Film Review: Vacation (2015)

Release Date: July 29th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, Michael Pena, Hannah Davis Jeter, Colin Hanks, John Francis Daley 

BenderSpink, David Dobkin Productions, New Line Cinema, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I just wanted to sing Seal with my family like normal people.” – Rusty Griswold

Full disclosure, I’m not an Ed Helms fan. I think the main reason for that is due to him making the final season of The Office pretty damn insufferable. I also don’t necessarily blame him for that, I think it was the writing and whoever was calling the shots on that show at the end. But with that, I was burnt out on Ed Helms for several years.

So, as I approached this film, I wanted to go into it with an open mind and without my previous biases. I knew I’d have to eventually get to this, as I was already watching and reviewing all the Vacation movies and didn’t want to simply omit this one just because it didn’t feature Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the leads.

I’m happy to say that I found this to be pretty decent. It does have some laughable moments, features cameos with a lot of people I like and Ed Helms had solid chemistry with Christina Applegate. Also, he played this version of Rusty Griswold pretty straight and not as over the top as his Andy Bernard character from The Office.

Ultimately, though, this is a rehash of what the original film was with the same destination in mind. The adventure on the way to WallyWorld followed similar beats and homaged some classic moments but there was enough original stuff in this to allow it to stand on its own and to not just be a paint-by-numbers remake.

I also like that this did bring back Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in their iconic roles, even if it was just a small part within the larger movie.

I can’t really say that this is all that memorable, though. It’s better than some of the other Vacation movies but that was never really a high bar to begin with.

In the end, this is goofy, mindless escapism and while some jokes don’t land as intended, the movie still has a good, positive spirit about it and I liked the core characters.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Hotel Hell Vacation (2010)

Release Date: February 7th, 2010
Directed by: Bryan Buckley
Based on: characters created by John Hughes
Music by: Stephen Altman
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Hungry Man, 14 Minutes

Review:

So this entry into the National Lampoon’s Vacation film franchise is the most unique, simply because it isn’t a feature length film and is actually a 14 minute short that was produced to promote a website from a decade ago that was essentially Airbnb before Airbnb.

The entire short film centers around just the Griswold parents, as they go to a romantic getaway in a hotel that’s terrible in every way.

The purpose of the film was to show that hotel stays are awful and that you should be renting people’s homes instead while on your vacation.

Website marketing aside, this is a fairly funny short that stays pretty true to the characters of Clark and Ellen Griswold. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo committed to this project and their iconic roles.

Still, this is a short and it goes by rather quickly, as Clark and Ellen eventually escape “Hotel Hell” and meet up with their son Rusty, who is staying in a nice beachfront rental with his family.

While this doesn’t have the running time to tell a larger story, it’s still chock full of decent gags and it fits well within the spirit of the film series.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other Chevy Chase comedies.

Film Review: Vegas Vacation (1997)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1997
Directed by: Stephen Kessler
Written by: Elisa Bell, Bob Ducsay
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Joel McNeely
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Ethan Embry, Marisol Nichols, Wayne Newton, Wallace Shawn, Miriam Flynn, Christie Brinkley, Julia Sweeney, Siegfried & Roy, Toby Huss, Sid Caesar, Jerry Weintraub

Jerry Weintraub Productions, National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t know when to quit, do ya Griswold? Here’s an idea: Why don’t you give me half the money you were gonna bet? Then, we’ll go out back, I’ll kick you in the nuts, and we’ll call it a day!” – Marty

While this is the National Lampoon’s Vacation movie that most people like the least, it’s actually my favorite. In fact, I think I like these movies in the exact opposite order of the general consensus.

Now I didn’t realize that this was my favorite until I just watched it because I hadn’t seen it since the ’90s and well, a lot of things didn’t leave big impressions on me then because I was too busy chasing girls, smoking things and drinking things.

Anyway, I did remember thinking that this version of Audrey Griswold was gorgeous and I’m glad to see that I was right. I also thought Marisol Nichols was good in the role and brought something new to it but then again, one of the in-jokes of this series is that the kids are recast with every film and there isn’t much of an effort in trying to keep those roles consistent. I also like that the film poked fun at this by having Clark admit that he doesn’t recognize his own kids.

I think that the role of Rusty has been mostly consistent, though. I really liked seeing Ethan Embry get the opportunity to step into the somewhat iconic role, as he was emerging as a top young talent at the time and I pretty much like him in everything.

Plus, Rusty’s story was my favorite in the film and I found the gags pertaining to his side quest to be pretty good. I also liked Jerry Weintraub, one of the film’s producers, playing the part of an older gambling legend that takes Rusty under his wing. This was just good, amusing shit all around.

