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

Thou Shalt Not Cut Thy Hair

Samson and Delilah brings the Bible’s most complicated love story to life. Before The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille directed another Biblical epic in full Technicolor (that my mom has always been fond of). The story of Samson can be found in the Book of Judges. As a Christian, I’ve always been intrigued by the famous Israelite. Since Samson draws strength from his hair and is arguably the greatest action hero in the Bible. Hercules is pretty much the Greek equivalent of Samson.

His feats of strength include killing a lion with his bear hands, fighting an army of Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and toppling their temple after being stricken blind. Samson and Delilah makes every feat feel grand and epic. Earning the film 5 Academy Award nominations and 2 wins for Best Art Direction and Costume Design. Victor Mature of One Million B.C. fame portrays Samson. Although his long hair is usually tied back, Mature nevertheless captures the conflict in Samson. He devoutly prays to God for power, but he does make many mistakes.

Samson finds love from two distinctly different Philistine women. A problem since Danites and Philistines are mortal enemies. George Sanders and Henry Wilcoxon portray his most direct enemies Saran and Prince Ahtur respectively. Turns out Angela Lansbury was quite the looker in one of her very early film roles as Samson’s first lover Semadar. Except it’s Delilah who makes her intentions clear from the start. Hedy Lamarr perfectly captures her passion, deceitfulness, seduction, and need for vengeance. Although Samson and Delilah fall in love, she cuts his hair and leaves him vulnerable. Samson and Delilah is a powerful take on a seldom adapted Bible story.

Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah

Doggie Talk

Look Who’s Talking Now is a doggone mess. While the first Look Who’s Talking was cute, Look Who’s Talking Too couldn’t keep the momentum going. It was followed by a short lived TV series called Baby Talk. Look Who’s Talking Now isn’t painful to watch, but it is lazy. Amy Heckerling didn’t return to direct and the third installment ended up bombing with a rare 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Most of the cast completed the trilogy, but it was a career low for most of them.

Kirstie Alley finished the franchise around the same time that her shows were ending. John Travolta had one failure after another, but a little movie called Pulp Fiction was released a year later. Look Who’s Talking Now trades talking babies for talking dogs. A very young David Gallagher plays Mikey and a meme-worthy Tabitha Lupien plays Julie. Mikey’s problem this time around is wanting a dog and questioning Santa’s existence. Julie wants to fly and dreams about Charles Barkley for some reason.

James and Mollie once again have relationship problems when the former gets a flashy new job from his attractive boss. Olympia Dukakis returns, but George Segal makes a surprise appearance as well. Since Homeward Bound was released the same year, there’s nothing special about dogs with an internal monologue. Not even when Danny Devito or Diane Keaton are the voices. Rocks and Daphne become part of the family in time for a subpar Christmas story. Look Who’s Talking Now should’ve kept quiet.

Look Who's Talking Now

The Ubriacco family with their new dogs

Preceded by: Look Who’s Talking Too

Sister Talk

Look Who’s Talking Too has more babies, but less heart. After the unexpected success of Look Who’s Talking, Amy Heckerling returned to direct along with most of her all-star cast. Look Who’s Talking Too picks up a year after the first movie. James is now married to Mollie and a loving goofball father to Mikey. John Travolta and Kirstie Alley can still be charming as new parents, but there’s too much unpleasant bickering. Despite being PG-13, they somehow got away with 2 F-bombs.

Olympia Dukakis returns as the overbearing mother and Casey Jones himself stirs up trouble as an obnoxious brother. The curly haired toddler who plays Mikey looks nothing like the previous actor. Mikey talks, but Bruce Willis continues to add an internal monologue. Look Who’s Talking Too is mostly about baby Julie who was seen in the mid-credits stinger voiced by Joan Rivers. The sperm, egg, and development sequences are the same, but Julie is now voiced by a less than funny Roseanne Barr.

