspend disbelief as much as this film requires. But it doesn’t really need to make sense if you just surrender yourself over to the absurdity of it.

However, it has not aged well and it almost feels like a relic from the ’80s in a bad way. Also, out of John Hughes’ four big teen movies of that decade, I’d have to consider this one the worst, even though it was once my favorite.

The story is just absolutely bonkers and doesn’t make a lick of logical sense but the spectacle of it makes it entertaining.

My main problem isn’t that two teens make a girl using “science” it’s just how half-assed and convenient the whole process seemed. As a kid, you don’t think about this shit. However, as an adult, you do and if most people are like me, your brain will get more literal thinking with age. That’s not really going to bode well for this film’s longevity, as its audience has grown up and moved on. Well, maybe not those that are so addicted to nostalgia that they have to continually live vicariously through the past.

It probably sounds like I’m shitting on the movie and I don’t mean to. It’s fine for what it is and for its era, especially considering the age of its audience at the time. But even seeing this now, it’s hard not to like these characters, even if their journey seems kind of pointless and they don’t seem to actually learn anything important other than boners can make a man brave.

Kelly LeBrock is great in this and honestly, she’s the glue that keeps this movie from falling apart. But, as an adult, you start to see her character through a new lens and her story is pretty tragic and incredibly fucked up.

Here we have a supremely intelligent woman that was created by two horny teenagers that take her for granted, use her and then dump her less than 48 hours later, leaving her to wander the Earth with her magic powers and no real human connection with anyone. Sure, she’s Einstein level intelligent with beauty and personality but this sounds like the origin of a horror monster. And maybe, just maybe… there’s some sequel potential there. Just send me a check, I’ll see myself out and go straight to the bank, Universal.

Anyway, this is a fun, dumb movie that might not work as well in 2020, as it did in 1985, but it still probably deserves the beloved status it’s built up over the years. Despite my new take on it, I’ll still probably revisit it once in a while. But that’s also because it’s hard for me to sometimes resist the nostalgia bug even though I can see it for what it is.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s John Hughes movies, as well as ’80s and ’90s teen comedies.

Film Review: Career Opportunities (1991)

Also known as: One Wild Night (working title)
Release Date: March 29th, 1991
Directed by: Bryan Gordon
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Frank Whaley, Jennifer Connelly, Dermot Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney, Barry Corbin, William Forsythe, John Candy (uncredited)

Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[to himself] She’s so beautiful. And I’m the town liar.” – Jim Dodge

This film probably gets a worse rap than it should. If you are comparing it to John Hughes’ top films, yeah, it falls short. But it is still a fun and amusing coming of age comedy that still has the John Hughes spirit worked into its script.

Maybe some of the problems with this is that Hughes didn’t direct the movie and that it rehashed a lot of ideas that he already addressed in better ways with previous films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles but those ideas are still worth exploring in a fresher way with characters that are a bit older.

I liked Frank Whaley and I know that even he had reservations about his own performance and being cast in the role but I think he did a good job and he was certainly likable in this, despite being the “town liar”. Really, he’s just a chronic embellisher and storyteller.

Jennifer Connelly also did a good job and her performance and line delivery were actually better than what the script called for. But I think the thing that worked well for this picture was that she had really good, natural chemistry with Whaley.

I also liked all the smaller characters in the film like the cameos by John Candy and William Forsythe, as well as the scenes with the always entertaining Barry Corbin. Dermot and Kieran Mulroney were also enjoyable as the bumbling bandits that come in at the end of the film.

If I’m being honest, some of my love for this movie could be due to nostalgia. As a kid, this movie was cool because what kid didn’t want to be locked in a Target all night with the entire store as a playground? Plus, I was crushing hard on Jennifer Connelly and frankly, that’s a crush that never really died, as she still catches my attention in almost every film she’s in.

For the time, the soundtrack is also solid. It features a lot of pop hits but it’s that weird era where music was transitioning from the ’80s into the ’90s and being middle school age when this movie came out, meant that a lot of the music worked for me and the time.

While I wouldn’t put this in the upper echelon of Hughes’ work, it’s still a fun, energetic and entertaining movie. Hughes actually requested to have his name taken off of the film, as he didn’t like the finished product, but I still think this is a better picture than most people give it credit for.

Career Opportunities achieved what it set out to do. It was made to be a lighthearted coming of age comedy that served as escapism for an hour and a half. Okay, maybe it fell just slight of that running time but it was good escapism for a twelve year-old in 1991. And I still revisit it every half decade or so.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age John Hughes comedies: Ferris Bueller’s Day OffWeird ScienceSixteen CandlesThe Breakfast ClubPretty In PinkSome Kind of Wonderful, etc.