Beverly D’Angelo’s Ellen spent the movie smitten with Wayne Newton and honestly, I enjoyed this too, especially getting to see Newton play a fictional, over-the-top, womanizing version of himself.

Chevy Chase’s Clark was more chill than he normally is, which I actually found refreshing as his antics can grow tiring by the end of the film. In this, he just wanted to spend time with his family, who were all off doing their own things.

Clark also gets his own side plot where he develops a rivalry with a Vegas dealer played by the always stupendous Wallace Shawn. In fact, outside of The Princess Bride, this may be his best character.

I guess what I like about this so much is the same thing I like about European Vacation and that’s seeing each character go off and have their own adventure and story arc. Granted, I like seeing these characters come together, and they always do, but the multiple plot threads, weaving in and out, is just more entertaining and keeps the movie flowing at a good pace.

Vegas Vacation has an unfair, bad rap for some reason. Sure, it came out after a long hiatus in the series and is the only picture of the original four that didn’t come out in the ’80s. With that, the formula was stale by 1997. However, seeing it, nearly twenty-five years removed from its release, it isn’t bad and it fits well within the series and has the right sort of spirit.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Film Review: Christmas Vacation (1989)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: November 30th, 1989 (Australia)
Directed by: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written by: John Hughes
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Miriam Flynn, William Hickey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest, Brian Doyle-Murray, Sam McMurray

National Lampoon, Hughes Entertainment, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

Worse? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell.” – Clark Griswold

I know that this is many people’s favorite Christmas movie but I also don’t trust people who say this. Seriously, this is the most beloved thing that you have to revisit every December? This?

Honestly, out of the Vacation films, I think that this one is, by far, the worst. It just doesn’t appeal to me and it’s full of really unlikable characters that are selfish and stupid.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Chevy Chase fan and think he’s rarely funny. He just makes dumb faces and fucks up all the time. But I guess dumb people need a dumb “comedian” to make them cackle.

The one thing working against this film is that it breaks the framework of what these movies should be, which is a vacation that takes the family on a trip. Here, they just host a bunch of unlikable assholes in their own home on a street that looks like it’s a festive matte painting, static and devoid of any real life.

Half the movie deals with Chase trying to get Christmas lights to work. This would’ve been fine as a one or two scene gag but it’s like half of the f’n film. The other half is him failing at everything else while also pissing off his ungrateful family and terrorizing Elaine from Seinfeld and her effeminate, yuppie, bitch boy husband.

I also hate the theme of this movie, which gets stuck in my head for weeks if I even hear a few notes.

Kids I always hated, always wanted to watch this movie. I was always like, “Let’s watch Scrooged or Gremlins or Die Hard!” And they’d be like, “This is my house! We watch Chebby Chabe! So funny!” These kids always had the shittiest Nintendo games too.

Anyway, I have to sort of grin it and bear it whenever this movie is on around the holidays, as my family tends to watch everything Christmas-y on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But then I usually pick that time to go outside and escape loud kids and drunk aunts, as I stare blankly at the lake pondering about how humans evolved from lake slime over millions of years and somehow, one of them evolved into Chevy Chase. It’s one of the cosmos’ greatest mysteries.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Film Review: European Vacation (1985)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: July 26th, 1985
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: John Hughes, Robert Klane
Music by: Charles Fox
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Dana Hill, Jason Lively, Victor Lanoux, Eric Idle, William Zabka, John Astin, Paul Bartel, Robbie Coltrane, Moon Unit Zappa

National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 95 Minutes

Review:

“[repeated line] God, I miss Jack!” – Audrey Griswold

I was a bit underwhelmed by the first Vacation movie after revisiting it a few weeks ago. While I wasn’t a massive fan of this film series, as I’m not really a fan of Chevy Chase, they’re still amusing enough to hold my attention and make me laugh in spots.

Now having revisited the second movie, I like this one more. I think that the European setting made it better, overall, and I this set of Griswold kids is my favorite in the series, as a tandem.

While the original seems to be the most beloved of the series, with Christmas Vacation being a very close second, this is just more interesting, as I find the culture clash stuff funnier than the family just driving through the desert, meeting their redneck kin and then riding some rollercoasters.

This also has more action and a pretty good, high energy finale for an ’80s comedy movie.

Additionally, it fleshes out the kids more and gives them their own subplots apart from just making them accessories to their parents on a road trip. In fact, the subplots with the kids I found to be more enjoyable.