She was nominated for a Razzie along with Gilbert Gottfried as an annoying baby gym instructor. Mikey has two problems this time around. He tries to be a good big brother, but their strained relationship mimics their parents. There’s also a lot of attention given to his potty troubles. Damon Wayans doesn’t add much as a fellow toddler and Mel Brooks is stuck voicing a talking toilet. Look Who’s Talking Too is mostly a disjointed mess only a mother could love.

Look Who's Talking Too

James and Mollie with Mikey and Julie

Preceded by: Look Who’s Talking & Followed by: Look Who’s Talking Now

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

Eighth Wonder of the World

King Kong is the greatest giant monster movie ever made in Hollywood. Nothing feels more cinematic than a 24 foot tall gorilla scaling the Empire State Building. Decades before Godzilla, King Kong became one of the most iconic characters in film history. Since jungle movies were all the rage back then, directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack developed their own picture. Their simple, but ambitious idea was to follow a giant ape from a prehistoric island and into the modern world.

Although almost 100 years old, King Kong has aged surprisingly well. It wowed audiences with state of the art stop-motion special effects, a tragic monster, and a genuine build up. King Kong was a major hit that led to sequels, remakes, cartoons, video games, and several giant ape imitators. I have my mom to thank for introducing my brother and I to the 1933 classic. Unlike most remakes, our mom encouraged us to see the original first. No matter how many times I watch King Kong, it never fails to give me a chest pounding cinematic experience…

1. King Kong

King Kong vs. the airplanes

King Kong has a perfect three-act structure. It all begins with a 4 minute overture that I usually skip. Though Max Steiner’s score is wonderfully thrilling for the adventure ahead. The first act takes place in New York Harbor where director Carl Denham prepares a voyage on the ship Venture. Denham is a reckless director known for swell pictures filmed in exotic locations full of dangerous wildlife. Robert Armstrong manages to give Denham honest passion without him seeming like a bad person. He’s joined by a crew of rugged shipmates including first mate Jack Driscoll. Bruce Cabot fills the role of handsome action hero. Much like the movie itself, Denham knows the only way to sell his picture is with a beautiful woman at the center.

King Kong is in many ways a romance. Beauty and the Beast in its most primitive form. Ann Darrow is found on the streets by Denham and immediately cast with promises of adventure. Although her performance is at least 60% screaming, Fay Wray is truly the human face of King Kong. Her blonde hair was specifically chosen to stand out opposite her tall, dark, and handsome co-star. Despite initially objecting to dames aboard the Venture, Jack can’t help but fall in love with Ann. It may seem like a lot of time is spent on the boat, but it’s all worth it when they reach the ominous Skull Island. The second act sees the crew reach their exotic destination where Denham plans his shoot.

They’re first greeted by natives performing a mysterious ritual. Having black natives may suggest racial implications, but I don’t believe that was the intention. They’re a simple people that keep Kong out with a giant wall and sacrifice their women to him. When bargaining for Ann doesn’t work, the natives kidnap her instead. A screaming Ann tied to two pillars is one of several iconic moments that finally gives us Kong in glorious black & white. Although Kong’s design is modeled after a gorilla, he is given more upright positions. Willis H. O’Brien’s stop-motion animation is the true star of the show. O’Brien trained Ray Harryhausen himself, so you know he knows what he’s doing. Kong is fully expressive when he sees Ann. Drawn by her beauty, the beast takes her deep into Skull Island where the crew encounter a variety of prehistoric creatures.

There’s a definite divide when special effects start to take over. Schoedsack directed most scenes with dialogue and Cooper directed the miniature dinosaurs. Since King Kong is pre-Code, many violent or suggestive scenes were cut for many years. Denham, Jack, and the crew encounter a Stegosaurus and a particularly dangerous Brontosaurus in the water. Kong famously protects Ann in a fight against a Tyrannosaurus. Their fight only ends when Kong breaks the jaw of the T-Rex and performs his signature chest pound. Kong seemingly kills most of the crew when he sends them falling off a log. I say seemingly because a lost sequence would’ve seen them devoured by large insects. Denham survives along with Jack who tries to rescue Ann. After fighting off an Elasmosaurus snake creature in his lair, Kong undresses Ann. An innocent act that I mostly see as curiosity. Jack saves Ann when Kong is distracted by a Pterodactyl. It’s clear that Ann wants nothing to do with Kong, but he pursues her anyway. Kong breaks through the native wall and terrorizes their village. Denham gets particularly reckless when he gas bombs Kong and somehow takes him back to New York City with the moniker “Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!

