Film Review: Summer School (1987)

Release Date: July 22nd, 1987
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Jeff Franklin, Stuart Birnbaum, David Dashev
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Robin Thomas, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Dean Cameron, Gary Riley, Patrick Labyorteaux, Kelly Jo Minter, Shawnee Smith, Richard Steven Horvitz, Ken Olandt, Fabiana Udenio, Duane Davis, Carl Reiner

Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Our next field trip has to be to the beach.” – Chainsaw, “We have to see Annamaria in a bikini. It’s very important.” – Dave

I feel like Summer School was lost in the shuffle all of all the teen comedies back when it came out. I mean, there were a ton of these type of movies in the late ’80s. I never even saw it until the early ’90s on cable but I immediately loved it.

For one, I’ve always liked Mark Harmon. He was on a few shows that my mum watched and he just always came across as a cool and likable guy. But in Summer School he’s probably even more so, especially from the perspective of a kid growing up, as he was the sort of teacher you always wanted.

Additionally, the kids in this are all pretty great and many of them went on to have pretty good careers in television and film.

The story centers around Harmon’s Freddy Shoop, a high school P.E. teacher off to Hawaii for the summer when he gets stuck having to teach summer school to a class of losers. Although, as we learn, the kids aren’t losers, they just need a different kind of approach to learning and some motivation. Over the course of the story, Shoop and the kids build a great bond and by the end, they’ve all vastly improved under his style of teaching, which irritates the snooty principal.

This film really solidified Dean Cameron as one of the best guys to play a stoner type. His best friend in this, Gary Riley, was another young actor that always made me smile when I’d see him pop up in things.

Additionally, this film really benefits from Kirstie Alley’s involvement. This is right before she rose to prominence on Cheers but this movie allowed her to exercise her solid comedic acting chops, which would go on to define her career going forward.

While I don’t think that this movie will play well for those who didn’t grow up in the ’80s or ’90s and don’t already like these sort of goofy, teen comedies, I still think it’s a better film than one might expect. In a sea of similar pictures, it’s definitely better than average and just has fun characters while being an entertaining and amusing movie about a teacher giving a crap about kids that everyone else has given up on.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: The Original ‘Saw’ Sequels (2005-2010)

Release Date: October 28th, 2005 (Saw II), October 27th 2006 (Saw III), October 26th, 2007 (Saw IV), October 24th, 2008 (Saw V), October 23rd, 2009 (Saw VI), October 29th, 2010 (Saw VII), 
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II-IV), David Hackl (Saw V), Kevin Greutert (Saw VI-VII)
Written by: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman, James Wan, Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, Thomas Fenton
Based on: Saw by James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Dina Meyer, Donnie Wahlberg, Lyriq Bent, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Mark Rolston, Julie Benz, Sean Patrick Flanery, Glenn Plummer, Beverly Mitchell, Meagan Good, 

Twisted Pictures, Lions Gate Films, 93 Minutes (Saw II), 108 Minutes (Saw III), 92 Minutes (Saw IV), 92 Minutes (Saw V), 90 Minutes (Saw VI), 90 Minutes (Saw VII) 

Review:

I wasn’t a fan of the Saw franchise after the original movie. In fact, I quit with the third film and haven’t watched any of them since that one debuted in theaters. Jigsaw died in that one and so I was fine moving on, as well.

After revisiting the first one to review, I figured I would just power through the original string of sequels since they were all on HBO Max.

Since these are all pretty dreadful, blend together in a convoluted clusterfuck and are almost indistinguishable from one another, by the time I got to the end of the fourth movie, I decided just to review them all together. So I pushed through all six of these movies over a weekend and what a miserable experience it was.

The second film is at least a new situation from the first but it also set the stage for what would generally be the formula going forward, which sees a group of people locked in a secret location, having to pass tests in an effort to survive and not be murdered by Jigsaw’s traps.

