Film Review: Adventures In Babysitting (1987)

Also known as: A Night on the Town (Australia)
Release Date: June 19th, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: David Simkins
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp, Maia Brewton, Penelope Ann Miller, Bradley Whitford, Calvin Levels, George Newbern, Vincent D’Onofrio, Albert Collins (cameo)

Rose Productions, Silver Screen Partners III, Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t fuck with the Lords of Hell!” – Gang Leader, “[Chris picks up the knife and shoves it in the gang leader’s face] Don’t fuck with the babysitter!” – Chris

Adventures In Babysitting was one of those movies I watched a heck of a lot as a kid in the ’80s. It was just a cool movie and being that I was around the same age as the youngest kid in the film, who was also a massive Thor fan, it was easy to relate to the characters. Plus, my family are all originally from Chicago and I used to go up there all the time in my youth. I love that city and this really captures it in a very ’80s way, which was also how I first experienced Chicago.

I think the real glue of this picture is Elisabeth Shue. She was perfect as the lead and believable in the situations she found herself in. I guess the studio wanted Molly Ringwald or Valerie Bertinelli but Shue landed the role and I can’t quite see how this movie would work the same way with those other actresses. The character of Chris felt very much like Shue.

The kids in the film were also well cast. You had Keith Coogan and Anthony Rapp, both at the beginning of their careers, and Maia Brewton, who was solid and the most fun and energetic character in the movie. I also love all the bits Penelope Ann Miller did at the bus station, even though she was on her own and separated from the other kids throughout the vast majority of the picture. And even though he’s only in two scenes, Bradley Whitford played his ’80s douchebag role to perfection in this.

The premise sees these kids go into Chicago to pick up Chris’ friend, who has run away from home and is stranded at an inner city bus station. On their way into downtown Chicago, they blow out their tire. They get saved by a nice tow truck driver but then things go absolutely nuts and the kids get mixed up with an auto theft ring ran by some shady dudes. The rest of the film sees them running through Chicago, dodging the gangsters and constantly getting into wild situations. It almost plays like an urban Goonies without treasure. Additionally, the end has the kids racing home to beat the parents in a similar fashion to Ferris Beuller but without the cool musical montage of Ferris running through people’s yards and houses.

This was also the first film directed by Chris Columbus, who had written some very successful films before landing this gig.

Like all ’80s teen films, this is certainly dated. However, it hasn’t lost its charm or any of the excitement. It has held up really well and isn’t just good when seen through nostalgic eyes, it is just a film that works and is still a blast.

Plus, it had a friggin’ awesome movie poster in a time when there were still friggin’ awesome movie posters.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: For an Elisabeth Shue pairing, watch The Karate Kid. For Keith Coogan and a babysitting theme, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. If you want to see more of Bradley Whitford being an ’80s prick, Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise.

Film Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Release Date: May 29th, 2015 (France premiere)
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Written by: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on: characters by Michael Crichton
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Irrfan Khan, Andy Buckley

Amblin Entertainment, Legendary Pictures, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.” – Henry Wu

*written in 2015.

It took a really long time to get this fourth Jurassic Park film. For me, it felt as if I was waiting a bit longer than most, as I wasn’t a fan of Jurassic Park III and I thought The Lost World had promise but crossed over into absurdity towards the end. Truthfully, I was only a big fan of the original film.

Ultimately, this film is better than its two predecessors – making it the best film in the Jurassic Park franchise since the original.

I miss Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern but Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard made a nice duo and did a good job. Vincent D’Onofrio did his part as the villain but was basically just Vincent D’Onofrio. The kids were okay but slightly annoying but then again, kids in film typically are. I liked the parts played by Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus and Irrfan Khan. Judy Greer and Andy Buckley also did good with their limited roles.

The film certainly churned up a lot of nostalgia and overall, it was a pretty pleasant experience. There were homages to all of the previous films: some subtle, some blatant. The vibe of the film was consistent, the musical score was better than decent (but not as good as John Williams’ original) and the horror aspect was pretty well executed.