The third act is in New York where patrons pay to see Kong tied up in chains. Another iconic moment that ends badly when flash photography causes him to break loose. Despite often being labeled a villain, Kong is a misunderstood creature who should never have been forced to leave his home. Though it is hard to excuse Kong eating people, stepping on villagers, attacking a train, and throwing an innocent woman out a building in an attempt to find Ann. When Kong does find Ann, he creates one of the greatest moments in movie history by climbing the Empire State Building. Airplanes are sent to gun down Kong at the very top of the building. Though he manages to destroy one, Kong protects Ann one last time before falling to his death. Ending with Denham’s famous final words that “It wasn’t the airplanes, It was Beauty killed the Beast.” Even though King Kong screams Hollywood, it wasn’t nominated for a single Academy Award. The only Oscar it got was a Special Achievement Award. Regardless of accolades, King Kong has left an undeniable impact on the movie industry.

2. King Kong

King Kong meets Ann Darrow

Followed by: Son of Kong

Ring of Fire

Walk the Line falls head first into the burning ring of fire that was Johnny Cash’s life. Like most great biopics, it walks a fine line between historical accuracy and cinematic flourish. I was never the biggest Johnny Cash expert, but I do love his classics like “Ring of Fire” and “I Walk the Line.” As well as his later more melancholy hits like “Hurt” or “The Man Comes Around.” The latter songs I only know thanks to Logan. Walk the Line is where director James Mangold first explored his appreciation for Johnny Cash. I learned so much about his often somber ups & downs that I was never aware of.

How he dealt with the tragic loss of his brother, fought for his father’s approval, and experienced substance abuse. Joaquin Phoenix nails a more subtle country accent, but sings with the exact brass-baritone of Cash. Just as authentic is Cash’s persistence at becoming a successful singer. He goes from gospel to country, becomes “The Man in Black” by pure happenstance, and does it all in Memphis, Tennessee. Since Cash became something of an outlaw, it only made sense to start the movie at the Folsom prison where he performed.

Just as important is the love story between Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter. Depicting a romance between a married man is tricky, but Ginnifer Goodwin is given just as much attention as Cash’s first wife Vivian. As their marriage falls apart, Johnny and June slowly grow closer. I didn’t know much about fellow country singer June Carter, but Reese Witherspoon absolutely deserved her Best Actress Oscar win. Phoenix should’ve won too, but there’s just something about June’s comedy hiding her inner struggles. Walk the Line honors multiple one-of-a-kind talents.

Walk the Line

Johnny Cash performs with June Carter

You Have to Promise You Won’t Fall in Love with Me

A Walk to Remember is sadder than The Notebook, but not as remembered by the general public. The Notebook was of course the first Nicholas Sparks adaptation that I saw. A Walk to Remember seemed like a good follow up due to its similarities. Both books take place in the past and have sad endings. A Walk to Remember keeps the sad ending, but the setting is modernized. Most of the North Carolina set was even borrowed from Dawson’s Creek. Most critics wrote it off, but I knew there was a loyal fanbase.

I was genuinely moved by A Walk to Remember no matter how cliché it might be. Landon Carter is your typical bad boy who acts out. Jamie Sullivan is your typical reverend’s daughter with her own interests. Though they’ve known each other a long time, they’re brought together when Landon is forced to do a school play. Jamie only helps him under the condition that he doesn’t fall in love with her. Of course that’s a promise he won’t be able to keep for long. Jamie’s disapproving father and Landon’s mostly lousy friends can’t get in the way of them falling in love.

Their romance is sweet with Landon helping Jamie accomplish everything on her list. Shane West has a fine emotional transformation and Mandy Moore proves herself as an actress. Though she does sing on two separate occasions. The sadness comes in when Jamie reveals she has leukemia. Sparks wrote the story for his own sister battling cancer. Jamie actually looks sick, but her faith is refreshingly shown in a positive light. I cried from the reveal to Jamie’s final wish to be married. Love Story may have done it first, but I prefer A Walk to Remember.

