Film Review: Spaceballs (1987)

Also known as: Planet Moron (working title), Spaceballs: The Video (video box title), Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs (Germany)
Release Date: June 24th, 1987
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Ronny Graham, Thomas Meehan
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga, Dick Van Patten, George Wyner, Joan Rivers (voice), Michael Winslow, John Hurt (cameo), Jim J. Bullock, Ronny Graham, Leslie Bevis, Rudy De Luca, Dom DeLuise (voice), Stephen Tobolowsky, Robert Prescott, Rick Ducommun, Tim Russ, Tony Cox

Brooksfilms, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 96 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz? Chicken?” – Dark Helmet

I’ve been on a Mel Brooks kick, as of late. I’ve also been irritated with modern Star Wars shit. So I figured I’d go back and revisit Spaceballs, as it is a much better Star Wars movie than anything we’ve gotten in the last few years.

Well, it isn’t really a Star Wars film, it is a parody of the Original Trilogy, as well as some other sci-fi franchises like Star TrekAliens and Planet of the Apes, but it feels more consistent with the things I love about Star Wars than anything Disney has done, except for Rogue One.

Mel Brooks was the master of parody and he arguably lost his touch after this film but he was still on his A-game when he crafted this.

The thing that this film really has going for it is the cast. Brooks was perfect as always but it was cool seeing him ham it up with Rick Moranis and the inclusion of John Candy was great. Bill Pullman really stood front and center and carried the picture on his back. And that’s not to take anything away from the comedic actors, again, they were superb. Pullman had a certain panache and command of the screen when he was center stage and he’s really the star of the picture.

I also liked Daphne Zuniga as the princess and Joan Rivers as the voice of her robot sidekick, essentially a female C-3PO. You also have a lot of cameos and small parts for other well-known comedians and Brooks regulars, all of whom leave their mark.

This movie is hysterical if you love Brooks, Candy and Moranis. It’s certainly ’80s mainstream humor and it does feel a bit dated but it is a comedy classic in the same vein and style of Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

Plus, if you are a fan of the massive sci-fi franchises of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, then you’ll enjoy this even more.

This is a solid example of how to do a parody film, which in this day and age, seems like a lost art.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The original Star Wars trilogy, as well as the Mel Brooks classics: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

Film Review: Class Act (1992)

Release Date: June 5th, 1992
Directed by: Randall Miller
Written by: Cynthia Friedlob, John Semper, Michael Swerdlick, Richard Brenne, Wayne Allan Rice
Music by: Vassal Benford, Kid ‘n Play
Cast: Kid ‘n Play, Karyn Parsons, Thomas Mikal Ford, Rick Ducommun, Doug E. Doug, Meshach Taylor, Pauly Shore, Rhea Perlman, Lance Crouther

de Passe Entertainment, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

Review:

“See, the way I look at it is if you gonna be Blade Brown, you gotta know where Blade Brown comes from, you know what I’m sayin’?” – Blade

I’m a big fan of the first two House Party movies with Kid ‘n Play. In fact, I watch them every couple of years because they’re lighthearted and fun, coming of age stories with two guys that are a great duo and also have solid chemistry and a lot of charisma. Plus, I owned their three albums.

It’s been quite some time since I have revisited Class Act, though. I wanted to see it again to compare it with the first two House Party pictures. Honestly, it’s a much better follow up to those films than what House Party 3 would be a couple of years later.

Also, this one has Pauly Shore in it too. It’s like a time capsule of early ’90s teen culture.

This story puts 30 year-olds Kid ‘n Play back in high school. Kid plays a genius and Play plays a thuggish, smart ass who must maintain good grades or get sent to jail. Yeah, it’s not the best setup in the world but these films have always borderlined on absurdity and slapstick humor. I can accept it within the context of what the House Party movies were. Besides, these films are about fun and not taking things too seriously.

So Kid ‘n Play find that their identities have been switched in their school’s records. This was actually caused by them, unbeknownst to them at the time. Kid has to go to the shitty classes while Play gets access to the super gifted section of the school. Play then threatens Kid to make sure he gets good grades, so he can avoid jail. In trade, Play agrees to help Kid with his lackluster physical education grade, as it could prevent Kid from going to a great college. Ultimately, the two opposites become good friends and learn a lot by being in each other’s shoes.

