Film Review: House Party (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Music by: Lenny White, Marcus Miller
Cast: Kid ‘n Play (Christopher “Kid” Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin), Full Force (“Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., Brian “B-Fine” George), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Groove B. Chill (Gene “Groove” Allen, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), Kelly Jo Minter, John Witherspoon, Clifton Powell, George Clinton

New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes

Review:

I loved this film the moment I saw it for the first time when it debuted on premium cable, a year after it hit theaters. I had already been a Kid ‘n Play fan at that point but this immortalized them as cool, as far as I was concerned at twelve years-old.

House Party benefits from having an all-star cast before these actors were really all-star players.

Robin Harris is probably the biggest name and he was well-known for his stand-up comedy but he really had some great moments in this that brought him to a higher level. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after this film came out and didn’t get to reap whatever benefits would have came from the success this film had.

House Party also features Martin Lawrence, just on the cusp of his superstardom, as well as John Witherspoon, Tisha Campbell, Clifton Powell, Kelly Jo Minter and musicians George Clinton, Full Force and Groove B. Chill.

The picture was originally intended to be a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Jeff Townes and Will Smith) but Kid ‘n Play got the project. This could have been due to Smith’s big sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creating a conflict.

With high school teen sex comedies being all the rage in the 1980s, House Party follows suit but gives us a film from the African-American perspective. Ultimately, there isn’t much of a difference other than the added hip-hop flair, which by 1990 was a welcome change following a decade of high school comedies scored to new wave pop music.

The film was critically acclaimed. Roger Ebert loved the film stating, “House Party is a light, entertaining teen comedy with an infectious energy.”

House Party is a great movie for its type. It gives something fresh to its genre and helped pave the way for a lot of up and coming talent. Additionally, it opened doors for black filmmakers, who would really make an impact on cinema throughout the 1990s. House Party was an African-American comedy that really went mainstream and helped in creating a shift in American entertainment, at the time.

Film Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante
Music by: The Ramones
Cast: P.J. Soles, Dey Young, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, The Ramones

New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

Roger Corman always liked to capitalize on whatever pop culture trends came along. Initially, he wanted to make a film called Disco High School. However, with the end of the film being capped off by the high school exploding behind dancing students, one of his collaborators said that the ending would fit much better with rock and roll. Corman agreed and after being pointed in the direction of punk rock legends The Ramones by Paul Bartel, a regular Corman collaborator, the rest is history.

Rock & Roll High School isn’t a good film but it is a ridiculous and fun motion picture that features the great tunes of The Ramones and the insane and infectious enthusiasm of its star, P.J. Soles.

The film also stars the always great Mary Woronov as the villainous principal and Paul Bartel as a music teacher that converts to a fan of The Ramones after getting doped up at a concert. We also get a good cameo by Dick Miller and get to enjoy a few scenes with the enigmatic and entertaining Don Steele. A young Clint Howard is also in this.

This movie is mostly a high school teen sex comedy with a heavy emphasis on The Ramones music. It isn’t quite a musical but it plays like one at times. The Ramones have a lengthy concert segment within the film but outside of that, we see P.J. Soles lead a group of girls singing in gym class, as well as the big finale which sees the students and The Ramones march through the school halls as they trash the place to the horror of the administration, their parents and the police outside.

Rock & Roll High School is highly entertaining but probably only for those who love the actors involved or who have a love for The Ramones. I’m not sure how it would resonate for others. It’s definitely a movie that is still well regarded by many because of its ties to punk music, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles and because it has a massive nostalgia factor.

Film Review: Tomboy (1985)

Release Date: January 25th, 1985
Directed by: Herb Freed
Written by: Ben Zelig
Music by: Michael Lloyd
Cast: Betsy Russell, Jerry DiNome, Kristi Somers, Richard Erdman, Philip Sterling

Crown International Pictures, BCI Eclipse, 91 Minutes

Review:

I always thought Betsy Russell was pretty desirable. Now make her a mechanic and racecar driver and she gets infinitely more desirable. Unfortunately, the film around her is not very desirable.

Tomboy is one of nineteen gazillion 80s teen sex comedy movies. While that’s typically not a sub-genre that is known for Oscar caliber motion pictures there are a few that are true cinematic classics. Tomboy, however, is pretty close to the bottom of the barrel. Although, it is still entertaining and goofy enough to enjoy.

Betsy Russell stars as Tomasina Boyd (Tom… Boy… get it?). She rides dirtbikes, shoots hoops, works on cars and even built her own racecar that looks like the lovechild of a dangerous carnival ride and a 70s lunchbox. Her slutty prissy friend always tries to turn her into a slutty prissy girl. Betsy isn’t having any of that though because she’s a friggin’ tomboy.

