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.

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.

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.

American Hustle (2013) Review

Director: David O. Russell

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 138 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 2013 con artist dramedy American Hustle is frequently compared and contrasted with the works of director Martin Scorsese. I mean, the plot does sound like it belongs to a project that he might helm. In the 1970s, conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and conwoman Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are recruited by federal agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help take down some crooked politicians.

The film is equally concerned with its vibrant characters and its tricky plot, making it a well-balanced production. It’s not a riotously funny, laugh-a-second flick, but the humor that is here works better than I expected. The movie doesn’t always have the gravity it needs, although the murderous mob is eventually introduced into the picture to add some weight to the proceedings.

American Hustle tackles the 1970s with relish. The snappy soundtrack is full of recognizable songs from the time period that greatly elevate the feature. Of course, it would be hard to review this movie without mentioning the oft-outrageous hairdos worn by the star-studded cast. They’re just reminders in case anybody missed the memo that this is the seventies.

This isn’t the most substantive film ever made, but it’s quite entertaining once you get into its groove. Despite how loose everything is played, the plot might be a tad too complicated at times. Just a tad. It’s very good and never boring, but, if I had to take my pick from the con artist fiction litter, I think I’d go with the television series Sneaky Pete.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Another 48 Hrs. (1990) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 93 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte return for more in this so-so sequel to 48 Hrs. (1982). Once again, tough guy cop Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) recruits the help of conman Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) to help him on a case. This time, the police officer wants to take down a mysterious drug lord known as “The Iceman” as well as clear his own name after being accused of killing an unarmed man.

The plot of Another 48 Hrs. feels rather formless, which is the biggest problem with the film. In retrospect, it just seems like our dynamic duo are chasing various leads until the final shootout arrives. Sure, Nolte and Murphy do no wrong here, but the plot needed a little more meat on it. Oh well, at least the adequate pacing and relatively short runtime keep this flaw from being fatal.

The action scenes here are actually better than the ones in the first installment of this motion picture duology. They’re definitely not top-tier, but they are filmed and edited in a more coherent fashion than in 48 Hrs. This picture is somewhat famous for the amount of glass that gets smashed in it and, yeah, panes of that stuff are being broken left and right. I guess it adds to the fun of the whole experience.

Another 48 Hrs. features less racist and homophobic dialogue than the original, which may make it easier to watch for modern audiences. It’s also less grimy- and gritty-feeling, but – hey – if that’s the cost of superior action set-pieces, I’ll pay it. Okay, the bottom line is that this one isn’t quite as good as the 1982 flick, but it certainly is watchable.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

48 Hrs. (1982) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 1982 action-comedy 48 Hrs. is an excellent example of how the right casting can save a movie. Here, Eddie Murphy is the hero of the production. The story of the picture in question is about a down-on-his-luck San Francisco police officer named Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) who reluctantly teams up with imprisoned con man Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) to track down a pair of cop killers. It’s often considered one of the first of the “buddy-cop” subgenre, but, in this case, only one of the two main characters is a lawman.

It’s largely thanks to Eddie Murphy that this gritty crime-thriller keeps afloat. The movie really comes alive when he shows up, and it’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role. The plot may be nothing worth writing home about, but when Murphy’s on a roll, he’s on a roll. Be warned, though, that this flick contains quite a bit of racist, sexist, and homophobic language that makes it a little awkward at times.

Director Walter Hill is generally very good at handling action scenes, but I don’t think 48 Hrs. is one of his better outings when judged by carnage alone. The action here feels a little clumsy sometimes. It’s certainly not all bad, but it doesn’t feel up to the Walter Hill par. The sequences of violence, however, do feel appropriately grounded for such a tight, intimate film.

This is an important landmark in the history of buddy-cop movies, and it holds up pretty well today (except for the bigoted remarks, of course). Sure, it would be topped by Lethal Weapon (1987), but it still has a sleazy, dirt-under-the-fingernails charm all to its own. Also, David Patrick Kelly, perhaps better known as “Sully from Commando (1985)” makes an appearance as criminal Luther.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Biography, Comedy, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 180 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

This depiction of the life and times of American financial criminal Jordan Belfort (Leonard DiCaprio) is a work of pure, unrestrained id. Set in the 1980s and 1990s, gleefully obnoxious and hedonistic-to-the-power-of-x stock-broker Belfort claws his way up to the top. At three hours, it’s a long one for sure, but director Martin Scorsese ensures that this comedic biopic is never remotely boring.

