Film Review: Scrooged (1988)

Also known as: Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (original script title)
Release Date: November 17th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue
Based on: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, John Glover, David Johansen, Mary Ellen Trainor, Mabel King, John Murray, Wendie Malick, Brain Doyle-Murray, Lee Majors (cameo), Miles Davis (cameo), Robert Goulet (cameo), Paul Shaffer (cameo), Buddy Hackett, Mary Lou Retton, Jamie Farr, Anne Ramsey, Logan Ramsey

Paramount Pictures, Mirage Productions, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the one good thing about regret: it’s never too late. You can always change tomorrow if you want to.” – Claire Phillips

Scrooged is my favorite Christmas movie that doesn’t fit in the action or horror genres, even though it has a wee bit of those two things. It’s a comedy starring the legendary Bill Murray and it was directed by Richard Donner, coming off of Lethal Weapon, Ladyhawke and The Goonies.

The film also has an all-star cast comprised of a few legends, a few solid character actors and the always lovely Karen Allen and Alfre Woodard.

It’s a modernized adaptation of Charles Dickens’ most famous story, A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray essentially plays Ebeneezer Scrooge but in this story, he’s named Frank Cross and he is the president of a major television network, stressed out over the live televised adaptation of A Christmas Carol that he is producing.

As can be expected with adaptations of this story, Cross is visited by three ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Future. He is taken on a journey through his life and is shown his fate if he doesn’t wise up and change his ways.

There aren’t any shocking twists or deviations from the traditional story structure of A Christmas Carol, other than setting it in contemporary times and modifying some of the smaller details to fit what was ’80s pop culture society.

The film has a good bit of crude humor but it’s nothing that’s off putting or that takes away from the spirit of Dickens’ classic story. In fact, I love the update and frankly, for the time that this came out in and the inclusion of Murray, this was probably the most palatable version of the story that had been adapted. It’s not strict to the source material but it benefits because of that while keeping the original plot structure intact.

Scrooged may feel dated to some and like a product of its time but it is a classic Christmas film for many, myself included, and it doesn’t get old. I think a lot of that has to do with the charisma supernova that is Bill Murray while the kind nature of Karen Allen, as well as the fantastic cast around Murray, make this something unique, special and entertaining.

Plus, there is just something perfect about Danny Elfman’s score in this film. It sets the tone for the picture immediately and it just accents and enhances the movie like a great musical score should.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other great non-traditional Christmas movies of the ’80s like Trading Places, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Die Hard, Gremlins and Lethal Weapon.

Film Review: Back to School (1986)

Release Date: June 13th, 1986
Directed by: Alan Metter
Written by: Steven Kampmann, Will Porter, Peter Torokvei, Harold Ramis, Rodney Dangerfield, Greg Fields, Dennis Snee
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, Keith Gordon, Adrienne Barbeau, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Kinison, Ned Beatty, Paxton Whitehead, Terry Farrell, M. Emmet Walsh, William Zabka, Robert Picardo, Jason Hervey, Edie McClurg, Kurt Vonnegut (cameo), Oingo Boingo (cameo)

Paper Clip Productions, Orion Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.” – Thornton Melon

I guess I completely forgot how many stars were in this film because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it. I obviously remembered Rodney Dangerfield but I also recalled Keith Gordon, Robert Downey Jr., William Zabka and Sam Kinison because of that one iconic scene.

But throw in Burt Young, M. Emmet Walsh, Adrienne Barbeau, Sally Kellerman, Ned Beatty, Edie McClurg, Jason Hervey, Robert Picardo, Terry Farrell and Oingo friggin’ Boingo and you’ve got an all-star ensemble! Plus, Harold Ramis was one of the writers. Granted, this had seven writers, so one of them other than Dangerfield probably had to be a big name.

While this is a pretty dated comedy, as are most comedies of the ’80s, it’s still entertaining and in 2019 it’s refreshing, as comedy is dead due to political correct nutsos who spend every waking moment searching high and low for shit to be offended about.

Point being, you couldn’t make this movie today because every joke is (insert label here)-shaming and insensitive.

You see, we didn’t care too much about political correctness in the ’80s. Hell, we didn’t even care about it until like five years ago. And this film goes to show how talented all these people were as they weren’t bogged down by Hollywood wokeness and crybaby pussies on Twitter.

Now this isn’t a superb motion picture by any stretch of the imagination but it is really solid escapism that is amusing and charming in a way that film’s aren’t anymore. And honestly, I think that’s a big reason as to why so many people are nostalgic for ’80s and ’90s shit now. Even the slightly above mediocre stuff is cherished more than it was when it was current.

