The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) Review

Director: David Zucker

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

For audiences who couldn’t get enough of the style of comedy found in the masterpiece Airplane! (1980), the trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker returned to bring them The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! in 1988. However, instead of spoofing 1970s disaster movies, this picture would focus on police films. The plot is about an apparently globe-trotting Los Angeles cop named Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) who must foil an assassination attempt against Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles) while she visits L.A.

If you aren’t familiar with Airplane!, this flick follows the same formula of throwing as many how-stupid-can-we-be-and-get-away-with-it? jokes at the audience as possible. There’s nothing sophisticated about the slapstick-heavy, hyperbolic humor in The Naked Gun. Sometimes the gags are even predictable, but, to be honest, it doesn’t make them any less side-splitting. Few crime or action movie clich├ęs make it out of the feature alive.

The first installment of The Naked Gun cinematic franchise (which is based off of a short-lived television show called Police Squad!) greatly benefits from Leslie Nielsen’s committed performance as the lead character. The supporting cast includes George Kennedy (as Ed Hocken), Ricardo Montalban (as Vincent Ludwig), and O.J. Simpson (as Nordberg). This was, of course, before he was a murderer.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! is a real laugh riot, lasting only 85 minutes, so it surely doesn’t outstay its welcome. The flick is so crammed with comedy that if ten seconds go by without a joke of some kind, something seems off. The film is profoundly silly, so those looking for high-brow humor will leave disappointed. That being said, I love the low-brow stuff, so this picture really does the trick for me.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Deadpool 2 (2018) Review

Director: David Leitch

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The superhero comedy Deadpool 2 certainly isn’t the easiest movie to write a review for, as it’s so similar to the original. That being said, if it’s more of the same, you can sign me up, as the first Deadpool flick was too good to resist. Here, the adventures of mercenary-turned-superhero Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) continue, as he sets out to prevent a young mutant nicknamed Firefist (Julian Dennison) from being killed by time-traveling warrior Cable (Josh Brolin).

As I hinted at earlier, Deadpool 2 maintains the crass, fourth-wall-breaking humor of the first one. However, for all the comedy (which almost always successfully hits the mark), this film has some real heart to it that makes it more than just another R-rated snarkfest. The actions of the characters are not simply consequence-free, but the picture still manages to keep a light-hearted tone.

While the action in 2016’s Deadpool was far from bad, its sequel ups the ante. While it’s not top-notch, the combat here is an improvement over the original installment in the franchise. Ryan Reynolds seems to be having plenty of fun throughout the movie, but I feel the need to bring up Josh Brolin’s role as the villain. He mostly plays things straight and serious, but he never falls victim to does-he-even-know-what-kind-of-movie-he’s-in-right-now? syndrome.

A few people have taken issue with the Deadpool features for trying to subvert the superhero subgenre while largely playing by its rules (in terms of storytelling). I don’t have much of a problem with this. I mean, what’s a comic book movie without a big, high-stakes confrontation with the baddies at the end? Overall, I can’t say that I enjoy Deadpool 2 as much as the 2016 original, but it’s still a swell piece of light-weight action-comedy fluff.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) Review

Director: Rob Reiner

Genre(s): Comedy, Music

Runtime: 82 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

According to legend, rock star Ozzy Osbourne thought that This Is Spinal Tap was an actual documentary when he first saw it in theaters. Yes, this rockumentary mockumentary about fictional hard rock band Spinal Tap going on a tour of the United States to save their career managed to fool the Prince of Darkness himself. The film has since then gone down as one of the all-time great cult classic movies.

I suppose one of the reasons (other than drugs, of course) that Ozzy thought This Is Spinal Tap was the real deal was because of how, well, grounded it feels. Yes, it’s a laugh-out-loud-funny comedy, but most of the picture feels eerily plausible. There are one or two moments of unrealistic fantasy, but, for the most part, rockers have found this feature easy to relate to. It really nailed the zeitgeist of 1980s-era rock ‘n’ roll.

