Film Review: Idle Hands (1999)

Release Date: April 30th, 1999
Directed by: Rodman Flender
Written by: Terri Hughes, Ron Milbauer
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Devon Sawa, Seth Green, Elden Henson, Vivica A. Fox, Jessica Alba, Jack Noseworthy, Robert Englund (voice), Fred Willard, Connie Ray, Kelly Monaco, The Offspring

Licht/Mueller Film Corporation, Team Todd, TriStar Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“There is evil out there, and I’m gonna kick its ass!” – Debi

Idle Hands is a bizarre and fun movie.

It follows a stoner and his buds. The main stoner, played by Devon Sawa, who was a hot commodity circa 1999, has a possessed hand. His hand murders his parents very violently while he is asleep. The rest of the film sees him trying to control his hand, as it yanks him around like a rag doll while looking for more people to murder.

This isn’t a film that did well when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It is sort of a niche movie that found its audience once it hit video stores. I remember that it developed a cult following pretty quickly and when I was in my early twenties, this was on the TV at a lot of parties. And rightfully so, as it is unique, cool and has a certain charm to it.

I have always been a fan of horror, especially when it has a comedy element to it. This film has the right balance between its scares and its laughs. It is also pretty gory, which was still fairly normal in 1999 before the ’00s brought tame PG-13 horror.

Seth Green has played a lot of good characters, the best of them always seeming to be an extension of himself. Here, he plays maybe his best character as one of the stoner buds. After he dies, early in the film, he is basically a zombie pothead with a bottle lodged into his forehead. The other stoner, who walks around holding his decapitated head, was played by Elden Henson, who modern audiences will probably recognize as Foggy Nelson from the Daredevil series on Netflix.

Jessica Alba is also in this, as the apple of the stoner’s eye, and she’s never been more adorable. Most guys my age fell in love with her in the TV show Dark Angel but it was Idle Hands that got me crushin’ on her hard.

I also love that Fred Willard is in this, albeit briefly, as the father of Sawa’s character. He meets his violent demise pretty quickly in the film but Willard is enjoyable in everything. Here, he is a straitlaced dad that’s sick of his stoner son being a useless coach potato with no ambition.

This movie has really good style. I love the set design, the characters’ looks and the score is actually pretty damn good.

I love the opening theme by Graeme Revell, as it truly sets the tone of the picture. The rest of the film is accented by Revell’s score mixed with a lot of notable ’90s rock. The Offspring even play the school dance, where they cover The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”.

Idle Hands is just a good time if you are into horror comedies with a good amount of gross out moments.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Disturbing BehaviorThe FacultyCan’t Hardly WaitBrainscan and Final Destination.

Film Review: The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Also known as: Fair Is Fair (working title), Billie Jean (Greece video title)
Release Date: July 19th, 1985
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Helen Slater, Keith Gordon, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Richard Bradford, Martha Gehman, Yeardley Smith, Dean Stockwell, Barry Tubb

Delphi III Productions, The Guber-Peters Company, TriStar Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“$608 dollars for the scooter your son trashed. That’s what you owe and we’re not turnin’ ourselves in til we get it. Fair is fair! We didn’t start this, we didn’t mean it to happen but we’re not givin’ up til you pay. Fair is fair!” – Billie Jean

I remember discovering this in the late ’80s on the shelf at a mom and pop video store. I thought Helen Slater looked really hot on the VHS box and it also had Christian Slater in it, who I was growing to like a lot around that time. Somehow this came and went in the theaters and my 6 year-old self in 1985 never knew of its existence. Granted, I couldn’t even get my parents to take me to Weird Science back then.

In the ’90s, I feel like this was on TV all the time. I don’t think a week went by without this broadcasting on TBS or TNT, usually on late at night or in a weekend block of ’80s movies.

