He’s Crude, He’s Crass, He’s Family

Uncle Buck is fun for the whole family. Even if they sometimes embarrass you. Although John Hughes is mostly known for directing teen movies, Planes, Trains and Automobiles marked a shift in his career. Leading to another collaboration with John Candy at the end of the 80’s. I wish I’d seen Uncle Buck sooner, because it’s just as hilarious. Like most great Hughes films, the Russell family is from Chicago. When the parents look after a sick relative, they reluctantly call Uncle Buck. A good premise that’s more suited for a movie than TV.

Buck Russell is a slob who drinks, smokes cigars, gambles, and doesn’t have a job. He also takes his girlfriend Chanice for granted and drives a crappy car. Yet he’s always charming and means well. Even though a who’s who of famous actors were considered, John Candy is too perfect in the part. The Russell kids all make an impression too. Jean Louisa Kelly makes her film debut as the seriously rebellious teenager Tia. Most of Buck’s time is spent trying to win her over and humorously scaring her boyfriend Bug. The other kids are played by a young Gaby Hoffmann and Macaulay Culkin in the role that ensured his success as a child actor.

Miles is just as precocious as Culkin’s later roles and Maizy is a silly heart with just as many stand out scenes. I personally couldn’t stop laughing at Miles’ interrogation of Uncle Buck. You know Buck’s changed when he makes giant pancakes for Miles’ birthday, puts Maizy’s mean mole faced assistant principal in her place, and rescues Tia from her cheating boyfriend. Although Laurie Metcalf plays a desperate neighbor, Buck manages to repair his relationship as well. Uncle Buck is rough around the edges, but easy to love.

Uncle Buck

Miles cross-examines Uncle Buck

I Wanna Be the One to Walk in the Sun!

Girls Just Want to Have Fun is fun for everyone. Although I’m a big fan of cheesy 80’s teen movies, it was my co-worker who recommended Girls Just Want to Have Fun. I always assumed the movie’s poster was for the Cyndi Lauper music video of the same name. Much like the hit song itself, Girls Just Want to Have Fun is all about girls wanting to have fun. Like all the best 80’s cult films, Girls Just Want to Have Fun takes place in Chicago. A very young Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt star as Janey Glenn and Lynne Stone respectively.

Janey is an army brat with a strict father who sends her to Catholic school. Lynne is her new fun-loving best friend who steals the show despite not being the center of attention. They both enter a competition for a chance to be on their favorite MTV inspired network Dance TV. Janey rebels and ends up falling in love with her bad boy dance partner Jeff, played by the lesser known Lee Montgomery. Jeff has the usual teen problems and a goofy sidekick who constantly tries to sell things.

His younger sister Maggie is more notably played by Shannen Doherty. In fact, several before they were famous stars make surprise appearances. Resident mean girl Natalie attempts to rig the dance competition, but it’s nothing a montage set to an alternate version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” can’t fix. Guaranteed to make you wanna dance along. It’s cliché and over-the-top, but that’s part of the charm. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is just too infectious to dismiss.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Janey and Lynne watch Dance TV

Circus Life

Big Top Pee-wee doesn’t make the big time. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was so surreal that it had to become a cult favorite. The more kid friendly Pee-wee’s Playhouse soon followed. Big Top Pee-wee takes the Muppets approach of Paul Reubens placing the character in different situations with little to do with the previous movie. The only similarities are a different Danny Elfman score and a brief callback to the “Tequila” dance. Now Pee-wee Herman is a farmer with a talking pig and love for agriculture who invents a hot dog tree.

I know Pee-wee isn’t dumb, but scientific study feels like a stretch. Just like it’s a stretch to give him two beautiful love interests. Despite his childlike demeanor and constantly turning down Dottie in the last movie, Pee-wee has a fiancée named Winnie played by Penelope Ann Miller. Most of the plot revolves around a circus that blows into his backyard. The pace is slower and somehow the circus doesn’t even feel imaginative. There are clowns, little people, strongmen, acrobats, and bearded ladies.

