Keeping Up with the Classics #3

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

Miramax Films

As COVID-19 keeps all of us indoors, I've taken advantage of the time by viewing as many films as humanly possible.

These are the films I viewed for the first time over the past week:

Baby Boom (Dir. Charles Shyer, 1987) - Written and produced by Nancy Meyers and directed by her then-husband Charles Shyer, this feminist comedy about a workaholic Manhattanite who inherits a baby rides on Diane Keaton's kooky and touching performance. While the romance in the second act slows the story and dulls its impact, the ending pulls the whole thing together and ties it up with a nice bow.

Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened (Dir. Lonny Price, 2016) - Lonny Price, now an acclaimed theatre, film, and television director, set out to make a documentary on MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, the failed Hal Prince/Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical he starred in in the 1980s, and ended up with a poignant and moving rumination on life's opportunities and the different paths people take. MERRILY, the musical, is told in reverse and charts how a group of now-jaded entertainment industry friends began as starry-eyed kids for whom the world was their oyster. In a way, this documentary and the musical itself parallel one another, making the doc that much more meaningful.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (Dir. Stephen Herek, 1989) - I completely understand why BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE is loved by many and has earned its status as a cult classic, but it simply didn't work for me. There's no doubt that this film is a true original, but I found too little of it amusing or engaging to enjoy the experience.

Collateral (Dir. Michael Mann, 2004) - The neon-drenched scenery of downtown L.A. lights up this electrifying and intelligent Michael Mann thriller about a cab driver (Jamie Foxx, Oscar-nominated) who picks up a hit man (Cruise) in his car. Cast completely against type, Cruise gives a career-best performance, and Foxx matches him, creating two fascinating characters that drive a uniquely thrilling, thoughtful crime drama about the importance of taking advantage of opportunities and making the most of the limited time we have on Earth.

Coming to America (Dir. John Landis, 1988) - This 1988 reteaming of John Landis and Eddie Murphy after their subversive TRADING PLACES was a colossal hit, but COMING TO AMERICA plays like a drawn-out and bizarrely unfunny vanity project. It's the prime example of what happens when a star has too much creative control over their film (Murphy not only plays numerous roles, he also produced and has story credit).

Dirty Dancing (Dir. Emile Ardolino, 1987) - Pure pleasure but not lacking in depth, this low-budget 1987 megahit does everything right. Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze's chemistry sizzles, Kenny Ortega's choreography smolders, the soundtrack is one hit after another, and Eleanor Bergstein's screenplay surprisingly doesn't shy away from darker subjects. Nostalgic and joyous, this celebration of sex and romance is one film I can imagine viewing many more times.

The Fanatic (Dir. Fred Durst, 2019) - Called one of the worst movies of 2019 the minute it appeared, THE FANATIC is indeed as bad as its reputation. John Travolta is freakishly committed to his role, but the role is so preposterous and ripe with camp value that all his effort is for nought.

48 Hrs. (Dir. Walter Hill, 1982) - Tough and humorous, this buddy film about a cop (Nick Nolte) and a convict (Eddie Murphy in his film debut) who team to find a group of cop killers has aged like a fine wine. Hill brings muscle and grit to the film, and Nolte is ferocious, while Murphy provides the perfect counterbalance. Nolte and Murphy's chemistry is electrifying, and the action sequences are thrilling. 48 HRS. is a beast of a film that announced the arrival of an exciting new comedic talent in Murphy.

Fright Night (Dir. Tom Holland, 1985) - FRIGHT NIGHT is a film that sets out to please and does so in spades. Telling the story of a teen who suspects his neighbor is a vampire and hires a TV personality who plays a vampire hunter to kill his neighbor, FRIGHT NIGHT oozes with atmosphere and kept a smile on my face throughout. As the vampire, Chris Sarandon is seductive, and as the vampire hunter, Roddy McDowall seems to be having the time of his life, relishing every line.

