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, B.B. King

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: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Release Date: July 31st, 1992
Directed by: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Written by: Joss Whedon
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Stephen Root, Thomas Jane, Sasha Jenson, Ben Affleck (uncredited), Ricki Lake (uncredited), Seth Green (uncredited), Alexis Arquette

Sandollar, Kuzui Enterprises, 20th Century Fox, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Does the word “duh” mean anything to you?” – Buffy

Joss Whedon wasn’t a fan of this version of his Buffy character and five years later, he developed a television series that reflected what he saw in his mind. Most fans prefer the television show but I guess I have to be the odd man out or maybe it’s because I am often times a contrarian but I prefer this movie. I’ll explain though, that’s why I’m here.

First, I have always loved Kristy Swanson. This isn’t a battle over who is hotter between Swanson or Sarah Michelle Gellar, as both are gorgeous, but Swanson’s personality and the way she played this role was more my cup of tea. And if Buffy is going to be a valley girl high schooler, Swanson fits the part better for me. Not to discount Gellar’s work because she was great in her own way and played Buffy as a much more complex character. But let’s be honest, she also had seven seasons and 144 episodes to grow in that role, Swanson had less than 90 minutes.

I also love the supporting cast of the movie better. I mean the villains are Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens for chrissakes! And man, both of those guys ham it the hell up in this and just fit the tone of the film perfectly. Reubens ad-libbed in a lot of scenes and it made for a better movie and for a more entertaining character.

You also have Luke Perry, at the height of his popularity, and I’m not afraid to admit that I watched Beverly Hills 90210 during its peak. It was the hottest show on television and I was in middle school. Plus, I met Luke Perry when I was young, just by coincidence, and he was really f’n cool.

This movie is cheesy as all hell but it is supposed to be. It captures that ’90s teen vibe really well but overall, this is just a really fun movie that I can put on at any time and still enjoy for its absurdity and its awesomeness.

I knew that once the TV show came out, that we’d never get a proper followup to this version of Buffy. But since the TV show has its own comics, it’d be cool if someone did a comic book sequel to this incarnation of that universe. Or hell, maybe even a Buffy vs. Buffy crossover. Who owns the comic book rights now? IDW? Dark Horse? Boom? Dynamite? I don’t know but whoever it is, get on it!

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other ’90s teen horror comedies: Idle HandsThe FacultyFreddy’s Dead, etc. I also like pairing this with Encino Man for some reason.

Film Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens, Sean Whalen

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin

When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.

While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.

We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.

The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.

Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.

Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.

Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.

Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.

This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: Flight of the Navigator (1986)

Release Date: August 1st, 1986
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Mark H. Baker, Michael Burton, Matt MacManus
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Cliff DeYoung, Veronica Cartwright, Matt Adler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Howard Hesseman

Walt Disney, Producers Sales Organization, Buena Vista Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Compliance!” – Max

Everyone I knew as a kid saw Flight of the Navigator. While it wasn’t a smashing hit, it was loved by many and had its following. However, it doesn’t seem to be as well-remembered as some of the other family-friendly sci-fi flicks of the 1980s.

To start, it is a Disney movie and even though it doesn’t feel like a massive epic, it has groundbreaking special effects and was well-produced in every regard.

Joey Cramer plays twelve year-old David Freeman, a kid who wakes up eight years into his future, where his world is totally different. The role needed a lot of emotion and was probably quite challenging for a twelve year-old but Cramer did a fantastic job. Looking back, I don’t know why this didn’t lead to a lot more work for the kid. He got a few roles after this but nothing too noteworthy.

The story also features an alien ship controlled by a computer named Max. Max is voiced by Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens. The relationship between David and Max is really what makes this film work. While you root for David to be reunited with his family but ultimately want him to be able to go home to 1978, the real standout thing about this film is the camaraderie between the two main characters. David is depressed and feels lost and desperate while Max feels tremendous guilt for pulling David out of his life.

Apart from Cramer and Reubens, the film features a very young Sarah Jessica Parker, Veronica Cartwright – who I will always love for Alien, as well as WKRP‘s Dr. Johnny Fever himself, Howard Hesseman, who also lit up the screen in Head of the Class and Police Academy 2.

Flight of the Navigator used early CGI techniques to create the alien ship that took David on his journey. It was a metallic seed-shaped structure that could slightly alter its shape based off of what flight mode it was in. Also, the back of the ship would essentially melt open and provide free-floating steps for David to enter and exit the ship. The CGI animation is very similar to what James Cameron would use in 1989’s The Abyss and for the T-1000 in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

While Flight of the Navigator is not a flawless film, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives and it is a fun and emotional journey. Its story is timeless and still effective and kids that I have seen watch it in recent years, all seemed to love it regardless of it feeling somewhat dated.

Flight of the Navigator is a much shorter film than what Disney does nowadays. That being said, it is welcomed, as it doesn’t waste a lot of time and stays on its rails. It gets to the point, packs an emotional punch and delivers a heartfelt happy ending. It doesn’t try to overdo it with razzle dazzle and massive special effects sequences. Frankly, I miss films like this.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016)

Release Date: March 17th, 2016 (SXSW premiere)
Directed by: John Lee
Written by: Paul Reubens, Paul Rust
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Paul Reubens, Joe Manganiello, Alia Shawkat, Jessica Pohly, Stephanie Beatriz, Brad William Henke, Hal Landon Jr., Diane Salinger, Patrick Egan, Tara Buck, David Arquette

Pee-wee Pictures, Apatow Productions, Netflix, 89 Minutes

Review:

It has been close to three decades since Paul Reubens has given us a Pee-wee Herman film. I went into this expecting it to be entertaining enough for a viewing but didn’t anticipate it being close to the level of greatness that was Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. But I certainly hoped it would be better than Big Top Pee-wee.

It falls somewhere in-between those two movies but very close to Big Adventure.

The film does a fantastic job of capturing the heart of the original film. Sure, it is essentially a rehash of that movie, considering that circumstances send him on a big road trip.

Reubens hasn’t lost a step, even though it has been a long time since he gave us a full length Pee-wee feature. The magic is still there and Reubens does a fine job of recreating the spirit of the character and the oddness that is Pee-wee’s world.

He is accompanied by Joe Manganiello, who plays himself. Manganiello is stupendous though in this goofy comedy and he brings a level of coolness to the picture and to Pee-wee’s life.

It is also a film that showcases friendship and does a fine job of it, considering it plays out in such a bizarre fashion.

But what is Pee-wee Herman, if not bizarre?

It’s definitely a movie for Pee-wee fans and probably won’t be that entertaining to newcomers to Reubens’ wacky world. But if Pee-wee is your thing, this film certainly isn’t a disappointment and lives up to whatever expectations it may have.

It also features probably the most elaborate Rube Goldberg machine sequence in any Pee-wee adventure.

Rating: 8/10