Down From the Shelf ~ Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Facts:

Synopsis: A man must struggle to travel home for Thanksgiving with an obnoxious slob of a shower ring salesman his only companion.

Stars: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon, Ben Stein

Director: John Hughes

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

Original Release Date: November 25, 1987

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: Here’s a movie I’m really, truly thankful for.  30 years (!!!) after its original release, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a gift that has kept on giving to countless people throughout the year but especially at Thanksgiving.  Writing this review in 2017 as I’m about to hit the road to celebrate the holiday with family, I knew I had to get my annual viewing of this one in a day before the big Turkey Day. Revisiting this one is like meeting up with an old friend who tells the same jokes but still delivers them with a master’s precision.

It’s two days before Thanksgiving and marketing exec Neal Page (Steven Martin, Parenthood) is rushing to catch an early flight home to Chicago to be with his family for the holiday.  If only he could make it to the airport.  In mid-day NYC rush hour traffic, he races for a cab with another big shot (Kevin Bacon in a cameo done as a favor to John Hughes right before they made She’s Having a Baby together), gets his cab stolen out from under him by an unseen man toting a large trunk with him, and arrives at the terminal to find his flight delayed.  That’s where he meets Del Griffith (John Candy, Splash), a portly shower ring salesman that turns out to be the cab thief.  When their plane is diverted to Kansas on account of the weather, Neal and Del become unlikely travel mates as they work together to get back to their families.

Hughes was on a real roll at this point, having just come off of directing back to back to back to back hits that have become seminal favorites (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) not to mention writing National Lampoon’s Vacation, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful.  This was his first movie to deal with real adults and it’s a marvelous pairing of a perfectly assembled cast with Hughes’ hilarious (if episodic) script.  There’s not a single boring moment in the movie, pretty remarkable considering how hard it is to sustain comedy for any length of time, let alone 92 minutes.

The movie is filled with classic scenes.  Martin and Candy waking up in their small hotel bed in an awkward embrace, Martin’s hysterically foul-mouthed run-in with a car rental agent (Edie McClurg, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), Candy driving cross-country and accidentally getting both of his arms stuck behind him while Martin sleeps, the list goes on.  Hughes is smart enough to have Del be the catalyst for a joke but not make him the ultimate target, to do that would be too cruel to be funny and that’s not what he’s interested in.

Martin is great as the tightly wound Neal who alternates between hating the schlubby Del and hating himself for the way he treats him.  It’s not hard to see why Neal gets so frustrated, either, because Del does himself no favors.  He’s a slob, he takes all the air out of any room he’s in, he doesn’t recognize normal social signals, and he has an uncanny way of destroying anything he touches.  Still, in Candy’s brilliant hands he’s a lovable dude and by the time the movie reaches its surprisingly emotional zenith, you’ll probably be like me and wiping tears away.  Oh yeah, I cry every time I watch the movie…I know I will and have accepted it at this point.

On a personal note, I can’t watch this movie without remembering my late father’s howling laugh when I first saw it.  I can still hear him roaring at Candy’s cluelessness and Martin’s slow-burn reactions.  This was a family favorite of ours and while my dad isn’t here to watch it with me, I think of him constantly when I put it on.  I watch a lot of movies and don’t always take the time to go back and rewatch many films…but there are exceptions and Planes, Trains and Automobiles is certainly one of them.

31 Days to Scare ~ Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th

The Facts:

Synopsis: A chronicle of the history of the Friday the 13th franchise.