This handsome racecar champion shows up in Betsy’s garage one day and all of a sudden, she cares about boys. Her friend even gives her a special perfume that makes vaginas smell pleasant. I’m not making this up, I swear.

Anyway, the whole thing comes to this big crescendo where Betsy has to race against her beau with the winner getting some sort of big-time racing contract. In the end, everyone is happy and richer. We also get to see Betsy’s boobies a few times along the way.

Tomboy is pretty crappy, for the most part, but it’s still fun and full of bizarre characters that go beyond just being 80s cliches. There’s the slutty friend who shoots a commercial wearing powedered donuts on her boobs, there’s the weirdo rich kid who doesn’t know how to relate to anyone except creepy old rich dudes, there’s the dumb hunk, there’s the loser guy who crashes and burns trying to get with the ladies, there’s the… well, if you’ve seen these types of movies, you probably know the drill by now.

The film has less than mediocre acting, art-less cinematography, a cookie cutter lowest common denominator score and a cheesy 80s title song that will make you slip into madness. But at least everyone looks like they’re having fun.

Tomboy is dated. It wasn’t good in 1985 even. However, if you’ve got 90 minutes to kill on a rainy day, throw it on.

Film Review: The ‘Battle Royale’ Film Series (2000-2003)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Battle Royale, so I figured I’d pop the DVD in and rewatch this almost masterpiece. After doing that, I figured that I’d watch the sequel, which I have never seen.

Battle Royale (2000):

Release Date: December 16th, 2000
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku
Based on: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Music by: Masamichi Amano
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Takeshi Kitano

AM Associates, Kobi, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai, MF Pictures, WOWOW, Gaga Communications, Toei Company, 113 Minutes (Original Release), 121 (Extended Cut)

Review:

This film is a classic. That is a bold thing to say but unless you have seen the film, it may be hard to understand why.

I could rave about the direction, the material, the stylistic approach of the gore-filled bits and so many other factors. Apart from all that, the film just hits you in the stomach. It is over the top and the fact that all this gruesomeness is happening to kids, really has an effect unlike any film I had seen before it. It’s severely dark, somewhat campy, sometimes sweet and insanely ambitious.

For those who don’t know what it is about, the Japanese government gets tired of asshole kids and passes a law. The law creates a lottery where a school is picked and its students are tricked into going on a field trip, only to be gassed and wake up on a strange island and forced to kill one another until their is just one survivor. It’s like Hunger Games without the suck factor. Also, it came first and is about a thousand times better, as a film.

Battle Royale is a symphony of a lot of beautiful dark shit leading to a crescendo that is jaw-dropping and for lack of a better word, “awesome”. There is a reason why this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films. Truthfully, in the history of Japanese cinema, this cracks my top ten for sure… maybe even my top five.

I actually don’t want to reveal too much because I’d rather people just experience this incredible motion picture.

Battle Royale II: Requiem (2003):

Release Date: May 18th, 2003 (Cannes)
Directed by: Kenta Fukasaku, Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku, Norio Kida
Based on: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Music by: Masamichi Amano
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ai Maeda, Shugo Oshinari

Fukasaku Group, TV Asahi, WOWOW, Tokyo FM, Sega, Toei Company, 133 Minutes (Original Release), 152 (Extended Cut)

Review:

Considering that I hadn’t seen this film and have such a high level of respect for the first one, I was excited to throw this in the DVD player. And then it started.

Battle Royale II tries to capture the magic of the first film but fails in many ways.

I can’t completely trash it, as there are bits that I enjoyed. But ultimately, even though these films have ridiculous premises, this one just had a lot of really unbelievable shit, even for being a sequel to a film with such an over the top story to begin with.

The plot follows a new group of kids who are forced to raid an island in an effort to murder a terrorist who has been banding kids together in an effort to destroy the evil adults of the world. Wow, it comes off as even more ridiculous summing it up in one sentence like that. Anyway, the format of the film was different than the first but it just didn’t give us anything worthwhile even though they attempted something fresh.

I enjoyed the first hour of the film, which centers around the raid on the island. Once that part is over and the two groups of fighting kids meet face-to-face, the film just gets boring as hell and quickly goes downhill. The last act is more action and violence and it keeps one’s interest but does so just barely.

I could’ve done without seeing the sequel and Earth could’ve done without it even being made. The open-ended ending of the first film was perfect and should have been left alone.

Plus, this thing is so damn long and it didn’t need to be.

