He Told Me to Burn Things

Firestarter is all about a little girl with pyrokinesis. In other words, the ability to start fires with her mind. This is the result of a government experiment that was meant for her parents, to give them telekinesis. Instead all the power is placed in their daughter Charlie. Played by Drew Barrymore in her first role after E.T. In case it wasn’t obvious, Firestarter is a Stephen King adaptation. Obvious since he loves writing about kids with supernatural powers.

Unlike Carrie though, Firestarter isn’t his best adaptation. In fact it’s one of his most poorly received. Firestarter just sort of starts without setting a mood. As Charlie and her father are on the run from the government. Most important details are told in flashbacks and Charlie using her powers are few and far between. The fire filled finale is good and so is the testing sequence, but the rest is boring. A lot of the second act is just a creepy old man with an eye patch trying to befriend a little girl. Things like that ruin the movie. That’s why Firestarter doesn’t burn as brightly as you might think.

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Charlie starts fires

P-U-L-C-H-R-I-T-U-D-E

Akeelah and the Bee is e-x-c-e-p-t-i-o-n-a-l. Growing up, spelling bees were a mandatory function in schools. Every child had to participate and spell whatever word they were given. With no practice or preperation. Whoever the best speller was, would move on in competitions that could eventually lead to the National Spelling Bee. I was never much of a speller, but Akeelah and the Bee still caught my attention. Even though the poster made me think it was a horror movie.

Akeelah is an 11 year old black child who lives in the inner city. Nobody would have expected a spelling genius would come from there. Akeelah is able to recall hundreds of words perfectly. Leading to a better life for her and her community. Akeelah and the Bee makes spelling competitions feel so high stakes. I’ve watched the national competitions a few times and they do seem very nerve racking. Some of the kids look like they’re on the verge of passing out. Keke Palmer was a great child actress. She makes Akeelah feel real without being too heavy handed.

Which is how I would describe the rest of the movie. A family friendly PG that doesn’t sugar coat its environment. They even got respectable actors like Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett to play a part. Akeelah and the Bee is a w-i-n-n-e-r!

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Akeelah performs in the spelling bee

Party On, Garth

Wayne’s WorldWayne’s World, it’s party time, excellent!” “Party on, Garth.” “Party on, Wayne.” Wayne’s World 2 is the first sequel from a movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch. It’s also the last SNL movie to be more good than bad. Since everything that came after it sucked. Wayne’s World 2 came out almost immediately after the first movie. This time most of the focus is on Garth. As he has a cringy relationship with an older babe named Honey Hornée played by Kim Basinger.

Like most movies with a duo, giving more  attention to the sidekick isn’t always a good idea. Meanwhile Wayne has a vision that Jim Morrison and a weird naked Indian tell him to put on a rock concert. Which he does, and dubs Waynestock. Wayne also meets (and fights) his girlfriend’s father and loses her to Christopher Walken. Wayne’s World 2 parodies popular movies just like the first movie, but not all of them work. Probably the most memorable scene in the sequel is the “ordering food” scene. Aside from that, Wayne’s World 2 doesn’t do much to make itself stand out.

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Wayne (left) and Garth (right) return

Party On, Wayne

Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World, it’s party time, excellent!” “Party on, Wayne.” “Party on, Garth.” Wayne’s World is the second movie based on characters from a Saturday Night Live Sketch. If The Blues Brothers is the best, then Wayne’s World is a close second. Since it took them a decade to come up with original characters that would be worthy (“We’re not worthy”) of a film.

Well Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar are just the guys for the job. “Extreme close-up! Whoooa!” Wayne and Garth are rock loving sex crazed best friends who host their own public access show, Wayne’s World. The movie expands on this simple premise by offering a glimpse into their lives outside of the show. Which includes rocking out to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” searching for babes (shwing), and talking about Bugs Bunny cross dressing. Wayne falls for one babe in particular named Cassandra.

The conflict comes from TV executives who want to turn Wayne’s World into a TV show. It’s one of those stories, but Wayne’s World keeps things fun by not taking itself too seriously. That’s why they have stuff like the “not bowing to any sponsor” scene or the T-1000 cameo. Wayne is one of Mike Myers three best characters, while Garth is Dana Carvey’s best character. They help make Wayne’s World a funny and excellent experience.