Stars: Kane Hodder, Monica Keena, Greg Nicotero, Wes Craven, Robert Englund, Betsy Palmer, Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stuart Charno, Warrington Gillette, Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Kelly Hu, Todd Caldecott, Tiffany Paulsen, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Melanie Kinnaman, Richard Young, Marco St. John, Juliette Cummins, Lar Park-Lincoln, Susan Blu, Terry Kiser, Kevin Spirtas, Elizabeth Kaitan, Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Vincent Guastaferro, Renée Jones, Kerry Noonan, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Lawrence Monoson, Lisa Freeman, Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton, Kane Hodder, John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Steven Williams, Steven Culp, Erin Gray, Dana Kimmell, Richard Brooker, Catherine Parks, Paul Kratka, Jeffrey Rogers, Larry Zerner, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby

Director: Daniel Farrands

Rated: NR

Running Length: 400 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: There are documentaries on the making of films and then there’s Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th. Based off the excellent coffee table book published in 2005, this documentary from 2009 is the Holy Grail for fans of the Friday the 13th series and all its many, many…many sequels. Though I had already pored over the book several times and knew many of the behind-the-scenes info about the making of the films, the documentary brings these and so much more to life in a watchable format that you’ll be hard-pressed not to devour in one sitting. The first time I watched it I actually had to stop myself from taking in all 6 hours and 40 minutes at once, opting to break it into three segments and extend the fun.

Each movie gets its own chapter and so does the short-lived TV series, all put in chronological order. Often the discussions of the individual films are supported by events going on in the world at the time they were made and released so it’s helpful to watch this in order without skipping around too much. What surprised me was while the first film obviously gets a little more time spent on its genesis and production, the subsequent sequels are exceedingly well-represented by cast members and the different filmmakers that were involved. Often these specific types of genre documentaries are padded with nerds (ahem, fans) that fill in many of the gaps but here there are enough of the key players involved that the fan representation is blessedly kept to a minimum.

Another positive is that there’s little to no sugarcoating the discussion of the films and the logic gaps each new entry brought. Bad acting, tepid scripts, and production difficulties are put out there for public consumption and everyone seems to own their part of the good and the bad. It’s all largely kept light and airy; so while there are some instances where you can tell there’s more to the story, the point is not to do a deep dive into the wrongs of the series but instead to keep the focus on how the franchise was a miracle money monster of its own.

Usually around this time of year I get the urge to throw this one in again and revisit some of the segments that may not be as fresh in my mind or to follow-up after watching one of the sequels to get more insider info. For horror fans, this a must watch, if not an outright must own. Filled with great extras and deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut, it’s a whopper of a documentary and worth having in your collection.

Check out my reviews of Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and Jason Lives: Friday the 13h Part VI!

Movie Review ~ Patriots Day

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The Facts
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Synopsis: An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Khandi Alexander, Melissa Benoist, Themo Melikidze

Director: Peter Berg

Rated: R

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I can still vividly remember watching the manhunt unfold back in 2013 for the two men suspected of orchestrating the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Glued to the late night breaking news, I watched as police and FBI surrounded a boat suspected to be the hiding place of the last living suspect and held my breath along with the rest of the country.  By now we know how things turned out but even going into Patriots Day with these facts, audiences are bound to be caught up once again in the true life tale of that fateful day in April and the men, women, and children whose lives were forever changed in an instant.

Based on several different sources and news accounts, Patriots Day is the second film released in 2016 surrounding a real-life event directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg.  It was only back in late September the director and star teamed up for the underseen Deepwater Horizon which was a strong collaboration after first finding success in 2013’s excellent Lone Survivor.  Berg (Battleship) and Wahlberg (The Gambler) have scored their highest marks yet with Patriots Day, an effective and authentic examination of the investigation surrounding the hours/days after the bombing.

Patriots’ Day, Boston’s state holiday to celebrate the first battles of the Revolutionary War, also marks the annual Boston Marathon and April 2013 started like any other day.  People took their time to get out of bed, kiss their loved ones, and become a spectator or participant in the race, all the while never suspecting they will become targets for two radicalized brothers striking back at perceived injustices in Afghanistan and Iraq at the hands of U.S. officials.

Berg and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Mr. Holmes) jump around the city for the first part of the day, getting time with Wahlberg and his wife (Michelle Monaghan, Pixels), watching the Tsarnaev brothers (Alex Wolff, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Themo Melikidze) prepare for their crime, and finding moments to capture with other civilians and law enforcement officials who will become major players once the bombing occurs.  The lead-up to the devastation is taut but not fraught with clock watching tension and by the time it happens we’re a bit distracted and are caught off-guard much like everyone else was on that otherwise ordinary day.  After that, the movie takes off like a rocket as Wahlberg and his men secure the site and watch as the FBI comes in and makes their own rules.