The plot of Back to School follows a sextagenerian as he goes to college, surprising his twenty-something son, the school professors and his friends. In short time, he takes over, turns the campus into one big party and even saves the day for the college diving team in a ridiculous but satisfactory way that may be goofy but works in a comedy from this era.

Back to School isn’t perfect and it isn’t even close to being the best comedy of its day. However, it’s a lot of fun if you just want to mindlessly escape into something for an hour and a half while having a laugh.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Rodney Dangerfield comedies, as well as college comedies like PCU, Old School, Animal House, Van Wilder, etc.

Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Film Review: Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

Also known as: Big Baby, Honey, I Blew Up the Baby (working titles)
Release Date: July 17th, 1992
Directed by: Randal Kleiser
Written by: Garry Goodrow, Thom Eberhardt, Peter Elbling
Based on: characters by Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Ed Naha
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Rick Moranis, Marcia Strassman, Robert Oliveri, Amy O’Neill (cameo), Lloyd Bridges, John Shea, Keri Russell, Gregory Sierra, Julia Sweeney, Ron Canada

Touchwood Pacific Partners 1, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“There’s one thing every little kid knows. Daddies mean fun; mommies mean business.” – Diane

This is a bad sequel. In fact, it’s a horrendous sequel.

And that sucks because Rick Moranis is a Canadian national treasure.

The reason this film is terrible is because it completely lacks the most important element of its predecessor: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. That element is adventure.

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid is just a goofy comedy where a giant toddler descends upon downtown Las Vegas and brings no real kaiju level terror. He just picks up random things and plays with them like an actual f’n toddler.

The previous film saw four kids get shrunk to a size smaller than ants and then saw them have to make it across their backyard, fending off giant bees, fighting giant scorpions, surviving a lawn mower and dealing with a half dozen other threats to their lives.

This film dealt with babysitting a giant toddler that just ends up escaping anyway. None of this is fun, funny or all that entertaining. The jokes are weak, the gags are lame and the only giant props in the film are the random pieces of crap the toddler has in his front pocket.

There’s honestly not a whole lot to say about this movie. It’s bad on just about every level and it shouldn’t exist.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: I guess the other Honey, I Re-Sized A Family Member movies.

Film Review: Colossus and the Headhunters (1963)

Also known as: Fury of the Headhunters (alternative title)
Release Date: January 10th, 1963 (Italy)
Directed by: Guido Malatesta
Written by: Guido Malatesta
Music by: Guido Robuschi, Gian Stellari
Cast: Kirk Morris, Laura Brown, Demeter Bitenc

RCM Produzione Cinematografica, Alta Vista, 79 Minutes

Review:

Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured a ton of sword and sandal movies, especially those from Italy. The vast majority of them featured Hercules, however. So I guess seeing one focused on Colossus was kind of refreshing. But then again, it’s not Colossus from the X-Men franchise and is instead some buff Italian dude named Maciste.

Regardless of which Colossus Italy gave us, this is a total dud of a movie.

Kirk Morris, birth name Adriano Bellini, was an Italian actor that played the Maciste character a few times, as well Hercules in a couple pictures. He was an Italian bodybuilder that had to be billed with an American sounding name like many Italian actors that found themselves in movies that were trying to get a big piece of the pie that was the United States film market.

Most films like this aren’t very good though. Well, some spaghetti westerns ended up as masterpieces but that genre was sort of born when the sword and sandal pictures became passé. When spaghetti westerns also died off, Italy went and split their action cheapies up between sword and sorcery Conan ripoffs, as well as Mad Max clones.

Point being, the Italians loved making cheap action flicks in the desert. Colossus and the Headhunters was no different. But it, at least, featured some coastline and was actually shot along the Adriatic Sea in the Slovenian region of then Yugoslavia.

The problem with the movie is that even if it has a plot and things happen, it still comes off as incredibly drab and it’s tough to get through without the added commentary of the MST3K cast.

I can look past the production values, the bad dubbing and the shoddy acting. I can’t, however, look beyond the fact that it’s about as energetic as watching a sloth eat a peanut butter sandwich. Colossus and the Headhunters is just a really boring film for the most part. And I think a lot of that has to do with just how generic the action is, even for its era.

I know that these sword and sandal movies had their fans back in the day but if I’m being honest, it’s the one once popular genre that I’ve never encountered a fan of. I know it’s a bygone style of film but lots of old, short-lived genres have their fan communities. I’ve just never heard anyone ever tell me that they’ve got a deep rooted love in the old school Hercules-esque flicks of yore.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: the Hercules movies that were featured on MST3K.