Film Review: Private School (1983)

Release Date: June 29th, 1983
Directed by: Noel Black
Written by: Dan Greenburg, Suzanne O’Malley
Music by: Rick Springfield
Cast: Phoebe Cates, Betsy Russell, Matthew Modine, Michael Zorek, Ray Walston, Sylvia Kristel

Universal Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

Teen sex comedies have never been the same since the 80s ended. Sure, we’ve had a few classics, here and there. However, even though these films were a dime a dozen in the early 80s, they typically had some charm. While that could be nostalgia talking, I feel like this style of film just fit well with 80s pop culture and humor.

Private School is not a classic in the same vain as Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which is the true masterpiece of the genre because it is much more than just a teen sex comedy. However, Private School features both Phoebe Cates and Ray Walston from Fast Times and also tried to piggyback on that film’s success.

On a side note, Phoebe Cates was my first crush as a young kid and she made me come to the realization that girls were something I should desire and that no woman would ever compare to Phoebe Cates. And truth be told, I didn’t even see her breasts in Ridgemont High until I was a teenager and realized that the VHS version of the film had some things in it that weren’t shown on television. Mainly just boobies, drugs and a more colorful approach to the English language – all fun stuff.

Private School is still enjoyable for its absurdity. Also, it has that scene where Betsy Russell rides topless on a horse in glorious slow motion. And she is pretty much naked or close to naked throughout the whole film, which is something you just don’t get to see anymore because communists have taken over Hollywood in an effort to destroy the young red-blooded American male sex drive. Without their libido, the Red Chinese win. But more importantly, we can only see boobs in porn and everyone wants to slap our wrists now if we watch that good all-American smut.

What’s the big deal? Europeans don’t have a problem with sex and frankly, we’re supposed to be the trendsetters in the entertainment industry. I apologize to Europe on behalf of America if we somehow influence you guys to lose boobies in your movies. Please don’t, I’ll pay big bucks for Euro boobies, especially when they’re thirty feet tall over my head in a dark room.

Anyway, there isn’t much plot to this movie. Mainly, Betsy Russell wants to steal Phoebe Cates’ boyfriend a.k.a. Matthew Modine – the evil guy from Stranger Things. She tries to achieve this by taking her shirt off a lot. The rest of the film is really just a series of funny skits and gags, which is typical of this sort of movie.

Private School is a pretty okay movie. It is fun and it has some good bits, like everything featuring Ray Walston. But it is mostly a film about the greatness of Betsy Russell’s immaculate body. Even though I love Phoebe Cates, she doesn’t do much here other than make pouty faces and keep her clothes on.

Film Review: Cool as Ice (1991)

Release Date: October 18th, 1991
Directed by: David Kellogg
Written by: David Stenn
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Vanilla Ice, Kristin Minter, Michael Gross, Deezer D, Naomi Campbell

Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

I remember seeing the trailer for this thing when I was a middle school aged kid sitting in a theater waiting for something better to start. Granted, I don’t remember what that film was but it certainly wasn’t Cool as Ice.

I remember people telling me how shitty this film was. I never had the urge to see it and I was never a fan of Vanilla Ice. I was listening to N.W.A., Ice Cube, Public Enemy and a lot of thrash metal at the time.

Because of my influences, I thought Vanilla Ice was just some cream puff wannabe. Besides, how could he possibly top his performance of “Go, Ninja! Go, Ninja! Go!” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

Then I noticed that there was a RiffTrax version of the movie streaming for free for Amazon Prime members. I thought, “What the hell, why not? It’s only an hour and a half and I can listen to those guys riff anything.”

I’m glad that I watched the movie. Is it bad? Oh, yes. It is straight 90s cheese of the worst kind and looking at this thing in 2017 re-familiarizes me with the worst things pop culture had to offer at the time. I’m not knocking Vanilla Ice per se, I am knocking the film in its style, its tone, its dialogue, its acting and its plot.

The story sees a wannabe bad ass with a heart of shit roll into a small town with his homies on their obnoxiously 90s motorcycles. One of the bikes breaks down and Vanilla Ice is stuck in Boringsville, U.S.A. He falls for some preppy brainy white chick and steals her personal notebook because he’s obviously a creep. However, it turns the girl on but not as much as Ice forcing her to dance and then pressing her to the floor as he gyrates on top of her in front of the whole town. Her boyfriend gets angry. Ice and the boyfriend have some fight and creeper Vanilla breaks the guys nose but he’s a douche too so my only concern is that the girl has really shitty taste in fellas. Michael Gross from Family Ties plays the girl’s dad and he’s not a super bad ass like he is in Tremors. In the end, I guess Vanilla Ice is okay though, as he saves the girl’s weirdo little brother from the crooked cops that kidnapped him.