Kris Kristofferson is the ringleader, but it’s even stranger to know this was Benicio del Toro’s film debut as a dog-faced boy. The lovely Italian Valeria Golino is trapeze artist Gina who earns Pee-wee’s affection as well. Pee-wee’s boring town finds their inner child and the circus is saved. Big Top Pee-wee lacks the novelty of Tim Burton as the director. Sure Randal Kleiser directed Grease, but that doesn’t help how lazily bizarre the sequel ended up being. Big Top Pee-wee isn’t as fun as it sounds.

Big Top Pee-wee

Pee-wee Herman and Vance the pig

Preceded by: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure & Followed by: Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

I Know You are, But What am I?

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is pure nonsense. Pee-wee Herman is the brainchild of comedian Paul Reubens. The childlike entertainer with a silly voice, goofy laugh, grey suit, and red bowtie. Although I always assumed his TV show came first, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was only made after the success of a live stage performance. Reubens and late comedian Phil Hartman wrote the script themselves, but it’s the director who people will remember. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is the unexpected directorial debut of Tim Burton.

Even though Pee-wee Herman seems like a perfectly innocent character, there is something a little creepy about a grown man acting like a child. The movie is very proto-Burton with all of his motifs on display. Stop motion animation, a cooky Danny Elfman score, scary clowns, a loner protagonist, and a fat rich antagonist. Pee-wee is a self-described rebel who lives in an imaginative playhouse. His prize possession is a fancy red bicycle. Like The Bicycle Thief, the entire plot centers around Pee-wee desperately searching for his lost bike. It’s a funny adventure that gets crazier with every colorful character he runs into.

Beloved voice actress E. G. Daily makes a rare appearance as Dottie, a cute bicycle shop employee that Pee-wee constantly turns down. Mark Holton is the prime suspect as Pee-wee’s rich snobby bully Francis. Pee-wee ends up on his way to the Alamo where he meets an escaped convict, truckers, hobos, a repressed waitress, and bloodthirsty bikers. The most memorable encounters are the out of nowhere jump scare with the ghostly Large Marge and Pee-wee dancing to “Tequila” in a bar. Ending with a bonkers bike chase through Hollywood. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is fun for the young and the young at heart.

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

Pee-Wee Herman on his bike

Followed by: Big Top Pee-wee

Baby Talk

Look Who’s Talking puts you in the mind of a baby. After directing edgy comedies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Amy Heckerling made something the whole family can enjoy. Even though it’s PG-13 with infrequent language and sexual situations. I first learned about Look Who’s Talking after watching part of it on TV. I’ve seen many movies about child birth and talking babies, but rarely are they one and the same. Look Who’s Talking starts at conception with a graphic depiction of sperm swimming to an egg.

The egg belongs to confident business woman Mollie. Although mostly known for TV, Kirstie Alley was the right choice for the struggling single mother. Something that happens after she has an affair with the manipulative Albert played by the legendary George Segal. Their son Mikey goes through every stage of development. Look Who’s Talking is filled with silly fantasy sequences, but most of its humor comes from post-Die Hard Bruce Willis as Mikey’s internal monologue. His witty baby observations are mostly funny, but it doesn’t always add much.

Fortunately, Look Who’s Talking is also a sweet romance between Mollie and the taxi driver who helped her get to the hospital. James is basically John Travolta playing himself. Right down to his character’s flight experience. Olympia Dukakis and Abe Vigoda add some much needed gravitas as Mollie’s nagging mother and James’ confused grandfather. James bonds with Mikey more than any other potential suitor and it’s very heartwarming to see him accepted as a father. Look Who’s Talking is a bundle of joy to watch.

Look Who's Talking

Mollie watches James bond with Mikey

Followed by: Look Who’s Talking Too

Messin’ with Sasquatch

Harry and the Hendersons makes Bigfoot part of the family. I’ve never been a big conspiracy theorist, but the legend of a mysterious Sasquatch is difficult to ignore. Arguably his biggest appearance is in the unusual 80’s movie Harry and the Hendersons. Unusual because it deals with the Henderson family taking in Bigfoot and affectionately calling him Harry. A sitcom premise that later led to an actual TV series. Some called it an E.T. rip-off, but Steven Spielberg did produce the film. Harry and the Hendersons is a lot more charming than I was expecting.