The third film sees an abducted doctor forced to keep Jigsaw alive, as long as she can. Meanwhile, her husband has to work his way through a test and others are brutalized.

Film four through seven are just rehashes of everything we’ve already seen. Sure, there are different characters with different sins that they have to atone for in Jigsaw’s game. However, we have one Jigsaw successor, then another, then his ex-wife who is also working for him and eventually we discover that the Cary Elwes doctor character from way back in the first movie, has been assisting all along too.

The first film was great because it had a stellar twist at the end. Each picture after it, though, tries to outdo it and ultimately, fails at trying to replicate the shock of the original film’s closing moments.

In fact, with each new plot twist, big reveal and eye-opening flashback, the overall story gets more and more complicated to the point that you really can’t follow any of it and I don’t think the filmmakers even cared about consistency and logic because they were pumping these things out, annually, in an effort to make hundreds of millions off of each movie, all of which cost a slight fraction of that.

Saw after the success of the first one became a soulless, heartless, pointless cash cow. It was pushed as far as it could go and it ultimately diminished what the first movie had built and the reputation it deservedly earned.

I also hate the visual style of these films. They look like a ’90s industrial music video, everything is choppily and rapidly edited and they’re overwhelmed by more violent, shrill, jarring flashbacks than my ‘Nam vet uncle on LSD.

The musical score is also overbearing a lot of the time. It’s like this series has one theme playing throughout the movie and when crazy, violent shit pops up, they simply raise the volume.

Additionally, outside of Tobin Bell, these things are terribly acted. As much as I like Bell as Jigsaw in spite of this shitty series, even his presence runs its course midway through this series. He basically just becomes this prop in each film for the writers and directors to hang their stinky ass ideas on.

People may want to point to other long-running horror franchise and call them pointless cash cows too but most of the movies in the Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc. franchises were at least fun and entertaining.

There is nothing fun about these movies. They’re just full of miserable people who do miserable things, trapped in a miserable situation that only extends their misery and the misery of the audience. I don’t know why people kept going to see these for seven fucking annual installments. But then again, some people really, really liked Limp Bizkit, JNCO jeans and Jerry Springer.

Saw II – Rating: 5/10
Saw III – Rating: 5.5/10
Saw IV – Rating: 4.25/10
Saw V – Rating: 4/10
Saw VI – Rating: 4/10
Saw VII – Rating: 4.25/10

 

Film Review: Saw (2004)

Also known as: Jigsaw (working title)
Release Date: January 19th, 2004 (Sundance)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Leigh Whannell, James Wan
Based on: Saw by James Wan, Leigh Whannell
Music by: Charlie Clouser
Cast: Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Monica Potter, Michael Emerson, Ken Leung, Tobin Bell, Leigh Whannell, Shawnee Smith, Dina Meyer, Makenzie Vega

Evolution Entertainment, Saw Productions Inc., Twisted Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Congratulations. You are still alive. Most people are so ungrateful to be alive. But not you. Not anymore.” – Jigsaw

I’ve said for nearly two decades that if they had left Saw alone and not pumped out sequels annually to capitalize off of this movie’s success, that it could’ve very easily been perceived as one of the greatest horror films ever made. I still stand by that statement.

Now I haven’t seen this in at least fifteen years. I gave up on the franchise after seeing the third film in theaters. At that point, I definitely felt like the film series had exhausted itself and run out of gas. But silly me, they made like half a dozen more! And shockingly, none of the sequels were straight-to-video. They all had theatrical releases.

Looking at this movie, as a single body of work, it’s really damn good. The concept was great and the story was well-crafted and made for one hell of a cinematic experience. I’d consider this James Wan’s magnum opus, even though the dude probably still has a lot of time to top it.

The best part about seeing this for the first time is that you didn’t know much about the plot or why these guys were locked in a room together. Everything slowly reveals itself and the movie knows how to build suspense and keep the viewer on the edge of their seat until the shocking end, which no one saw coming. Frankly, it’s an incredible reveal.