The main character is named Billie Jean, probably to capitalize off of the super popular Michael Jackson song of the same name. Billie Jean and her brother Binx often times get harassed by local douchebag Hubie, who has the douchebaggiest name ever. Hubie steals Binx’s scooter and ends up beating up Binx and trashing his flashy moped. Billie Jean confronts Mr. Pyatt, Hubie’s dad, and asks for money to fix the scooter. Pyatt brings her upstairs and tries to rape her and tells her she’ll basically have to put out and get the money a little bit at a time. Things escalate, Binx accidentally shoots Pyatt and the kids go on the run, as Pyatt accuses them of robbing him. As the film rolls on, we see how the media spins the story and how Pyatt takes advantage of the situation and tries to profit off of Billie Jean becoming a cult hero by selling merchandise with her likeness on it. Ultimately, this is a film about youth not trusting their elders and about the cult of personality in a time before social media and the Internet.

The Legend of Billie Jean is a cool film and pretty underappreciated in the grand scheme of ’80s teen movies. It certainly has much more to say than the slew of teen sex comedies that were the norm. However, it didn’t do well theatrically and sort of built up its own cult following as the years passed. Sadly and frustratingly, it took a really long time before this ever got any sort of DVD release.

Helen Slater was really good in this and she carries the film. She was able to handle the tough task of her character’s evolution from sweet Texas teen girl to the leader of a generation of kids who had no one to look up to: kids who felt exploited by the adults of the world.

Truthfully, this is a sort of superhero movie, which is funny as Slater played Supergirl the year before this. But for people that said there were no female superhero movies before Wonder Woman came out last year, Helen Slater had already made two, three decades earlier.

The other kids in this: Christian Slater, Yeardley Smith, Martha Gehman and Keith Gordon all did a fine job too. Peter Coyote played the cop trying to bring the kids in but was also trying to save them from themselves. Coyote was very likable and the contrast between him and Dean Stockwell’s district attorney character was great.

The Legend of Billie Jean is a wonderful coming of age drama that is superbly enhanced by its stellar soundtrack, especially in regards to Pat Benatar’s “Invincible”, which really fit the movie to a T.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Gleaming the CubePump Up the Volume and Hiding Out.

Film Review: Brainscan (1994)

Release Date: April 22nd, 1994
Directed by: John Flynn
Written by: Brian Owens, Andrew Kevin Walker
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Edward Furlong, Frank Langella, Amy Hargreaves, T. Ryder Smith

Admire Productions Ltd., Coral Productions, Triumph Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“It doesn’t have to make sense. All these horror movies you watch… does ‘Death, Death, Death’ make sense? No. It’s not about sense. It’s about death, death, death.” – The Trickster

I remember the trailers for this when I was a young teen but I never had the urge to see this. Even when I worked at video stores, I didn’t have the desire to waste one of my free rentals on Brainscan.

However, I figured I’d give it a whirl now, as I don’t have any sort of nostalgic attachment to it, good or bad. And really, I’ll watch anything just to review it.

This came out at the tail end of Hollywood’s short lived Eddie Furlong experiment. Granted, I think the actor’s personal problems contributed to his sudden lack of work until he turned things around a bit with his role in American History X, four years later.

This is about a hardcore horror nerd who is given a game that will be the most immersive horror experience he could ever have. Well, it is. Little Eddie Furlong thinks he’s playing a game but he’s actually out murdering the crap out of people. The game’s host, The Trickster, who drops the “The” and only introduces himself as “Trickster”, leads Little Eddie Furlong into madness.

All this crazy stuff happens in the most mundane way possible and there really is no suspense or anything exciting in the entire picture. Granted, it does have some sort of grunge rock/heavy metal ’90s vibe that works. And The Trickster is actually interesting enough to keep you engaged in his scenes, even if he does look like a really bad ’90s cliche.

The real problem with this movie is that it is dark and fucked up but then it shows that it actually doesn’t have any balls and erases all the evil shit when it’s revealed that it was actually just a game all along. Or was it? They give you a little twist after the twist and this film has a sort of non-committal, non-ending that shows me that the filmmakers had no idea how to wrap the film up.

Brainscan is fine if you have 90 minutes to waste. But I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to see it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The Lawnmower Man and Arcade, which is a terrible movie but still fairly similar.