Though populated with many real characters, Wahlberg’s Sgt. Tommy Saunders is an amalgamation of several different Boston police officers that were involved.  Wahlberg may be listed as the star but it’s not a “Mark Wahlberg Movie”, per se.  Rather, it’s an ensemble drama that seemed to go out of fashion with the disaster pictures of the ‘70s that introduces us to no less than a dozen players we’ll eventually cross paths with as the movie unfolds.

For nearly an hour, Wahlberg hovers on the periphery of the action while the likes of Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th), John Goodman (Love the Coopers), and J.K. Simmons (Zootopia) are activated and enter the story.  I had forgotten many of the developments that happened during those desperate hours and learned a lot more about what happened behind the scenes as the bomb site was recreated to piece together the clues that led authorities to the brothers on that final fateful night.  For all you small bladder people out there, be sure to visit the restroom before the final act or plan on holding it for the duration because the final hour of Patriots Day is a breathless cat and mouse game between the brothers on the run and the officers sniffing out their trail.  There’s a well-staged shoot-out that rivals anything the OK Corral could throw at you and a real sense of the dangerously high stakes permeates every frame.

Wahlberg continues to carve out a better than decent track record with his performances and the Boston-bred actor invests himself totally in this role that obviously hits close to home.   The rest of the supporting players are strong but special mention should be made to those involved in two of the most successful scenes in Patriots Day.  As a student carjacked by the brothers, Jimmy O. Yang (The Internship) underplays his fear and visibly musters up the courage to break free from certain death.  Then there’s an interrogation scene between the wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Melissa Benoist, The Longest Ride) and a FBI Agent (Khandi Alexander) that’s alone worth the price of admission. I don’t think I blinked during this brief but highly effective sequence.

Ending with a somber but gracious visit with the real people featured in the movie, Berg and company hit all the right notes with Patriots Day.  Like the previous two pictures they’ve made together, Berg and Wahlberg have shown a vested interest in bringing important tales of bravery/heroism to the screen with a reverential but not overly sentimental voice.

Movie Review ~ Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A look at the history of the American comedy publication and production company, National Lampoon, from its beginning in the 1970s to 2010, featuring rare and never-before-seen footage.

Stars: Chevy Chase, Kevin Bacon, Al Jean, Billy Bob Thornton, Ivan Reitman, John Landis, Judd Apatow, P.J. O’Rourke

Director: Douglas Tirola

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Though I’ve watched quite a few of the big screen offerings boasting the name National Lampoon, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the bawdy, rule-challenging magazine that started it all. Those in the same boat as me will be well served to devote some time to Douglas Tirola’s Lampoon love letter Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon because it gathers nearly every living member that was a major contributor to the magazine and films, detailing how the magazine rose to record high circulation before crashing and burning near the turn of the century.

The ground-breaking publication had a 28 year run starting in 1970, born as an offshoot of sorts to the Harvard Lampoon, a chaste satire magazine that I’m pretty sure didn’t feature as many bare breasts as its wicked cousin. Attracting some of the best and brightest in young comedic talent, the magazine grew to phenomenal popularity in pop culture and found its players turning up on a radio shows, stage plays, and, eventually movies.

The timing seems right for this documentary, coming on the heels of the numerous retrospectives that surrounded the 40th Anniversary of Saturday Night Live. Looking at the members of the National Lampoon that were eventually lured away to form the original cast of SNL, you get an even greater sense as to where they cut their satiric teeth before achieving the national spotlight every Saturday night.

It’s a fairly straight-forward documentary with good sound bites presented by people with names we recognize more for their behind the scenes contribution than anything onscreen. Though they are now older and (maybe) wiser, the wealth of timeworn photos show that in their heyday these people partied hard and produced a ribald humor magazine that was a counter-culture phenom of its time. It’s hard to know if such a thing could happen in this day and age, making the National Lampoon a time capsule of sorts for how things (and people) (and humor) used to be.