The film actually has a message but it is sort of lost in the craziness of the things that happen on screen. There is a school thug that has to be constantly dealt with, a drug kingpin and then the romance side of the equation where both guys will eventually have to explain their deception to the girls they fall in love with.

Then there is a whole side plot about Kid’s parents thinking he’s gay with Play.

Kid ‘n Play movies aren’t ever well acted affairs but they don’t need to be. Just as they can get by without stellar cinematography or an auteur director behind the camera. This one feels like it belongs alongside their two previous movies and it lives up to the standard that they set. Sadly, things go off the rails with House Party 3, after this picture.

Kid ‘n Play pictures are fun and goofy and always have some sort of positive outcome and a lesson learned by its lead characters. This one is no different.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Kid ‘n Play’s House Party trilogy.

Film Review: Last Action Hero (1993)

Also known as: Extremely Violent (working title)
Release Date: June 13th, 1993 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited), Zak Penn, Adam Leff
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin O’Brien, Bridgette Wilson, Ian McKellen, Tina Turner, Rick Ducommun, Angie Everhart, Al Leong, Colleen Camp, Professor Toru Tanaka, Sharon Stone (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Joan Plowright (cameo), Danny DeVito (voice), MC Hammer (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Maria Shriver (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Timothy Dalton (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Wilson Phillips (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but you’re gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer – acne, shaving, premature ejaculation… and your first divorce.” – Jack Slater

Man, this was a film I really loved when it came out. It was imaginative, fun and truly balls to the wall, even for not being an R-rated movie.

While it is still pretty fun, it isn’t a movie that has aged very well. At its heart, it is still a great homage to over the top, high octane action films from the ’80s, much like the ones that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It features lots of explosions and a ton of gun action and great vehicle chases but it is pretty toned down for a PG-13 audience unlike the hard R-rating that these movies typically get. Overall, it is more like a tongue in cheek parody of the genre. Schwarzenegger and the director, John McTiernan, poke a lot of fun at themselves and the films that they were instrumental in creating.

One cool thing about this movie is the over abundance of cameos it has. Since it takes place in a fantasy world and also goes into the “real world”, we get to see a lot of stars playing themselves, as well as some of their most famous characters within the fantasy movie world.

The story sees a young boy get a magic golden ticket that was supposedly passed down from Houdini. The ticket whisks the boy away into the movie he is watching, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a character named Jack Slater. The boy gets caught up in Slater’s in-movie adventure and gets to experience the fantasy fiction world of action films, which just so happens to overlap with other genres. Eventually, the big bad guy discovers the power of the ticket and uses it to go from world to world in an attempt to pull off heists and to gather other villains to stand against Slater.

The movie is full of late ’80s/early ’90s cheese but it is the best kind. Sure, the kid can get a bit grating at times but he’s not as bad as a lot of the kid actors from the time. This was also the young Austin O’Brien’s first movie. But ultimately, he is the eyes and ears of the audience, swept into this world and it was effective. Plus, I was the right age for this movie when it came out and he really just seemed like one of my peers from school.

Last Action Hero wasn’t a hit when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It’s a better picture than the experts would have you believe though, especially if the subject matter is something you’re a fan of. I grew up loving ’80s and ’90s action movies, so this is my cup of tea. Besides, Schwarzenegger is always great when he’s hamming it up. He really hams it up here.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Die Hard (1988)

Release Date: July 12th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Based on: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, William Atherton, Clarence Gilyard, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Al Leong, Robert Davi, Rick Ducommun, Mary Ellen Trainor

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 132 Minutes

Review:

“This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.” – Hans Gruber, “That was Gary Cooper, asshole.” – John McClane

I ended the year and the holiday season on a bang, as I got to see Die Hard on the big screen. I saw the second and the third ones in the theater but seeing the original on a 3o foot tall screen wasn’t something I got to experience when I was nine years-old in the summer of 1988. I’m glad I got to rectify that injustice, as Die Hard is purely perfection.

Yes, I know that using a word like “perfection” is pretty bold but Die Hard made a bold statement when it came out in a time when the action genre was ruled over by the two kings of the ’80s: Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

Bruce Willis was a nobody in 1988, other than being Cybill Shepherd’s sidekick on TV’s Moonlighting and for playing a good villain in one episode of Miami Vice. This is the film that made him a star and a household name, almost instantly.