Film Review: Arcade (1993)

Also known as: Arcatron (Spain), Cyber World (Germany)
Release Date: July 20th, 1993 (Germany)
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: David S. Goyer, Charles Band
Music by: Alan Howarth, Tony Riparetti
Cast: Megan Ward, Peter Billingsley, John de Lancie, Sharon Farrell, Seth Green, A.J. Langer, Bryan Dattilo

Full Moon Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Games like Arcade go beyond interaction. I’m telling you, man, Virtual Reality is the way of the future!” – Nick

Arcade is a movie about a video game machine called “Arcade”, which is confusing, as the place where video game machines are held is called an “arcade”. Did the makers of the game not have any creativity? Well, if you actually see their game in this movie, the answer is definitely “yes.”

This movie is terrible in the way that sitting in the waiting area of a pediatric doctor’s office in a room full of fussy sick kids with millennial parents handing them iPads is terrible.

This actually has some known people in it. John de Lancie, Q from Star Trek, actually plays a sort of sinister corporate asshole that runs the company that manufactured this killer arcade game. Then you have Megan Ward, most notably from Encino Man, Seth Green, A.J. Langer and A Christmas Story‘s Ralphie, Peter Billingsley.

Granted, the acting lineup isn’t one that should wow anyone but considering that this is the cast of a Full Moon movie, the lineup is somewhat impressive.

The film is about a killer arcade machine that lures in teens, throws some shoddy virtual reality at them and eats their souls. Actually, I sat through this entire thing and I’m not really sure I even understand how it works.

I’ve heard people knock the video game and its look but this isn’t too dissimilar from what virtual reality technology was at the time, as far as its visuals went. However, the game is of very poor design and completely uninteresting, nonsensical and looks like an absolute bore to play. I mean, you skateboard through a dungeon with kitchen utensils sticking out of the wall, trying to avoid a yellow ball of light.

I don’t know how this movie has a 5.2 on IMDb. People have no taste.

It’s films like this that made me wish I didn’t have to do a full write up and I could just do movie reviews with a simple GIF reflecting my reaction after seeing them.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: Brainscan and The Lawnmower Man.

Film Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Also known as: Fast Times (working title, informal title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Based on: Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe
Music by: various pop bands
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston, Amanda Wyss, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli, Lana Clarkson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, Taylor Negron

Refugee Films, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Why don’t you get a job, Spicoli?” – Brad Hamilton, “What for?” – Jeff Spicoli, “You need money.” – Brad Hamilton, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli

Teen sex comedies were all the rage in the early 1980s. However, unlike all the others, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was much more than just a teen sex comedy. It was a film with purpose, heart and characters that you actually cared for and felt connected to. It had high drama, human emotion but it was still true to the spirit of the genre it was actually better than.

There were several factors that contributed to this movie being better than one would expect at first glance.

First, the story came from a book written by Cameron Crowe, who spent some time undercover in high school to capture the real lives of the teenagers around him. The book was full of true stories, which got adapted into this fictional movie tale. Crowe’s work gave this film a sense of realism and human emotion that other films like it were lacking.

Also, this was directed by Amy Heckerling and even though it was her first feature film, she was young, hip and connected to a lot of cool people at the time. She gave this picture a sort of life and energy that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. She also pulls off similar magic with 1995’s beloved teen comedy Clueless.

Additionally, this film benefits from having an incredible cast for its time. It has Sean Penn, just before he became a superstar, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the best actresses of her generation. The shy kind of nerdy character was played by Brian Backer, who had already won a Tony Award the year before for his leading role in Woody Allen’s The Floating Light Bulb on Broadway. You’ve also got quintessential ’80s cool guy Judge Reinhold, the always lovable Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Amanda Wyss, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, as well as veterans Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli. How many other ’80s teen sex comedies can boast a lineup that impressive? And this didn’t even have a single person from the Brat Pack in it.