The music that Spinal Tap plays is frequently described as “heavy metal,” but I think that the term “hard rock” is more fitting. Speaking of the music, it’s all made-up, but the songs played by the titular band are shockingly good. I mean, they’re completely over-the-top, but don’t be surprised if you feel the urge to listen to the flick’s soundtrack when the runtime is through. To keep things spoiler-free, I’m not going to give away any of the titles of the songs.

This Is Spinal Tap is a searing, yet good-natured, and hilarious satire of clueless rock stars with out-of-control egos. The niche subgenre of the mockumentary would never be the same and many rock bands found a film that both poked fun at and empathized with them. Don’t miss the killer cameo from Fred Willard, who plays a colonel at a military base that Spinal Tap performs at.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Eddie Macon’s Run (1983) Review

Director: Jeff Kanew

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Here’s one for all the Kirk Douglas fans out there. It’s not among his most famous flicks, but Eddie Macon’s Run is one to watch. The Eddie Macon (John Schneider) of the title is an average Joe locked away in prison away from his loving family who breaks out and makes a run for the Mexican border to freedom…all while having a relentless cop – Carl “Buster” Marzack (Kirk Douglas) – on his trail.

This underrated movie is part-The Fugitive (1993) and part-The Getaway (1972). It’s a simple, yet engaging, treat, with an easy-to-root-for protagonist. Thrown in the slammer for beating up an uncaring boss who dismissed his seriously ill son (well, that and some less-relatable drinking-and-driving), Eddie Macon just wants to be with his wife and son. In case you forget, you’ll be reminded of that by the near-constant country songs spelling out the plot to you that play over the soundtrack.

Eddie Macon’s Run is a relatively small film, and to be frank, it’s not always that memorable. However, it’s got it where it counts, with a short runtime, entertaining scenarios, and a fantastic role for Kirk Douglas. It doesn’t go too heavy on the physical action, reserving most of it for a car chase at the end that’s accompanied by music that sounds like something out of a 1970s pornographic vehicle pursuit.

This feature is a straightforward crowd-pleaser that moves along at a reasonable pace. The movie’s tone seems pretty well balanced. It’s not about big, extravagant set-pieces, but instead focuses its efforts on crafting likeable characters. I’d recommend it to Kirk Douglas fans and those looking for a simple, inspiring story told well.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Uncle Buck (1989) Review

Director: John Hughes

Genre(s): Comedy

Runtime: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Uncle Buck was the last film directed by John Hughes to be released in the 1980s, and his second-to-last movie as a director (the final one being Curly Sue [1991]). It has a charming story, being about a slob 0f a bachelor named Buck Russell (John Candy) who’s called in by his brother, Bob (Garrett M. Brown), to babysit his three kids while he and his wife, Cindy (Elaine Bromka), are out-of-town. Will he turn out to be a good role model for the children or will things spiral out of control?

Much of Uncle Buck rides on the charisma of its sincere star, John Candy. In this regard, the picture succeeds remarkably well. While the whole cast does a fine job, this is clearly Candy’s show, and most of the more memorable moments revolve around the character Buck. Another shout-out must go to pre-Home Alone (1990) Macaulay Culkin, who plays Miles, one of the kids the titular character has to put up with.

The humor here only rarely relies on semi-surreal touches, preferring funny dialogue and even the occasional slapstick. Most audiences will find something to chuckle at, even if the comedy is fairly broad at times. Despite a PG rating from the MPAA, some of the jokes may be a little too adult for the young ones. I’d recommend watching it alone first before showing it to kids. There are a few serious moments here, but they largely don’t feel out-of-place.