This film has a pretty amazing ensemble cast as well. You have two of the ’80s biggest weaselly character actors with Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) and William Atherton (Ghostbusters and Real Genius). You have the ’80s and ’90s quintessential lovable cop, Carl Winslow himself, Reginald VelJohnson. You’ve also got Robert Davi as an FBI agent and Al Leong as an evil henchman, which was his modus operandi back in the ’80s.

The two biggest parts, after Willis’ John McClane, are Bonnie Bedelia, as his wife, and Alan Rickman, as the German terrorist Hans Gruber. As great as Rickman always was and even considering his iconic run as Snape in the Harry Potter films, this, to me, was always his greatest role. Having just seen this again, I still feel that this was the greatest and coolest role that Rickman ever had. He played it so well, even with his fairly funny scenes faking an American accent.

While the 1980s gave us the best action movies of all-time, many of them have flaws and a certain level of cheesiness to them, especially now, three decades later. Die Hard, however, still brings it. And while it has its funny lines and moments, they never got cheesy. It all still works and works well. The plot is solid, the action is amazing, well thought out, well executed and there are a lot of layers to the film that all weave together in a sort of brilliant way that you just don’t see in straight up action flicks.

Die Hard is perfect. And the reason why is that it is damn near impossible to pick it apart and to try and figure out a better way to make it work. It doesn’t feel dated and it should when looked at within the context of when it came out and what the standard was at the time. The vast majority of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s movies feel dated but somehow, Die Hard feels truly timeless. It’s a smarter and better executed film than one would probably assume at first glance. It is greater than the sum of its parts and all the elements of the film come together seamlessly and impeccably.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The ‘Burbs (1989)

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Dana Olsen
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Nicky Katt, Billy Jacoby (voice)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, 101 Minutes

Review:

“[finds a femur] Ray, there’s no doubt anymore. This is real. Your neighbors are murdering people. They’re chopping them up. They’re burying them in their backyard. Ray… this is Walter.” – Art Wiengartner

The ‘Burbs is a rare dark comedy that hits all the right notes. Joe Dante was the perfect person to direct the script and the film was also perfectly cast.

While Tom Hanks was already building a name for himself and was a really good comedic performer that could handle more serious or dramatic material, it was this picture that really cemented his status, at least for me.

Hanks wowed people with a dramatic turn in Nothing In Common and even though The ‘Burbs doesn’t get as serious as that film, Hanks could flip the switch from comedy to serious on a dime, which he did here flawlessly. This and Big, which came out just a year prior, are the two films that made me a Tom Hanks fan. Following this up with the underappreciated Joe Versus the Volcano was also a great move by Hanks.

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun – a guy that probably should have had more prominent roles like this. The Klopek family, who were the focal point of suburban curiosity, were played by Henry Gibson – who is always fun, Brother Theodore – who was tailor made for this film, as well as Courtney Gains, who creeped out audiences a few years prior in Children of the Corn. You also get to see a young Nicky Katt, before he would become more recognized in his work with director Richard Linklater. Joe Dante also dips into the well of his regulars and gives us cameos by the great Dick Miller and the awesome Robert Picardo.

Mundane suburban life is at the center of the movie, as it follows three very bored suburban men and their wariness over the strange new neighbors who moved onto their street: the Klopeks. As the story progresses, they suspect the Klopeks are murderers. The plot escalates to the point that they can’t resist the temptation of digging up the Klopek’s yard and breaking into their house when they leave one day.

The film is highly comedic but is also a mystery and a thriller with a touch of horror added in. It is a pretty awesome mix and Dante worked his magic to great results.

It is also a highly stylized picture but in a subtle way. It was filmed on the Universal backlot and utilized some of the houses seen in famous sitcoms and other films. In fact, the house that Hanks lives in was used a few years earlier in another Hanks film, Dragnet. The generic suburban look makes it so that this neighborhood could be any neighborhood but it also has a sort of fantasy feel to it. It’s grounded in reality but it skews reality.