The film is well balanced between all of its main characters. It also doesn’t showcase the token stoner as just a token stoner. The chemistry between Penn’s Spicoli and Walston’s Mr. Hand is fabulous and makes for some of the best moments in the film. Seeing Walston go that extra step for a student that most teachers would just roll their eyes at is both sweet and refreshing. I could’ve watched a spinoff movie of just Spicoli and Mr. Hand and been happy, even if it had a lackluster script.

I also loved the chemistry between best buds Mark Ratner (Backer) and Mike Damone (Romanus). The shy Ratner needs Damone’s help in getting with the ladies and their exchanges are hilarious and entertaining. Life throws these best buds a curveball though but it was great seeing real friendship conquer all.

There are several good stories sprinkled throughout this ensemble piece. And it is sort of timeless in that the jokes still work, the characters are amusing and even though this gets very serious at points, it is never short on laughs and keeps things generally lighthearted.

It also has one of the best soundtracks of its decade.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a perfect template on how to create a teen coming of age movie. Sure, it is sex heavy, as it was the ’80s, but it’s light-years more mature than similar films like Private School and The Last American Virgin.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Dazed and ConfusedThe Last American Virgin and Private School. Also, Gremlins, as that features both Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold. Plus, Clueless, another teen coming of age comedy directed by Heckerling.

Film Review: Class Act (1992)

Release Date: June 5th, 1992
Directed by: Randall Miller
Written by: Cynthia Friedlob, John Semper, Michael Swerdlick, Richard Brenne, Wayne Allan Rice
Music by: Vassal Benford, Kid ‘n Play
Cast: Kid ‘n Play, Karyn Parsons, Thomas Mikal Ford, Rick Ducommun, Doug E. Doug, Meshach Taylor, Pauly Shore, Rhea Perlman

de Passe Entertainment, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

Review:

“See, the way I look at it is if you gonna be Blade Brown, you gotta know where Blade Brown comes from, you know what I’m sayin’?” – Blade

I’m a big fan of the first two House Party movies with Kid ‘n Play. In fact, I watch them every couple of years because they’re lighthearted and fun, coming of age stories with two guys that are a great duo and also have solid chemistry and a lot of charisma. Plus, I owned their three albums.

It’s been quite some time since I have revisited Class Act, though. I wanted to see it again to compare it with the first two House Party pictures. Honestly, it’s a much better follow up to those films than what House Party 3 would be a couple of years later.

Also, this one has Pauly Shore in it too. It’s like a time capsule of early ’90s teen culture.

This story puts 30 year-olds Kid ‘n Play back in high school. Kid plays a genius and Play plays a thuggish, smart ass who must maintain good grades or get sent to jail. Yeah, it’s not the best setup in the world but these films have always borderlined on absurdity and slapstick humor. I can accept it within the context of what the House Party movies were. Besides, these films are about fun and not taking things too seriously.

So Kid ‘n Play find that their identities have been switched in their school’s records. This was actually caused by them, unbeknownst to them at the time. Kid has to go to the shitty classes while Play gets access to the super gifted section of the school. Play then threatens Kid to make sure he gets good grades, so he can avoid jail. In trade, Play agrees to help Kid with his lackluster physical education grade, as it could prevent Kid from going to a great college. Ultimately, the two opposites become good friends and learn a lot by being in each other’s shoes.

The film actually has a message but it is sort of lost in the craziness of the things that happen on screen. There is a school thug that has to be constantly dealt with, a drug kingpin and then the romance side of the equation where both guys will eventually have to explain their deception to the girls they fall in love with.

Then there is a whole side plot about Kid’s parents thinking he’s gay with Play.

Kid ‘n Play movies aren’t ever well acted affairs but they don’t need to be. Just as they can get by without stellar cinematography or an auteur director behind the camera. This one feels like it belongs alongside their two previous movies and it lives up to the standard that they set. Sadly, things go off the rails with House Party 3, after this picture.

Kid ‘n Play pictures are fun and goofy and always have some sort of positive outcome and a lesson learned by its lead characters. This one is no different.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Kid ‘n Play’s House Party trilogy.

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.