Film Review: Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Release Date: December 25th, 1945 (New York City & Chicago)
Directed by: John M. Stahl
Written by: Jo Swerling
Based on: Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Vincent Price

Twentieth Century Fox, 110 Minutes

Review:

“When I looked at you, exotic words drifted across the mirror of my mind like clouds across the summer sky.” – Richard Harland

Man, this movie started out fairly sweet and even though I knew it was a noir picture, I wasn’t quite expecting for the dark side of the story to be so, well… dark.

I guess it’s hard to think of Gene Tierney capable of anything evil, as she’s pretty much lovable in everything that I’ve seen. But I guess that’s the point, as her character goes from sweet beauty to psychotic bitch. And frankly, it’s unsettling and heartbreaking to watch it all unfold, especially in the modern era where we understand mental illness more than we did in the 1940s.

This great performance by Tierney led to her getting an Academy Award nomination. Granted, she lost to Joan Crawford’s performance in Mildred Pierce but that is fantastic company to keep.

It isn’t just Tierney that carries this picture, however, as Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price give some breathtaking performances as well.

Side note: Vincent Price and Gene Tierney actually worked together four times and played off of each other so well, that I wish they had more films together. Other than this picture, they were together in 1941’s Hudson’s Bay, 1944’s Laura and 1946’s Dragonwyck, which is a pretty underrated gem.

What’s really unique about this motion picture is that it is considered film-noir but it is presented in color. That was pretty unusual at the time and it’s kind of strange seeing a noir styled film outside of the typical high contrast, black and white, chiaroscuro presentation. At first, I thought that the version I was watching might be one of those bastardized Ted Turner prints but it wasn’t. In a way, it’s interesting in color and it makes the film standout amongst its contemporaries but I feel like it actually shines too much light and life into the actual darkness of the movie.

However, I understand that the term “film-noir” didn’t even exist at the time and this was probably just Twentieth Century Fox trying to make a beautiful movie with a beautiful starlet. And, honestly, despite my preference for black and white in the noir style, I can’t deny that this is actually a very beautiful film. Especially in the first half, where it shows Cornel Wilde meeting the love of his life and living a sort of fantastical happy ending lifestyle.

The plot sees Wilde meet Tierney, they fall in love, they live in a fairly opulent and attractive world and everything seems perfect. After they are married, however, Tierney’s jealousy and psychotic nature comes out. She lets Wilde’s handicapped brother drown when she could have saved him, she becomes jealous of the baby she’s carrying and throws herself down the stairs and the she eventually commits suicide but not before framing her sister for poisoning her.

Leave Her to Heaven goes into damn dark territory and while that’s typical of noir, this is a different, more intimate type of darkness that carries more emotional weight than a heist gone bad or a femme fatale stabbing the male lead in the back.

In the end, this was a compelling motion picture that grabs you almost immediately and doesn’t let go until the final frame. It features one of Tierney’s top performances and also shows how good Vincent Price could be with straight drama.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other movies starring Gene Tierney: Laura, Dragonwyck, Hudson’s Bay, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Night and the City.

Film Review: Beat the Devil (1953)

Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, Truman Capote
Based on: Beat the Devil by James Helvick
Music by: Franco Mannino
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Bernard Lee, Peter Sellers (voice, uncredited)

Romulus Films, Dear Film, Santana Pictures Corporation, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.” – O’Hara

I decided to check out Beat the Devil because a description I read for it referred to it as John Huston’s parody of his own movie The Maltese Falcon. Since this also starred Humphrey Bogart, I was intrigued to see what exactly that description meant.

Well, that description was terrible, as this isn’t a parody of one specific film, it is actually a crime comedy with adventure and romance thrown in. And while that description was bullshit, the movie is not. It was mostly amusing and fun.

Overall, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me but it wasn’t dull and it was cool seeing Bogart ham it up a bit with Robert Morley and Peter Lorre, along with Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida.

The story is actually about an ensemble of people stranded in Italy while trying to get to Africa. All of them are shifty types that are trying to lay claim to a property that is believed to be rich in uranium. So it’s definitely not a straight parody of The Maltese Falcon, other than it has the same director, two of the same stars and has some criminal scheming and twists.

In the end, I was disappointed by this being very different than how it was sold to me. It was still refreshing and kind of unique. I liked the camerawork, the on location shooting and how this felt like you were in a genuine space with these actors, whom are usually surrounded by lavish, indoor sets on big budget sound stages.

Beat the Devil wasn’t a waste of time and it’s kind of charming.

Side note: Bogart got into a car accident during production and lost some teeth; so he had a hard time speaking. Therefore, up and coming actor, Peter Sellers, was brought in to record dubbed dialogue for Bogart while he was having trouble adjusting to his lack of canines.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart films of the time, most notably his film-noir work.