This is also the best acted film out of the three I’ve seen. In fact, the other movies don’t hold a candle to this one in the acting department, except for the scenes where Tobin Bell is front and center. Without Bell, this series probably couldn’t have lasted as long as it did. Even after his character was dead, his presence was still very much felt and a driving force behind the stories. Crazily enough, he’s barely in this movie, even though he’s the big bad.

Anyway, this movie is superb and it’s still effective, even though I know the ending and all the surprises. But since this is so well-crafted, it makes repeat viewings kind of cool, as you pick up on more of the clues that were planted throughout the movie.

The later films would get more gory. This one has some pretty good gross out moments but a lot of the gore is more implied and relies on your imagination to see things that aren’t actually onscreen. In a lot of ways it reminds me of how effective that approach was in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Saw has held up tremendously well in spite of it being the first chapter in a very long franchise. It’s definitely worth watching but once you’re finished you might want to stop and not let the sequels ruin it for you.

That being said, I’m going to work my way through all of the sequels and review them.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Iron Eagle (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Kevin Alyn Elders, Sidney J. Furie
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Louis Gossett Jr., Jason Gedrick, David Suchet, Larry B. Scott, Caroline Lagerfelt, Tim Thomerson, Shawnee Smith, Melora Hardin, Lance LeGault, Jerry Levine, Robbie Rist, Michael Bowen

Delphi Films, Falcon’s Flight, TriStar Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I wonder what a Cessna looks like splattered all over those rocks?” – Packer

This doesn’t survive on nostalgia points for me. Honestly, I didn’t even like this film as a kid. I mean, I enjoyed the last half hour, as that’s where the action comes in but everything leading up to that was really damn boring.

Seeing this now, and it has been at least thirty years, I was surprised that I wasn’t pulled into it a bit more as it features two teen actors from the time that I really liked: Larry B. Scott and Jerry Levine.

But the real problem with this movie is that it’s too damn long. I mean, this is nearly two full hours and only the last half hour is actually somewhat enjoyable. And to be honest, they could’ve lobbed 30 to 40 minutes off of this thing and no one would’ve noticed.

Additionally, even though the actual mission at the end is fairly fun, it’s full of flaws and errors that are distracting.

The main thing that sticks out is the editing. There are multiple moments in the movie where the video loop behind the pilots’ heads resets. So you’re looking at closeups of pilots in the cockpit talking and the background goes from a clouded sky to a quick jump of clear sky.

Plus, there are mistakes in how the action is edited that don’t make sense from a logistic and physics standpoint.

I think the thing that may irritate more than the shoddy editing is the models used for the planes, as every time one explodes, it is obviously a miniature and made of wood. Fighter jets don’t splinter like a balsa wood chair in a Chaplin movie. But I get it, it’s the ’80s, CGI didn’t exist like it does now and the film had a modest budget. But no one could call in a favor to one of the guys that worked on model making for the Star Wars or Star Trek films?

The acting is pretty bad too. And even though Louis Gossett Jr. has shown that he has chops, I think that it is this movie that actually wrecked his career. He went from An Officer and a Gentleman to this? But hey, at least it allowed him to have his own franchise, which he would then have to rely on over the course of three shitty sequels.

Seeing Iron Eagle now, I don’t hate it. It just would have been much better with a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor and a bit more refinement in the film’s action packed climax.

I’m going to completely ignore the fact that the plot is stupid because this is the ’80s and it was escapism for kids, trying to capitalize off of the popularity of movies like Red Dawn. But in case you don’t know what the plot is, it’s about a decorated Colonel that helps a teenager steal an Air Force fighter plane to attack an enemy country in an effort to save the kid’s dad. Let that marinate for a minute.

So if I ever do watch this again, I’ll just skip to the finale and ignore the plot details.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: probably its subpar sequels and other ’80s and ’90s teens movies that throw kids into war or combat like Red Dawn, The Rescue and Toy Soldiers.