What this film is missing though, is that Spielberg magic that the original had. While this film brings out emotions and gives a fan of the original movie some chills, it is all just because of how good the original film was. This movie relies on tapping into the well of the original Jurassic Park because it has to. It succeeds in that though, because it brought me back to how I felt watching the original the first time but it also made it clear that this wasn’t that film. I don’t really fault the filmmakers, as the original film was special. Even Spielberg couldn’t replicate his own magic with The Lost World. It is hard to capture lightning in a bottle once, let alone twice.

The plot of Jurassic World was pretty straightforward and slightly cookie cutter but there were a few twists and turns that I didn’t anticipate. The dino battles were great, the action was superb and the set and creature designs were pretty on point.

This is a fun and engaging summer film, deserving of the blockbuster status it was designed to achieve. While not a great picture, it will most likely be remembered fondly for years to come.

I also hope that this film gives the franchise some legs to keep moving forward. I’d be on board for other sequels if they are able to match the quality of this film and they present fresh ideas.

One plot question though, if they don’t want to remind people of the previous park and its disastrous failing, as made clear by Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, then why did they use the same iconic park gates, same typeface that the original logo had and make constant references to the original when talking to the new park’s guests? I guess if you change the font color to a calming blue instead of a violent red, it soothes people. I don’t know.

But anyway, couldn’t they have at least got Jeff Goldblum back for a cameo? Even at the end? Just have him walk on screen, look at the carnage and let out his patented Dr. Ian Malcolm laugh?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Any of the Jurassic Park films.

And the trailer.

TV Review: Daredevil (2015- )

Original Run: April 10th, 2015 – current
Created by: Drew Goddard
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Daredevil by Stan Lee, Bill Everett
Music by: John Paesano, Braden Kimball
Cast: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Toby Leonard Moore, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Bob Gunton, Ayelet Zurer, Rosario Dawson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal, Scott Glenn, Élodie Yung, Stephen Rider

ABC Studios, Marvel, DeKnight Productions, Goddard Textiles, Netflix, 26 Episodes (so far), 48-61 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

If you haven’t watched Daredevil at some point over the last week, you have been severely missing out.

Marvel, now teaming up with Netflix, has given hardcore old school comic book fans a television show that they deserve. Being that it is on Netflix and not ABC or some other network, Daredevil has a lot of creative freedom. It also isn’t catered to the younger viewer, which can often times be a pretty tedious and annoying factor in regards to Marvel’s other live-action outings. What we’ve got is something very close to the source material and as dark as the stellar Frank Miller stories were in the early 80s. What we don’t have is a two-plus hour toy commercial accented by Tony Stark witticisms. For the record, I like Tony Stark witticisms but this isn’t the place for them.

Now I am not going to completely fan boy out like most of the people praising this show. It isn’t perfect and could improve in various areas but it is one of the best Marvel adaptations of all-time.

The positives are pretty abundant though.

To start, the tone of the show is perfect. The lighting is amazing, as it conveys the same color palette as the comic book from its most iconic runs. The cast, for the most part, is perfect. And the evolution of Daredevil throughout the first season of this series is very well done. We don’t have a hero that immediately kicks ass and looks invincible. We have a normal guy who is generally a bad ass but still gets his head kicked in a lot. The show just feels more real and more organic than any other live-action comic book property ever has and that in and of itself is a great feat.

The show also benefits by the fact that it isn’t stuffed full of characters and villains. The only real major Daredevil villains that even appear are Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. the Kingpin) and Leland Owlsley (a.k.a. the Owl). Kudos on the producers for holding off on Bullseye, Typhoid Mary, Elektra, Mr. Fear and the rest.

Although, the amount of time focusing on the inevitable confrontation between Daredevil and Fisk is pretty drawn out. The pace of the show is a bit slow and lacking energy in areas. I feel like the bulk of everything important could have been covered in six-to-eight episodes. What we’ve got instead is thirteen episodes with too much filler material.