The Fugitive (Dir. Andrew Davis, 1993) - One of the rare action films to be honored with a Best Picture nomination, THE FUGITIVE really is a cut or two above the rest, largely because it doesn't sacrifice story for action. The action sequences, though, are memorable, and Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones (Oscar-winner for this role) give two of their best performances, particularly Ford.

Jackie Brown (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1997) - Never has a Tarantino film been as affectionate towards its characters or contained as much genuine warmth and maturity as his PULP FICTION follow-up, JACKIE BROWN, the only film of his based on a novel. Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Forster (Oscar-nominated) bring Tarantino's snappy dialogue to vivid life, and while the film takes its time, the journey is so exhilarating and the payoff so satisfying that it's more than worth the effort. JACKIE BROWN is a masterful and sensationally entertaining crime comedy and Tarantino's best after PULP FICTION and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

Lethal Weapon (Dir. Richard Donner, 1987) - Danny Glover and Mel Gibson light up the screen in this classic buddy cop movie that's familiar but enjoyable. There's not much more to say.

Murder on the Orient Express (Dir. Sidney Lumet, 1974) - With one of the best casts ever assembled, Sidney Lumet's Oscar-winning take on the classic Agatha Christie novel of the same name is a total delight. Albert Finney is perfection as famed detective Hercule Poirot, and Lumet keeps the film moving like a well-oiled machine.

Phantasm (Dir. Don Coscarelli, 1979) - Slow to start and amateurishly acted, the low-budget horror classic, PHANTASM, does an impressive amount with a tiny budget and has its fair share of memorable sequences.

Pretty in Pink (Dir. Howard Deutch, 1986) - We've seen the poor-girl-falls-for-a-rich-boy story a million times, but this effortlessly charming Molly Ringwald-starrer penned by John Hughes is a worthwhile watch, largely due to Hughes' empathy for his characters and the fantastic soundtrack.

Return to Oz (Dir. Walter Murch, 1985) - The only film directed by Oscar-winning editor and sound designer, Walter Murch, RETURN TO OZ is an odd bird. Produced by Disney as a sequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ, RETURN has nothing in the way of the lightness and kid-friendliness of the first. That being said, it is visually astonishing (its VFX were Oscar-nominated and still look great today) and should be commended for its commitment to its weirdness. While not a perfect film, RETURN TO OZ is an audacious vision that has cult favorite written all over it.

She's Having a Baby (Dir. John Hughes, 1988) - SHE'S HAVING A BABY sees John Hughes looking beyond high school in a dramedy thats obviously personal. Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern (in a sadly undeveloped role) are exceptional, and the film's honesty makes it ultimately hit home, even when a few subplots and detours threaten to derail it. BABY is not Hughes' best, but it is a sweet, ambitious piece that deserves much better than its reputation.

Sleepless in Seattle (Dir. Nora Ephron, 1993) - A gigantic hit and a cultural touchstone, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE is a film I couldn't believe I hadn't seen. The opening chunk is surprisingly moving, and Tom Hanks is his typically charming self, but the story falls apart due to a series of contrivances that defy logic. The fact that Ephron expects the audience to think Meg Ryan's character essentially stalking Hanks' throughout the film's second half is sweet and cute was hard to stomach.

WarGames (Dir. John Badham, 1983) - A Cold War-era thriller about a teen who accidentally hacks into a government nuclear program and, as a result, almost causes WWIII, WARGAMES is one of the best Spielbergian films that Spielberg didn't direct. A beautifully-crafted, clever, and compelling film.

Weird Science (Dir. John Hughes, 1985) - John Hughes' WEIRD SCIENCE is the black sheep of his '80s filmography. Arriving right after THE BREAKFAST CLUB and right before FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, this sci-fi teen comedy about two social outcasts who create the "perfect" girl lacks laughs and goes overboard with its visual effects. WEIRD SCIENCE has none of the insight and empathy that distinguished Hughes' best work.

The Warriors (Dir. Walter Hill, 1979) - THE WARRIORS, Walter Hill's cult classic about gang warfare in '70s NYC, is gritty, violent, and relentlessly grim. The film works best when it explodes with violence, as Hill shoots and choreographs his action sequences with mastery.