Film Review: Sixteen Candles (1984)

Release Date: May 4th, 1984
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, Gedde Watanabe, Billie Bird, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jami Gertz, Brian Doyle-Murray, Zelda Rubinstein

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Can I borrow your underpants for 10 minutes?” – The Geek

This was the movie that put John Hughes on the map and made him one of the most prolific directors and writers of the ’80s and ’90s. While not my favorite Hughes film, it still has some charm, resonates today and set the stage for his better films that would follow.

One thing Hughes was really good at doing was tapping into the teenage psyche and making it relatable to audiences of any age. In a way, his approach makes his films feel timeless, even if they are bogged down in ’80s cliches and tropes. While his films may feel like a cultural time capsule they still feel genuine and his characters still feel authentic.

While the teen comedy genre was already booming by the time that Sixteen Candles came out, it was this film that created some of the tropes that became synonymous with the style. While Fast Times at Ridgemont High predates it by two years and set the stage, it was a much more serious film at its core. Sixteen Candles keeps things fairly lighthearted and it also doesn’t delve into the teen sex comedy well as deeply as most of the similar films of the time like Private SchoolThe Last American Virgin, etc.

This was really Molly Ringwald’s breakout performance. She had appeared in a few films and was on the early episodes of the sitcom The Facts of Life but it was here that she became a major bankable star in the ’80s.

This film also helped Anthony Michael Hall become a household name, even though he had already done National Lampoon’s Vacation, by this point. He would be a pivotal part in two more of Hughes’ teen films: The Breakfast Club and Weird Science.

It’s worth noting that the sibling duo of John and Joan Cusack also had roles here.

Sixteen Candles was a great foundation that Hughes used to propel his career forward, thus giving us several great pictures. Without this movie, Hollywood in the ’80s and what became known as teen comedies, would be very different. Hell, everything today could still just be Porky’s and Meatballs clones.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Breakfast Club (1985)

Release Date: February 15th, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Keith Forsey, Gary Chang
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

A&M Films, Channel Productions, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

I got to see this on the big screen thanks to Flashback Cinema, who are doing a fantastic job at bringing classics back to participating theaters.

It is really a rare thing for a film to transcend its time. For a film that is so very much 80s, it is even rarer.

The Breakfast Club is certainly a representation of the era in which it came out in but it carries a message and a feeling that is timeless. Frankly, 1980s American teen life is on display here but John Hughes created something so deep that it reflects the attitude and feeling of the youth from any generation. While I don’t think that was his intention, at the time, his magnum opus The Breakfast Club, over thirty years later, still gives a voice to teenagers struggling with their growth into adulthood.

Being shot in under two months, primarily in a high school gymnasium made to look like a school library, the film far exceeds its spacial and production limitations. The first cut of the film, before heavy edits, came in at 150 minutes. It’d be great to see that version but an extended cut has never been released, even though it still supposedly exists.

Hughes also assumed that this would be his first film, as he had no directing experience and wanted to create it in a single space in quick time. However, he did do Sixteen Candles before The Breakfast Club, which thankfully lead to the casting of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, after their performances in that film.

Hall played Brian, the brainy character. Ringwald was originally supposed to play the recluse Allison but she begged to be Claire, which lead to the casting of Ally Sheedy as Allison. Emilio Estevez was initially slated to play the rebellious John Bender but was switched to the jock Andy after the casting of Andy didn’t go well. Judd Nelson beat out John Cusack for the role of Bender, as he was able to come off as meaner. He also took the method acting route which caused Hughes to want to fire him due to how he treated Ringwald off camera. The cast ultimately stuck up for Nelson and he stayed in the film.

I don’t often times describe the casting process in the films I review but when you have an ensemble that is near perfect, it is interesting to see how things came together in that regard, especially with all the shifting that happened in pre-production. The end result was a perfect storm that gave us characters that are bigger than the film itself.

The acting was superb, even though some of the dialogue is 80s cheesy, primarily the insults. This was a quintessential Brat Pack movie though and they weren’t all famous because they were cool kid actors, they were famous because they had acting chops. Compare the Brat Pack starring teen flicks of the 80s with those not starring Brat Pack members and there is a huge gap in talent and quality. Granted, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is a rare exception to this point.

I have watched this film many times throughout the years but each time is a reminder of just how good it is. The characters are all pretty relatable in their own unique ways. And as I move into middle adulthood, it is kind of a character check on myself, as I am reminded of the struggle that teens go through and how they view older people and authority in general. I’m not a parent but I hope that this film at least opened the eyes of many of the young teens who grew up and are parents now. It is hard to remember your emotions and thoughts from your teen years but somehow The Breakfast Club brings it all back.

The Breakfast Club is the finest film John Hughes ever made, which is a pretty big deal when almost everything he did became iconic. He didn’t just define a teenage generation, he defined all teenage generations. And all these years later, the film still resonates pretty profoundly.

Rating: 9.25/10