The Hendersons consist of hunting obsessed father George, doting mother Nancy, average teenage daughter Sarah, and precocious son Ernie. John Lithgow does a complete character turn around when George goes from wanting to kill Bigfoot to using him for money to genuinely caring about his well being. Harry is very much the star of the show. The equally legendary makeup artist Rick Baker brought Bigfoot to life, but the Predator himself Kevin Peter Hall made him a lovable gentle giant. The effects are so good that Harry and the Hendersons won an Oscar for Best Makeup.

Harry’s antics mostly include wrecking the house, eating everything, and laughing at the TV. Harry is also gone for an extended period of time. Leaving room for panicked sightings and an overzealous French hunter to give chase. When Harry returns, the Hendersons try to make him part of the family, but everyone knows he has to return to the wild. So the respectable Don Ameche joins them as a helpful Bigfoot expert. Ending with a “Take on Me” inspired song about love. Much like its titular Sasquatch, Harry and the Hendersons is misunderstood fun for the whole family.

Harry and the Hendersons

Harry and the Hendersons

Gorilla Warfare

King Kong Lives gave the fallen ape the second chance he never needed. King Kong has been resurrected before, but it’s kind of hard to survive a fall from two of the tallest buildings in New York. Former producer Dino De Laurentiis couldn’t settle on a single method that made sense. Director John Guillermin returned 10 years later in 1986, but King Kong Lives was hated by audiences, bombed at the box office, and holds a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Proving that even an icon as big as Kong needs a good story to back him up.

King Kong Lives is practically a lost film that I couldn’t find anywhere. My only option was to buy a cheap copy on eBay. Despite a runtime closer to the 1933 original, King Kong Lives is almost torture to sit through. Most of the 1976 climax is shown before the opening credits. Followed by the nonsensical revelation that Kong has somehow been in a coma for 10 years. Post-Terminator Linda Hamilton is a more reserved beautiful woman who isn’t the object of Kong’s affection. Not that she doesn’t get topless despite the PG-13 rating. She plays Dr. Amy Franklin, a surgeon who brings back Kong with a giant artificial heart.

More ridiculous is lesser known actor Brian Kerwin as adventurer Hank Mitchell discovering a Lady Kong. Basically King Kong with boobs. The sight of Kong interacting with a lady his own size is almost so bad it’s good. When seperated, Kong is forced to face an aggressive military and a band of hillbillies in more rural areas. Sometimes the ape suits look fine, but most of the time they look cheaper. The sequel ends exactly the way I assumed it would, with the birth of a new Son of Kong. King Kong Lives kept the franchise on life support.

6. King Kong Lives

King Kong escapes

Preceded by: King Kong (1976)

Say Hello to My Little Friend!

Scarface (1983) exemplifies the American dream. Nothing has received a bigger critical reevaluation than Scarface. At first it was hated for its excessive violence, profanity, and drug use. Scarface wasn’t even nominated for a single Academy Award. Acclaimed director Brian De Palma was actually nominated for a Razzie Award. So how did Scarface become one of the greatest gangster films of all time? I’m also turned off by its excess, but I understand why it resonates with so many people. Leading to countless pop culture references, a video game, and hip hop influence. Scarface is a remake that learns a lot from what came before. Gangster mainstay Al Pacino was drawn to the original, but writer Oliver Stone didn’t want an Italian mob picture.

The renamed Tony Montana became a Cuban refugee in 1980’s Miami. Alcohol prohibition became drug trafficking, but the American dream remained very much intact. Tony lives by “The World is Yours” as he goes from poor dishwasher without a green card to powerful drug lord. First he needs the money, then he’ll get the power, and then he’ll get the women. Pacino isn’t Cuban, but his exaggerated volatility makes Tony iconic. 2 hours & 50 minutes is more than enough time to take in the scope of his journey. Steven Bauer is the only Cuban to play Tony’s loyal friend Manny. The respectable Robert Loggia and F. Murray Abraham play their mentor Frank Lopez and his right-hand Omar. A relatively unknown Michelle Pfeiffer makes her presence known as Frank’s beautiful blonde trophy wife Elvira.