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Wayne (left), Garth (right), and the band (center) sing Bohemian Rhapsody

The Ghost Who Walks

For those who came in late… The Phantom just might be the most important superhero ever created. The Phantom debuted in a 1936 comic strip. He was the first superhero to wear spandex, a mask with white eyes, a power ring, to have a secret hideout (the Skull Cave), and the first superhero with a mantle. Needless to say superheroes wouldn’t be who they were today without The Phantom.

Unfortunately the character faded into obscurity until (you guessed it) the 90’s. Billy Zane plays The Phantom in the only heroic role I’ve ever seen him in. In the 16th century, after a run-in with pirates, a boy washed up on an African island called Bengalia. He becomes their first of 21 masked avengers known as The Phantom. While I was interested enough to read a comic beforehand, The Phantom just doesn’t work in the 90’s.

It’s cool that he presides over a jungle like Tarzan, has a pet wolf, and rides a white stallion, but the biggest problem is his costume. Which is purple! It’s fine for a comic, but ridiculous in a movie. The movie is also unfocused, has some hammy acting, and feels too familiar. There’s also barely any Africans in it. Billy Zane is just not enough to save the movie. I still believe The Phantom could work, but this movie is no excuse.

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The Phantom rides a white horse

Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men?

The Shadow knows! The Shadow is one of the earliest superheroes ever created. Back before there was spandex, superpowers, or even comic books. The Shadow made his debut on a radio show all the way back in 1930. Then he made his official print debut in a pulp magazine 1 year later. The 90’s was a dark time for comic book movies. Even though The Shadow is older than Superman, they still felt a movie was necessary. I literally never knew this adaptation existed. Unlike other lesser known superhero movies.

Probably because The Shadow is basically just a clone of 1989’s Batman. Which is ironic since Batman was actually inspired by The Shadow back before his creation. The Shadow is recognized for his black cape, suit, fedora, and red scarf. The movie does do a good job recreating it (right down to the big nose). The main problem is just how cliché and dull it is. His origin involving Genghis Khan makes no sense without context. The title character is barely in the movie, and when he is, he’s just laughing maniacally. Alec Baldwin should never play a superhero. The shadowy aesthetic and disappearing looks fine, but some of the effects look like a video game. The Shadow is just too forgettable.

The Shadow takes aim

Glass Jaw

Cinderella Man is a true rags-to-riches Cinderella story. Only instead of a ball, there’s a boxing match. Instead of a glass slipper, there’s a glass jaw. Cinderella Man brings together the duo behind A Beautiful Mind. Director Ron Howard and star Russell Crowe. I’ve said before that my mom was a big fan of Russell Crowe movies when I was growing up. Cinderella Man is another movie I saw in pieces for a long time. Part of the movie I even used for a school project. To make a miniature diorama of a Hooverville. I finally saw the entire movie in my sophomore U.S. history class.

Cinderella Man is a true story that takes place during the Great Depression. James J. Braddock was a broken down boxer who steadily made a comeback that eventually lead to a fight against the defending champion. There are many great boxing movies out there, but Cinderella Man stands out for being so inspirational. Since Braddock has a wife and kids to feed in the worst economic crisis in American history. Along with a fine performance from Paul Giamatti as Braddock’s manager. Cinderella Man is a timeless underdog story.

James J. Braddock wins over the crowd

Outta Gas

Blues Brothers 2000 has great music, but it’s basically just a rehash of the original. Only without John Belushi (who died 2 years after The Blues Brothers was released). Making a sequel seemed like a bad idea. Even though the first movie was such a big success. Like a few movies made in the new millenium, Blues Brothers 2000 has 2000 in its title (despite it being released in 1998).

Dan Aykroyd returns and so does most of the original cast. Only this time Elwood is brotherless and looking to once again put the band back together. With the intention of winning the “Battle of the Bands.” Blues Brothers 2000 tries to replace Jake not once, not twice, but three times. One who’s just a kid sidekick. The other being the son of Elwood and Jake’s mentor. And the last one being more physically equal to Jake (John Goodman of course). It seems like they put more work into the music then the story.