A Walk to Remember

Landon sits with Jamie

Mad Wealthy Orientals

Crazy Rich Asians is something I may never truly understand. Since I’m not crazy, rich, or Asian. I don’t have to relate to something to enjoy it, but I feel like Crazy Rich Asians would’ve been overlooked if not for its cast. Based on the book by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is the first Chinese American movie released by a major studio in decades. Although executives were nervous, the movie was a box-office success with Awards attention. The more hype it got, the more likely I was to be disappointed. Director Jon M. Chu wasn’t exactly that beloved beforehand. I love rom-coms, but I don’t see them in theaters no matter who stars in them. Even the 91% Rotten Tomatoes consensus called it formulaic without truly criticizing the movie.

I do think Crazy Rich Asians has merit outside of its all-Asian cast, but that still doesn’t make it less cliché. The cinematography is beautiful with epic Singapore landscapes and a magical wedding. The cast is impressive, but I can only follow so many extended family members. Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu plays likeable leading lady/college professor Rachel Chu from a working class family. She somehow never knows that her handsome British-Chinese boyfriend Nick Young played by newcomer Henry Golding is crazy rich after 1 year of dating. They do get romantic, but the focus is really the status struggle between Rachel and Nick’s family.

They attend his friend’s wedding in Singapore where she comes in direct conflict with his old fashioned Christian mother Eleanor. Michelle Yeoh elevates the material past the disapproving mother cliché. Other family members receive attention, but I was most interested in Gemma Chan’s subplot as Nick’s cousin Astrid. She feels genuinely classy and her problems are sympathetic. I have nothing against rich people, but they do feel obnoxiously wealthy at times. As for the comedy, I’ll never understand the appeal of Awkwafina. Ken Jeong was funnier in one scene than she was in the entire movie. The use of Mahjong in the climax feels appropriately unique, but there’s still a last minute grand romantic gesture on an airplane. Crazy Rich Asians just barely elevates its familiar story for me to commend it.

Crazy Rich Asians

Rachel Chu and Nick Young look lovingly

Mickey & Mallory

Natural Born Killers is a more f***ed up version of Bonnie and Clyde. Although Quentin Tarantino wrote the story, director Oliver Stone made it his own. Natural Born Killers is one of the most controversial films of all time. Despite Tarantino disowning the project, the movie was a success. Leading to a disturbing rise in copycat crimes. Which is mostly why I’ve avoiding seeing Natural Born Killers for as long as I did. The extreme violence is disturbing, but it’s so frequent and exaggerated that I sort of became desensitized to it. Stone specifically wanted a movie that satirized the media’s glorification of crime in the 90’s. Natural Born Killers accomplishes that goal, but the visual style is just too much.

There are frequent cuts to black & white, red & green color palettes, animation, dutch angles, and bizarre imagery spliced with advertisements. It’s possible Stone wanted the audience to go as crazy as the criminal leads. Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis go against type for the first time as natural born killers Mickey & Mallory Knox. Both became iconic for Mickey’s sunglasses and Mallory’s mullet. They’re a pair of romantic psychopaths who go on a killing spree and gain a devoted following along the way. I wouldn’t come close to calling them sympathetic, but they are both shown to come from abusive homes that led to their reckless disregard for human life.

Rodney Dangerfield also goes against type as Mallory’s abusive father in a segment parodying I Love Lucy. Robert Downey Jr. purposefully puts on an Australian accent as exaggerated true crime reporter Wayne Gale. Previous Stone collaborator Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t show up until the third act as an unhinged prison warden. The only connection to True Romance is Tom Sizemore playing a more depraved cop. Apart from maybe an Indian spirit guide, no one is likable in Natural Born Killers since we almost never get to know the victims. Natural Born Killers may have something important to say, but I’m too disturbed to listen.

Natural Born Killers

Mickey and Mallory Knox