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio similarly makes an impression with her film debut as Tony’s sister Gina. Their overprotective relationship is more screwed up, but not explicitly incestious. Scarface still pushes the boundaries even 5 decades after the original. There are several bloody shootouts, a torture scene involving a chainsaw, a record 207 F bombs, and mountains of cocaine. Tony becomes the bad guy when he seizes Frank’s position, marries Elvira, and offs anyone in his way. The more villainous drug dealer Alejandro Sosa turns on Tony after he fails to do a job for him. Tony gets high on his own supply and becomes increasingly paranoid. The explosive climax is a big part of cinematic history. As the coke fueled Tony Montana says the iconic phrase “Say hello to my little friend,” he lives long enough to hold off Sosa’s men. Scarface is a cautionary tale that takes an excessive lifestyle to its furthest extreme.

Scarface 1983

“Say hello to my little friend!”

Remake of: Scarface (1932)

King for a Night

The King of Comedy is no laughing matter. Although Martin Scorsese is best known for hard-hitting drama, Robert De Niro wanted to make a PG rated comedy. Especially after Raging Bull. The King of Comedy feels very underrated considering I hadn’t heard of it until Joker came out. Everyone knows Taxi Driver, but The King of Comedy received a renewed interest. Despite watching the film a year after Joker, I’m shocked by how well its themes were translated. De Niro plays aspiring stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin.

Pupkin is obsessed with late-night New York talk show host Jerry Langford. Although delusional to the point of imagining a friendship with Jerry, Pupkin never feels too threatening. De Niro makes him surprisingly sympathetic. When Jerry tells him to start at the bottom, he practices his act with an elaborate set in his unseen mother’s basement. Pupkin only goes a step too far when he invites his lady friend to Jerry’s house uninvited. The King of Comedy isn’t violent like Taxi Driver, but it is a realistic depiction of stalking and celebrity worship.

The legendary Jerry Lewis is perfect for the aptly named role of Jerry. I’ve never seen the comedian so serious. When Pupkin is continually turned away, he resorts to kidnapping Jerry with an even crazier fan. Sandra Bernhard is just as well cast as the romantically obsessed Masha. Calling himself “The King of Comedy,” Rupert Pupkin literally breaks into show business when Jerry is all tied up. The final stand-up routine is both funny and tragic as Pupkin lives his dream before going to jail. The ambiguous ending was the right call, since The King of Comedy is so good at blurring the line.

The King of Comedy

Rupert Pupkin on The Jerry Langford Show

Shakedown

Beverly Hills Cop II is the same old case it was before. The unexpected popularity of Beverly Hills Cop nearly led to a TV series, but a sequel made more sense. So Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, and pretty much everyone else returned. The only major change was the director. Top Gun director Tony Scott’s style can be seen in the orange mood setting L.A. sunsets. Although most people (including Eddie Murphy) thought Beverly Hills Cop II was mediocre, it was still a relative success. Despite the R rating, Beverly Hills Cop II is actually the first film to win the Kid’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie. The 80’s were a weird time.

It’s only Oscar nomination was for the catchy Bob Seger song “Shakedown.” The iconic “Axel F” theme still plays non-stop throughout the movie. Beverly Hills Cop II sees Detective Axel Foley back in Detroit with a new suit and Ferrari. He ditches both to help his friends back in Beverly Hills. Foley is the same fast-talking, story fabricating cop he was before, but almost none of his jokes landed for me. It was enough just to see him play off his fellow buddy cops. After the friendly Lieutenant Bogomil is shot, Foley works with Rosewood & Taggart to solve a new case. Both officers are given a lot more attention.

Taggart talks about his messy love life and Rosewood is shown to have several unusual habits. Bogomil’s daughter is the latest female lead who helps out. The new case is a series of robberies dubbed the “Alphabet Crimes.” They’re headed by 80’s mainstay Brigitte Nielsen. Several celebrity cameos include Gilbert Gottfried, Chris Rock, and Hugh Hefner in an out of nowhere Playboy Mansion scene. Of course there’s another strip club scene, another car chase involving a cement mixer, and another more explosive climactic shootout. Beverly Hills Cop II is still a mostly entertaining bust.

Beverly Hills Cop II

Axel Foley presents his badge

Preceded by: Beverly Hills Cop & Followed by: Beverly Hills Cop III