Most of everything from the first movie is recreated with something lamer. Like replacing the Neo-Nazis with either a Russian mob or a Militia group. Not to mention the locations being a strip club, county fair, and swamp. Plus they seriously put magic in the movie. Blues Brothers 2000 is the last sequel based on a Saturday Night Live sketch movie and it’s ridiculous.

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Elwood (right), “Mighty” Mack (center), and Buster (left)

Preceded by: The Blues Brothers

A Mission from God

The Blues Brothers is the first movie based on characters from a Saturday Night Live sketch. It’s also the best and the only one I felt captured the spirit of SNL. While maintaining its own original story at the same time. Not an easy thing to do, but that’s what makes The Blues Brothers so good. Even while making it R rated. Which is certainly an interesting decision for the previously TV appropriate show. Then again it was the 80s. Just about everything was R rated.

My first introduction to the Blues Brothers was actually in an episode of Drake & Josh titled “Blues Brothers” (an episode that stopped airing for some reason). Where they did a tribute to “Soul Man” while dressed as the characters. I didn’t know what they were referencing, I just knew I enjoyed it. So I  watched the movie for the first time with my mom. After she told us about the characters and how much she loved the movie. As well as how The Blues Brothers is technically a musical since its filled with numerous musical numbers…

“Joliet” Jake (right) and his brother Elwood (left)

After being let out of prison, “Joliet” Jake Blues reunites with his brother Elwood Blues. Their played by SNL alumni John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd respectively. Jake and Elwood always dress in black suits, black hats, sunglasses, and drive an old police car that they dub the “Bluesmobile.” Jake is the one who swears the most and Elwood is the one with the thick Chicago accent. They go to visit their childhood nun (the Penguin) and they learn that their orphanage will get closed down unless they come up with $5,000.

Reluctant at first, they receive a sign from God to help out by putting the band back together. Which proves easier said than done. As their reckless behavior attracts the attention of the police department, state troopers, the SWAT team, firefighters, the National Guard, the Military, Neo-Nazis, country band The Good Ol’ Boys, and an insane woman with a missile launcher. The Blues Brothers is hilarious with scenes like swearing in front of a nun, driving through a mall, rounding up the band, and “they broke my watch.”

Like SNL, The Blues Brothers is filled with amazing cameos from legendary singers and celebrities. Singers like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Cab Calloway. Celebrities like Frank Oz, John Candy, Carrie Fisher, and Twiggy. They also set a record for how many cars they destroyed. Since the climax is nothing but wrecking cars. Plus I live in Illinois, so I appreciated all the references and love for Chicago. The Blues Brothers is easily the greatest Illinois movie ever made (a close second would be Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). The Blues Brothers is over-the-top, hilarious, and soulful at the same time.

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Jake and Elwood play with Ray

Followed by: Blues Brothers 2000

This is Me

The Greatest Showman tried to be the next La La Land, but lightning doesn’t always strike twice. While they did have the same songwriters, the music isn’t exactly supported by the story. When I first heard about The Greatest Showman I figured it was just the kind of role Hugh Jackman was made for. Since he’s either Wolverine or the song and dance man. Then I saw the trailer and I figured Oscar attention was a possibility.

Even though in this case, Hugh Jackman’s performance in Logan was more deserving than this. The Greatest Showman has excellent original songs including: “The Greatest Show,” “Rewrite the Stars,” and their biggest hit “This is Me.” Along with exhilarating dance numbers and colorful visuals. Without that, The Greatest Showman would have been nothing to talk about. Except for what the biggest problem with the movie is. The fact that P.T. Barnum was nobody to idealize.

This is the man who coined the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He exploited/mistreated “freaks,” animals, and he profited from fraud. Not to mention the movie’s rosy take on discrimination. The interracial romance didn’t exist and if it did, it wouldn’t have had a happy ending. A story like this doesn’t work with modern ways of thinking. No way is a 19th century critic gonna call the show a “celebration of humanity.” The Greatest Showman is a fun musical, but not the best history lesson.

P.T. Barnum’s circus