The one performance that I question is Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of Wilson Fisk. It isn’t bad but there are times where his voice is odd and out of place. I get that the character is written as a sort of fucked up kid turned “kingpin” but at this stage of his life, he should be more sure of himself and confident in his abilities. And I am not saying that he isn’t confident but his bizarre tone just seems out of whack for what the character needs to be. The Kingpin is not some emo child in a fat suit, he is an exacting, ruthless and very motivated evil genius that isn’t intimidated by anything. Maybe that makes him one dimensional but I’d rather have a caricature of pure evil than what we have with this character on the show. Besides, the comic book version of Kingpin has been fleshed out so well over the years that there is a lot to work with without some new and unnecessary spin on the character.

Daredevil is fantastic though. It is worth your time and as an avid reader of Daredevil in the comics, I think that this show truly hits the mark. It can be improved upon but it is a step above everything else Marvel has done thus far.

Film Review: Ed Wood (1994)

Release Date: September 23rd, 1994 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Based on: Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, Max Casella, George “The Animal” Steele, Juliet Landau, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Korla Pandit, G.D. Spradlin

Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?” – Orson Welles

Ed Wood is a magnificent film. It is also the greatest thing Tim Burton has ever directed, which says a lot considering his massive body of work. I have also never enjoyed Johnny Depp and Martin Landau more. Additionally, the film features one of the best roles of Bill Murray’s career.

Shot in black and white, to mimic the time that Edward D. Wood Jr. lived in and the films he made, Ed Wood boasts some fantastic cinematography. It doesn’t just feel like a period piece shot in black and white as a gimmick, it actually has warmth, depth and is a character itself, within the film. It gives the movie a perfect tone and it is also matches up to the actual filmmaking work of Ed Wood, the director. When we see scenes being filmed for Plan 9 From Outer SpaceBride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda?, Tim Burton’s sets and visual tone match those films pretty flawlessly.

Martin Landau won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ed Wood, as horror legend Bela Lugosi. It was a fantastic performance and the best of Landau’s storied career. While it was great seeing him recognized and this film as well, I feel like it was deserving of other nominations. It did also win for makeup, the only other category it was nominated for.

Everyone in the cast, top to bottom, gave some of the best performances of their careers. Johnny Depp was absolutely captivating and charismatic as the title character. He brought real life to the legendary persona of Wood. He connected with the audience, as well as long-time Wood fans and gave an exciting identity and character to the maestro of bad cinema. He was sympathetic and you wanted nothing more than for Wood to succeed, despite the odds being stacked against him and the limitations of his abilities. Depp’s Wood had passion and heart.

Bill Murray plays Wood’s friend, a transvestite wanting to be transsexual named Bunny Breckinridge. Breckinridge was a collaborator with Wood and played a role in his most famous film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Murray did a fine job with the part, committed to Bunny’s flamboyant personality and strong desire to become a woman. This is my favorite of Murray’s more serious roles. Granted, he still brings an element of comedy but this is the first real dramatic role I remember seeing him play. He had panache and delivered his dialogue brilliantly.

Jeffrey Jones was a perfect casting choice for the psychic conman Criswell. He looked the part, acted the part and conveyed him as a real showman. Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette both did good as the leading ladies: Parker for the first half of the film, Arquette for the latter. For the role of Tor Johnson, there really was no better choice than George “The Animal” Steele. Lisa Marie was a good Vampira and Max Casella was a nice addition to the cast, as he is a really good actor that I feel is still underutilized. Lastly, Juliet Landau plays a small role but she really nails it. She was quirky, smart and pretty mesmerizing.

Ed Wood is a film about imagination and creation. It is also about passion. While this is a very romanticized version of the director’s life and work, it makes one want to be a dreamer and to follow those dreams, despite the world standing in the way. It also shows Wood’s struggles with his identity and who he is and how it should be okay to embrace who you are and not be scrutinized for it. While Wood wasn’t a great filmmaker, he was still a man ahead of his time. Ed Wood, the man, shows that you can have artistic and creative brilliance, even if it isn’t executed in the best way. He is a hero for those with a creative intelligence that have a hard time cultivating it into something spectacular.

This is a great period piece and a stupendous showbiz biopic. It was some of the best work of every talented person involved in the picture. Ed Wood is a true classic and a perfect homage to the man, his life and his work. And frankly, it is one of my favorite films of all-time.