All in all, I’m still not in love with this series but it’s not a bad way to kill some time on a rainy day. There are much better ’80s comedies and much better ’80s comedic leads than Chevy Chase.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

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: Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1987 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Stephen Hague, John Musser
Cast: Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Craig Sheffer, Lea Thompson, Elias Koteas, John Ashton, Candace Cameron, Maddie Corman

Hughes Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Keith… you’re losing it. And when it’s lost, all you are is a loser.” – Watts

About a week ago I reviewed Pretty In Pink, which was written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch. I commented on how Hughes didn’t like the ending and wanted to correct it, so he wrote this film, which was actually released just a year later.

While researching this, I discovered that Deutch wasn’t actually the first choice for director and that Hughes pulled him in after two other potential directors left the project.

That being said, knowing what’s behind the genesis of this film makes comparing it to Pretty In Pink kind of hard. However, they’re still very different, especially tonally, as this is more of a drama and doesn’t have the more lighthearted comedy side that Hughes’ other teen pictures do.

I think with the more serious tone, though, this film just loses some of the patented Hughes magic and comes across as a bit dry. This may be why it’s not as highly regarded as the other teen movies Hughes was creatively a part of in the ’80s.

If I’m being honest, I feel like Hughes may have been a bit out of steam by this point. At least in regards to these kind of flicks, as he would still create great cinematic magic with Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the first two Home Alone films.

This is okay but it’s hard to care about these characters as they seem to lack personality and depth. Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts is the most developed character of the bunch but you still never really come to understand her as deeply as you should and her pining starts to become annoying by the end of the film.

While this may have been the ending that Hughes wanted for Pretty In Pink, it’s just not as good of a film leading up to that big romantic climax.

I did really like Elias Koteas in this, though. I wish there was more of him, as he robbed every scene he was in and apparently, ad-libbed a lot of his lines.

Anyway, this is a fairly mundane teen drama. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and it doesn’t have much to really justify its own existence when compared to better, similar movies.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Pretty In Pink and other John Hughes teen movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Pretty In Pink (1986)

Release Date: January 29th, 1986 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Michael Gore
Cast: Molly Ringwald, Harry Dean Stanton, Jon Cryer, Annie Potts, James Spader, Andrew McCarthy, Kate Vernon, Andrew Dice Clay, Kristy Swanson, Alexa Kenin, Dweezil Zappa, Gina Gershon, Margaret Colin, Maggie Roswell

Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You couldn’t buy her, though, that’s what’s killing you, isn’t it? Steff? That’s it, Steff. She thinks you’re shit. And deep down, you know she’s right.” – Blane

While this John Hughes written movie isn’t as good as the ones he directed, first-time director Howard Deutch did a pretty good job at capturing the Hughes magic and making a film that still felt like it existed in that same universe. I guess Deutch’s ability to adapt Hughes’ script impressed Hughes enough to hire him back for other movies Hughes didn’t direct himself.

Like most of Hughes’s other teen films of the ’80s, this one stars Molly Ringwald. But luckily, this isn’t all on her shoulders, as she had help from legendary character actor, Harry Dean Stanton, as well as Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy, Annie Potts and James Spader. There were also smaller roles in this that featured Andrew Dice Clay, Kristy Swanson and Gina Gershon.

This was a movie that I liked a lot in my youth but it does feel pretty dated now and the whole rich kids versus poor kids thing just seems incredibly forced and really extreme, even for an ’80s teen movie. But that’s the centerpiece of this plot, as it creates a Romeo and Juliet story about two young lovers whose social circles try to tear them apart due to their stark, cultural “differences”.

The cast in this is really good, though, and it’s hard not to enjoy these characters even if this is a pretty flawed movie. I liked James Spader and Jon Cryer in this a lot, even though one of them played a real shithead.

Unfortunately, the weakest scenes are the ones that needed to be the strongest. These are the scenes between Ringwald and McCarthy, which just play as pretty uneventful and unemotional. As someone that is caught up in the drama of this story, you want Ringwald’s Andy to make the right decision when it comes to love but ultimately, she doesn’t.

The ending of this movie kind of upset John Hughes, so he essentially had this remade with the same director, a gender swapped cast and the ending he preferred, just a year later. That film is called Some Kind of Wonderful and while it’s not as good as Pretty In Pink, it’s definitely a good companion piece to it, as it provides a more satisfactory conclusion.

Still, I really like this film and it’s one of those things you throw on when you want something light and with a fun, youthful energy. My opinion on it may have soured a little bit over the years but Ducky will always get me through it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Some Kind of Wonderful and other John Hughes film, as well as other ’80s teen comedies.

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.