Uncle Buck is a heartwarming comedy that delivers plenty of laughs, and is never dull, despite a somewhat loose and straightforward plot. It works so well partially because the central character is so compelling. He’s such an interesting dude that two – count ’em – two television series were made based around him (John Candy didn’t star in either, though). The first ran from 1990 to 1991 and the second in 2016. So, if you’re in the mood for a satisfying, inspiring, relatively wholesome flick, pop this bad boy into your home video player today.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Deadpool (2016) Review

Director: Tim Miller

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 108 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

While not the first superhero movie rated R by the MPAA, Deadpool helped prove that fully R-rated comic book flicks could be box office smashes, with all the requisite violence, sex, and swearing. In this film, terminally-ill mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is tortured into immortality, leaving him gruesomely scarred from head to toe. He then sets out to exterminate the goons who gave him his current looks. It sounds pretty heavy, but this is, in fact, an action-comedy.

Few films smash down the fourth wall quite like Deadpool. It’s a relentlessly irreverent and often satirical take on superhero pictures that takes no prisoners. However, don’t worry about your expectations being subverted too much. As meta as the whole thing is, this feature still manages to invest the audience in its characters and make you care about the outcome of the story.

With a plot often told in a non-linear fashion, there’s no shortage of either laugh-out-loud-funny jokes or bloody action. While the fight scenes get a thumbs-up from me, it’s really the comedy that’s at the heart of Deadpool. It really is an endless series of smart-ass pop culture references. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.

This is sort of a spin-off of the X-Men series, but you should be fine watching this movie even if you know nothing about the rest of the characters in its expanded universe. With action that comes fiery and frequent and gags that land far more often than they fail, Deadpool is a recommended piece of cinema for fans of superhero flicks. Well, I should specify that it’s for superhero aficionados who are old enough to watch R-rated films.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Breakout (1975) Review

Director: Tom Gries

Genre(s): Adventure, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

According to the IMDb Trivia page for the prison-escape thriller Breakout, it was the first motion picture from a major studio whose release was accompanied by “the now-common saturation pattern.” This apparently means that the film opened in over a thousand American theaters simultaneously, while being backed by a barrage of 17,000 radio advertisements. All of this was in the service of a movie about a pilot named Nick Colton (Charles Bronson) who’s hired to rescue an innocent man – Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) – from a Mexican fortress-prison.

This is actually a pretty lighthearted role for Charles Bronson, who has his wife Jill Ireland (playing Ann Wagner) co-star with him. His scenes are often pretty comedic and adventurous, meaning that he’s not scowling as much as he usually does. That being said, the light and dark elements don’t always completely mesh here (the oft-serious scenes involving Robert Duvall’s character sometimes feel like something out of a different movie).

Breakout probably doesn’t have as much action as you might expect from a Bronson flick from this time period, but that’s okay. There are a few moments of impressive stuntwork here. I mean, is Bronson actually helping fly that helicopter? It doesn’t look like phony-baloney rear projection to me. Another stunt that springs to mind is the one where a jeep overturns and bursts into flames, with stuntpeople barely missing the fire.

This is not top-tier Bronson right here (the actor takes a while to actually make his first appearance), but it’s watchable fluff. There are some minor pacing issues and it’s not exactly an action extravaganza, yet seeing Bronson play a less-melancholic-than-usual role might be worth the admission price for many. This is, believe it or not, just one of two films released in 1975 to be directed by Tom Gries, star Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland, and have its title begin with “Break.” The other is Breakheart Pass (1975).

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Seven Angry Men (1955) Review

Director: Charles Marquis Warren

Genre(s): Biography, Drama, War, Western

Runtime: 90 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1955 biopic Seven Angry Men was actually the second time that actor Raymond Massey played John Brown on the big screen. The first film was the pro-slavery propaganda piece Santa Fe Trail (1940), where Brown was the villain. Anyway, this historical drama details the life of that famed American abolitionist, as he battles against pro-slavery forces in Kansas and what-is-now West Virginia in the years leading up to the American Civil War. It’s a very nifty movie that does justice to the legendary figure at its center.