The ‘Burbs is solid, through and through. While it has gotten more popular over time, it wasn’t a critical success in 1989. When I first saw it, most of the kids I talked to hadn’t seen it. As I got older and time rolled on, I found more and more people that loved the film after discovering it on video or cable. Still, it surprisingly only has a 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While not explicitly horror, this is a film I have to pop on almost annually around Halloween.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: The ‘Gremlins’ Series (1984-1990)

The Gremlins film series is proof that America wasn’t ruled by overprotective helicopter parents in the 80s. I’m glad I grew up in that era, as opposed to nowadays when a good old family film like Gremlins would be severely toned down and edited or have to be rated R and thus, not a family film.

I saw it in the theater with my parents. I was five. Yes, I saw people killed by little monsters and a bunch of horror violence but guess what? I loved it because I wasn’t coddled into being a complete wuss.

So let me discuss these films that, by today’s standards, should have destroyed me and turned me into a budding serial killer.

Gremlins (1984):

Release Date: June 8th, 1984
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Chris Columbus
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holiday, Frances Lee McCain, Dick Miller, Corey Feldman, Keye Luke, Jackie Joseph, Judge Reinhold, Glynn Turman, Jonathan Banks, Don Steele (voice)

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

gremlinsReview:

The first one is the best one. It is a classic and a “must view” film come Christmas time, even though it oddly came out in the summer months of 1984.

Gremlins is a prefect balance of comedy, horror and holiday cheer. It also is a perfect balance of cuteness and insanity and I’m not talking about the very young Corey Feldman in this picture.

The creature effects are top notch for their time and I would still rather watch these animatronic puppets than CGI any day. And one can’t not be impressed with how many Gremlins they actually put in some of these scenes. In the movie theater segment alone, it looks as if there are dozens of these creatures, all controlled and animated by some off-screen puppeteer.

The story is pretty basic and straightforward but most fairy tales are. But this is a dark and amusing fairy tale. The Gremlins, for being terrifying little monsters are hilarious. They joke around, act crazy and are lethal, even to each other. The fairy tale also has its rules that must be followed. Of course, the rules aren’t followed and that is why we end up with the glorious chaos that is this film.

Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates are perfect as the leads in this film and they had great chemistry, which also worked well in the sequel. In fact, unlike other boys my age, this is the film where I got a huge crush on Phoebe Cates, as opposed to Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Hoyt Axton was entertaining as the father character, a struggling inventor whose gadgets are the butt of several jokes in the films. Judge Reinhold and Dick Miller both show up for a bit as well.

This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid and it has aged well. It still exudes the magic I found in it as a five year-old in the theater. Yeah, it is cheesy and over the top but it has a grittiness to it that you will never get when this film is eventually remade.

Gremlins is great. It is some of Joe Dante’s best work as a director.

And the soundtrack is fantastically nuts.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990):

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Charles S. Haas, Chuck Jones
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith, Carl Stalling
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, Christopher Lee, John Glover, Robert J. Prosky, Robert Picardo, Hulk Hogan, Paul Bartel, Rick Ducommun, Kathleen Freeman

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

gremlins_2Review:

The New Batch is a pretty satisfactory sequel. I feel like they took too much time off between films but it still has a lot of the spirit of the original. It was also cool to see Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates return, as well as Dick Miller.

The film also has Christopher Lee in it, one of my favorite actors ever, as a mad scientist who does zany experiments on animals. His carelessness leads to the Gremlins acquiring some extraordinary abilities and a few bizarre abilities. The inclusion of Christopher Lee’s character ups the ante in this film, making the Gremlins more of a serious threat than they were in the first movie.

Also joining the cast are John Glover, as Daniel Clamp (a parody of Donald Trump in the 80s), Robert Picardo (a regular collaborator with Joe Dante) and Robert Prosky (as a late night horror movie show host dressed like a vampire). All three of these guys give superb performances, especially Glover.

Gremlins 2 isn’t as good of a film as the first but overall, it might be more fun. It is less dark but it is more campy. It has more Gremlin gags as opposed to a straightforward fluid story. The plot exists and there is a beginning and an end but the in-between stuff plays more like sketch comedy with a few plot points added in to keep it somewhat coherent.

This is a very different film than the first, which is refreshing. I probably wouldn’t want a rehash of what was done previously. This film did a great job of being its own thing while continuing the story on from the original.

I had always hoped for a third and final film but that ship has most likely sailed and Joe Dante isn’t the same director anymore.