The majority of the film is just there to show how cool Vanilla Ice is. His coolness is quite dated however and one has to question, how was he cool in the first place? I guess by the time that this film came out, it was already too late for Ice, as it was a financial and critical failure. It didn’t even cover a quarter of its small budget during its theatrical run. The director has also since disowned the movie.

Some good came out if it however, as the director of photography Janusz Kamiński would go on to be the cinematographer on Schindler’s ListSaving Private Ryan and Minority Report. And honestly, Cool as Ice had some good visual elements.

Unfortunately, a big bulk of the film was made up of pointless musical montages of Ice riding his motorcycle through the desert or posing like a lazy model on a couch that looked like it was stolen from the Max on Saved by the Bell.

Cool as Ice, however, is strangely entertaining. Obviously not in the way that was intended but there is a quaint cuteness to it. For a film deeply submerged in its own flaws, somehow a bit of heart does come through. Just a bit, though.

Also, the music isn’t horrible. Ice’s songs aren’t very good but the rest of the soundtrack is made up of new jack swing tunes that fit the movie’s era. I’ve always liked new jack swing, so I was cool with the overall use of music in the picture.

I don’t hate Cool as Ice, as many before me do. It’s a bad and strange film but it is a great time capsule for an era that I’m glad to see is several decades behind us now. Not that today’s pop culture is any better, though. Eh… maybe Vanilla Ice wasn’t so bad.

Film Review: The Breakfast Club (1985)

Release Date: February 15th, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Keith Forsey, Gary Chang
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

A&M Films, Channel Productions, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

I got to see this on the big screen thanks to Flashback Cinema, who are doing a fantastic job at bringing classics back to participating theaters.

It is really a rare thing for a film to transcend its time. For a film that is so very much 80s, it is even rarer.

The Breakfast Club is certainly a representation of the era in which it came out in but it carries a message and a feeling that is timeless. Frankly, 1980s American teen life is on display here but John Hughes created something so deep that it reflects the attitude and feeling of the youth from any generation. While I don’t think that was his intention, at the time, his magnum opus The Breakfast Club, over thirty years later, still gives a voice to teenagers struggling with their growth into adulthood.

Being shot in under two months, primarily in a high school gymnasium made to look like a school library, the film far exceeds its spacial and production limitations. The first cut of the film, before heavy edits, came in at 150 minutes. It’d be great to see that version but an extended cut has never been released, even though it still supposedly exists.

Hughes also assumed that this would be his first film, as he had no directing experience and wanted to create it in a single space in quick time. However, he did do Sixteen Candles before The Breakfast Club, which thankfully lead to the casting of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, after their performances in that film.

Hall played Brian, the brainy character. Ringwald was originally supposed to play the recluse Allison but she begged to be Claire, which lead to the casting of Ally Sheedy as Allison. Emilio Estevez was initially slated to play the rebellious John Bender but was switched to the jock Andy after the casting of Andy didn’t go well. Judd Nelson beat out John Cusack for the role of Bender, as he was able to come off as meaner. He also took the method acting route which caused Hughes to want to fire him due to how he treated Ringwald off camera. The cast ultimately stuck up for Nelson and he stayed in the film.

I don’t often times describe the casting process in the films I review but when you have an ensemble that is near perfect, it is interesting to see how things came together in that regard, especially with all the shifting that happened in pre-production. The end result was a perfect storm that gave us characters that are bigger than the film itself.

The acting was superb, even though some of the dialogue is 80s cheesy, primarily the insults. This was a quintessential Brat Pack movie though and they weren’t all famous because they were cool kid actors, they were famous because they had acting chops. Compare the Brat Pack starring teen flicks of the 80s with those not starring Brat Pack members and there is a huge gap in talent and quality. Granted, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is a rare exception to this point.

I have watched this film many times throughout the years but each time is a reminder of just how good it is. The characters are all pretty relatable in their own unique ways. And as I move into middle adulthood, it is kind of a character check on myself, as I am reminded of the struggle that teens go through and how they view older people and authority in general. I’m not a parent but I hope that this film at least opened the eyes of many of the young teens who grew up and are parents now. It is hard to remember your emotions and thoughts from your teen years but somehow The Breakfast Club brings it all back.

The Breakfast Club is the finest film John Hughes ever made, which is a pretty big deal when almost everything he did became iconic. He didn’t just define a teenage generation, he defined all teenage generations. And all these years later, the film still resonates pretty profoundly.