People who have studied the life of John Brown, one of my heroes, will recognize various incidents in the picture inspired by real-life events. Yes, some of these highlights of Brown’s life – like the Sacking of Lawrence and the Battle of Osawatomie – are exaggerated to make them more cinematic, but the flick often sticks surprisingly close to the facts. A few major events are omitted from the feature, like the Battle of Black Jack and the raid into Missouri to rescue several slaves.

This is a morally complex film that doesn’t shy away from asking the big questions about extralegal violence. Raymond Massey gives a dynamite performance as the central character, although it may be too much to keep track of all of his grown sons, considering how little fleshing-out some of them are given (they make up the other six angry men of the title). The action scenes that show up are serviceable, but not above and beyond the call of duty.

Seven Angry Men is an excellent look back at the history of militant abolitionism in the years prior to the breakout of the American Civil War. However, it should be noted that an unnecessary romantic subplot occasionally brings the movie to a standstill. This, right here, is the proper John Brown motion picture to view, not that Santa Fe Trail stuff. If you enjoy this work, I’d recommend reading the book John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds as a companion piece.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

King of the Underworld (1939) Review

Director: Lewis Seiler

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 67 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

King of the Underworld was the first movie where Humphrey Bogart got his name placed over the title in the opening credits. This drama is about how husband-wife doctor duo Niles Nelson (John Eldredge) and Carole Nelson (Kay Francis) and failed writer Bill Stevens (James Stephenson) find themselves ensnared in the world of crime by gangster Joe Gurney (Humphrey Bogart). It’s not remembered among Bogie’s best work, but it’s still a competent, little film.

According to the Trivia section of this picture’s IMDb page, director Lewis Seiler’s heart wasn’t really in this one, which might explain a slightly sloppy moment or two. Still, the results are quite good, with the cinematography occasionally having a shadowy, proto-noirish look. It should also be mentioned that the feature is actually kind of funny at times. It’s a charming flick.

On the action front, there’s not too much to write home about. There are a couple of instances when characters let a Thompson submachine gun rip, but this is far more subdued than, say, Scarface (1932) or ‘G’ Men (1935). An action film, this is not. That being said, the ending puts a pretty interesting and surprisingly satisfying twist on the usual gangland shootout finale trope.

Running a minuscule sixty-seven minutes, King of the Underworld is a film that’s difficult to regret watching. The succinct plot is always in motion and Bogart’s fine performance anchors the finished product. I really enjoy watching retro mobster movies, and this feature will scratch any itch for other aficionados of those types of works.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Grease (1978) Review

Director: Randal Kleiser

Genre(s): Comedy, Musical, Romance

Runtime: 110 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The 1978 musical Grease is a nostalgic look back on teenage life in the 1950s as seen through the lens of the 1970s. You see, high school cool cat Danny (John Travolta) had a summer fling with an Australian girl, Sandy (Olivia Newton-John), and now doesn’t know that they’re attending the same school together. This one follows the standard rom-com formula pretty closely, so no points will be awarded for guessing how it ends.

The biggest draws of this film are its iconic musical numbers. Even people who’ve never seen the movie before can probably hum along with one or two of the songs featured here. My favorite ditty is “Grease,” performed by Frankie Valli, which plays over the animated main title sequence. It’s a disco tune, but doesn’t feel particularly out-of-place in the fifties setting.

The detractors of this picture point out things like that the high schoolers here look like forty-year-olds (perhaps it was all that underage smoking and drinking?). Another common criticism is the flick’s dubious sense of morality, where surrendering to peer pressure, unprotected sex, reckless driving, and chain-smoking are seen are ultimate cools. I can’t subscribe to what Grease says about right and wrong, but, if you’re getting your moral direction from this feature, you have deeper issues.

The film only has just enough conflict in it to sustain itself. Sure, the characters of Danny and Sandy go back and forth with each other, but most of the work is about teens partying, singing, and dancing. The story’s simple, but the lively music, heavy on the rock ‘n’ roll and pop, makes Grease worth watching. Joan Blondell shows up as Vi, a waitress at a diner frequented by the main characters.

My rating is 7 outta 10.