The Wolf of Wall Street feels like a circus or a party (not the kind I would want to go to, though), with its orgies, oversized yachts, mountains of cocaine, and literal hundreds of “f-words.” It’s all excess, all the time. The movie is so full of amplified depraved behavior that it starts to feel like a twisted sort of experimental film after a while. Despite (perhaps because of) the incessant debauchery, this is one hilarious flick, with a style that goes for maximum impact.

As funny as all of this is, one flaw with the picture is that it doesn’t really show the consequences of the main character’s crimes on the people he swindled. It barely feels like a crime film at all for that reason. Yes, there is an FBI agent, Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), on Jordan Belfort’s case, but this feature comes dangerously close to glorifying the law-breaking of the work-hard-play-harder man in the center of the narrative.

For a three-hour movie about wealthy thugs doing wealthy thug activities, The Wolf of Wall Street‘s story, acting, and script hold up well. The whole thing’s outrageous, but it’s handled by a master filmmaker (Scorsese) who prevents it from becoming pure schlock. This one’s not for the prudish, but, if you want to take a peak into the lives of the Rich and Sociopathic, this picture comes highly recommended.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Mercenary (1968) Review

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, War, Western

Runtime: 110 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Man, was director Sergio Corbucci on a roll with those “spaghetti westerns” (Italian-made westerns) between the mid-1960s and early-1970s or what? One of the better known of his flicks from this time period is The Mercenary, also sometimes called “A Professional Gun.” Set during the Mexican Revolution, a Polish gun-for-hire named Sergei Kowalski (Franco Nero) finds himself at the service of Paco Roman (Tony Musante), a Mexican bandit who’s an aspiring revolutionary. Many people will be blown away and many genres will be blended along the way.

The remarkable musical score from Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai is one of the first things the audience notices about the movie, and it leaves a major impression. Jack Palance shows up as “Curly,” the picture’s chilling villain. He’s a quietly sinister threat and Palance’s job holds up as one of the best bad guy performances of the 1960s. The action scenes are frequent and frenetic, with plenty of machine gun mayhem. The standout here is probably the highly stylish showdown in the empty bullfighting arena.

The biggest problem with The Mercenary is that it’s pretty episodic at times. The characters played by Franco Nero and Tony Musante are constantly fussin’ and fightin’ as they move from town to town, with Jack Palance’s “Curly” hot on their trail. A stronger central plot might be necessary. It’s interesting to note that this movie has some moral ambiguity for being a “Zapata western” (a politically-conscious western typically set during a time of revolution or rebellion in Mexico), with neither of the leads exactly being terrific role models.

With its effortless tough guy swagger and effective premise, The Mercenary is a must-watch for spaghetti western fans. Its plot may ramble a bit, but it’s fast-paced enough for this to not be a serious concern. For a winning mixture of action-adventure, spaghetti western, war film, and even comedy, check this one out!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Blinded by the Light (2019) Review

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Musical

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Blinded by the Light is a film about the music of Bruce Springsteen, but this is no rock star biopic. Instead, it follows Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), the son of Pakistani immigrants living in Great Britain in the 1980s, who discovers the music of “the Boss” to help him cope with his chaotic life. Based on a true story, this is a euphoric movie that wears its heart on its sleeve.

This dramedy covers more than just classic rock, of course. It’s a coming-of-age story that tackles the issues of intergenerational conflict, prejudice, hero worship, and the role of family. It’s refreshingly earnest and some are bound to find it cheesy in its emotional directness and lack of subtlety. I, however, found the flick’s child-like enthusiasm infectious and charming.

Almost needless to say, there’s plenty of Bruce Springseen music in this feature to rock out to. Most of the biggies are here, like “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Born to Run,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Prove It All Night,” and, obviously, “Blinded by the Light.” I was surprised to hear “Because the Night,” a song originally written by Bruce for the Patti Smith Group (it’s the Springsteen version that plays here). Even if you’re not familiar with the works of the New Jersey rocker at its center, you’ll still probably enjoy the picture.

Blinded by the Light is the kind of positive movie that’s not reliant on sex or violence that many people lament aren’t being made anymore. It’s a feel-good flick for sure, but it still shows a few glimpses of the darker side of humanity that must be overcome by our unassuming hero. It’s a focused work of cinema that succeeds without leaning too much on the Springsteen music that inspired it. It’s just a good story.

My rating is 8 outta 10.