The Silver Bullet ~ R.I.P.D.

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Synopsis: A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

Release Date:  July 19, 2013

Thoughts: After watching the trailer for this summer’s 3D sci-fi action comedy R.I.P.D. I have some good news and I have some bad news.  Ok…bad news first.  Though it’s an interesting concept this looks remarkably like a reboot of the Men In Black series and even though Men in Black III was a nice diversion I don’t think we need something so similar so soon.  Now the good news: I think the cast might just save this one with Oscar winner Bridges letting his hair down and allowing his accent to do most of the work.  Mary-Louise Parker is always an interesting addition to any film and she’s re-teamed with her RED director Robert Schwentke who knows his way around a tongue and cheek energized flick.  Ryan Reynolds hasn’t quite yet made it to proven leading man status and this might be the litmus test for how he fares in the future. 

Down From the Shelf ~ Flatliners

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Medical students bring themselves near death; their experiment begins to go awry

Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, William Baldwin

Director: Joel Schumacher

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: There are some movies that bring up a lot of memories when you hear the title and for me just hearing the name Flatliners takes me back to the summer of 1990 when I anxiously awaited the August release of this thriller.  I recall the movie was released when my family was at our cabin and I wouldn’t be able to see it until we returned to the cities but it wasn’t long until my dad took me (hey, I was still underage for an R-rated movie!) to Yorktown 3 for a weeknight showing.

Flatliners has always been a guilty pleasure film for me with its over-the-top concept, stylish direction by Schumacher, and enjoyable performances by a cast that have all gone on to bigger and better things (well, maybe Baldwin excluded).  Revisiting the film again recently, I found that it still packed a nice little punch even if my adult eyes saw many of the cracks that previously went over my head.

Schumacher was a hot director at the time and was still riding the successful high of The Lost Boys three years earlier.  His remake of a French romance (Cousins) was well-received yet Schumacher would change course again to deliver what may seem like a horror film but is really more of a drama-thriller.  Re-teaming with one of his Lost Boys (Sutherland) and nabbing shooting star Roberts (who filmed this before Pretty Woman was released in March of 1990) was a bit of a coup and both actors, along with Bacon, Platt, and Baldwin formed a nice quintet of players as medical students pushing the line between life and death.

Sutherland has always been an interesting actor (much like his father, Donald) and he turns what could have been a one note hero/anti-hero role into a guy with some depth though it’s masked by a false bravado.  Film history has established that doctors have a God-complex and that notion is played up as the medical students each take turns ‘flatlining’ in an after-hours illegal pseudo-study group.  It’s when they are brought back that, unbeknownst to them, they bring something else back with them.

Essentially, the same scenario is replayed over and over again as each of our leads has a different experience in the thin line between heaven and earth.  All of the post-revival happenings are menacing in one way or another but none are of the serial killer variety…though the film’s preview tries to trick you into thinking they are.  Sutherland begins to be terrorized by a boy from his youth, Roberts sees her dead father, and Baldwin’s seedy past comes back to haunt him.  The secret to Bacon’s struggle seems to parallel what Sutherland is going through but a surprisingly emotional twist brings the film its best scene between Bacon and someone from his past. 

This could have been made by any number of directors with any combination of actors but the group that has been assembled strongly delivers a thriller even with its definite B-movie origins.  Elevating it slightly is James Newton Howard’s alarming score and Jan de Bont’s excellent visuals.  The film was shot around Loyola University in Chicago and Schumacher mines the campus and its gothic design for all it’s worth.

Flatliners does fall, um, flat in the middle section but I’ve always responded well to the movie in my numerous viewings of it throughout the years.  Yes, the basic plot stretches the bounds of any logical credibility and in hindsight much of it doesn’t line up but I’m willing to forgive a lot from a film that has its eyes and ears in the right place.  From a visual standpoint alone the film is recommended, and if you’re looking for a slick thriller from the 90’s that isn’t too horribly dated, you can’t miss with this one.