Tag Archives: 1989 Movie reviews

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-1989

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-1989

Director-Jeremiah S. Chechik

Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid

Scott’s Review #1,248

Reviewed April 23, 2022

Grade: A-

Made several years after the first in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series (1983-2015), the inevitable production of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) is my personal favorite of the bunch and the most laugh out loud.

Silly personified but the jokes work and the enjoyment carries throughout the entire running time.

In retrospect, you knew they were going to do it. What better fodder for the bumbling Griswold family than to have them reunite with extended family on such a seasonal holiday. The gags and awkward situations are ripe for the picking as situation after setup is done exceptionally well and with grand humor.

The silliness works and the film is a recommended watch around the holidays with the family gathered around. Viewers can either relate directly to the film or inevitably know families that resemble the incompetent yet loveable Griswolds.

As the holidays approach, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is determined to have a perfect family Christmas. He motivates his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and their children to make sure everything is in line, including the tree and house decorations.

Naturally, things quickly go awry in the greatest of humor.

His hick cousin, Eddie (Randy Quaid), and his family show up unplanned and start living in their camper on the Griswold property. Even worse, Clark’s employers renege on the holiday bonus he needs causing a great deal of stress for the family patriarch.

For starters, the film has a cool holiday vibe. The setting is wisely the midwest United States somewhere outside of Chicago, Illinois. Snow is to be found everywhere and Christmas decorations and lights are lit all over the place throughout the film. This equates to a suburban and homey atmosphere that is warming and friendly.

Most viewers can snuggle in amid a warm fireplace and delicious hot cocoa and enjoy the film. The environment is one of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’s finest achievements.

A classic moment and the film’s funniest scene occurs when Clark excitedly decorates the inside and outside of the house to the nth degree and blows the town’s electric circuit as a result leading to uproar among his neighbors. Proud Clark’s ego is suddenly deflated and the man must rise above it all to somehow enjoy his family Christmas.

Watching the film decades after its release is still great fun as a nostalgia offering. The tacky Griswold Ford LTD station wagon with paneled siding is garish and unsightly (then and now) and anyone growing up in the 1980s can easily recall when suburban families would pile into this gas-guzzling car.

Not every aspect works perfectly in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation like the unappealing yuppie neighbors Todd and Margo (played by Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) or Eddie and his redneck family. These roles are a bit too over the top and secondary inclusions to be the major win that the film is.

The real wins from the supporting cast are Clark’s immediate family. His parents and Ellen’s parents are perfectly cast and provide excellent comic timing and seasoned wit. Special notice goes to John Randolph, Diane Ladd, and Doris Roberts.

And who won’t fall in love with Clark’s senile Aunt Bethany played with hilarity by Mae Questel (the voices for animated Betty Boop and Olive Oyl).

Predictably, and well-intentioned, all the Griswold problems quickly fade away when Clark receives his annual Christmas bonus after all and all characters have a lovely send-off while singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ just in the odd way that the Griswolds would do.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) used to be a traditional Christmas viewing for me but has shamefully fallen out of favor over the years. It might be time to dust off this forever gem that provides laugh after laugh, fun, and togetherness for the whole family.

The Abyss-1989

The Abyss-1989

Director-James Cameron

Starring-Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Scott’s Review #1,210

Reviewed December 19, 2021

Grade: B+

Well before he created Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009) and became a household name, director James Cameron made the gorgeous, special effects-laden film The Abyss (1989). The film followed hits like Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986). These films undoubtedly allowed him to make a film that he wanted to make with necessary freedoms.

The Abyss is completely visual and the interesting cast of characters with possibilities for development are never allowed to shine through instead feeling stale. They are usurped by the constant flow of underwater lush worldly spectacles that utterly encompasses the film.

Even when central characters get a moment to dig deeper into their backstories Cameron never goes for the emotional jugular instead encouraging the viewers to focus on the extraterrestrial and science fiction elements rather than his characters.

That’s the type of director Cameron is and recommended is to watch The Abyss on the big screen, or the biggest screen possible. I did not and recognize the sheer bombast that a cinema watching would render. I missed out.

The film, and specifically Cameron, must be heralded for the vast loveliness the art direction, visual effects, and cinematography provide.

Forget the convoluted plot entirely and sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio portray Bud and Dr. Lindsey Brigman formerly married petroleum engineers who still have some issues to work out. When an American submarine sinks in the Caribbean, a US search and recovery team works with an oil platform crew, racing against Soviet vessels to recover the boat.

Deep in the ocean, they encounter something unexpected and the American team is determined to find out what. Is it the Russians or a deadly and intelligent extraterrestrial force?

The story is overly complicated and riddled with stereotypical plot points. As the team becomes submersed in their submarine they experience the standard trouble- a hurricane, a rogue team leader, a flooded rig, and freezing temperatures.

Harris and Mastrantonio have pretty good chemistry here but we never fully grasp their marital problems or why there is a distance between them. Thrown together on this mission they predictably face peril and come close to losing each other. When they embrace in the final scene it is a wrapped up like a tight bow sort of ending that underwhelms.

But, man are the visuals amazing. When the team drops at the alien city in the deepest trenches of the ocean floor the beautiful underwater camera shots take center stage. The technical consistencies are simply breathtaking and become the focal point of the film.

I daresay The Abyss (1989) features the greatest underwater sequences ever seen on film to this date but somehow decades later the film feels forgotten or overshadowed by Cameron’s other works.

Perhaps the dated Cold War plotline and the traditional romance have not served the film well in the long run.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects (won), Best Sound

Licence to Kill-1989

Licence to Kill-1989

Director-John Glen

Starring-Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell

Scott’s Review #1,196

Reviewed November 14, 2021

Grade: B

Of the two turns as 007 that Timothy Dalton gave us License to Kill (1989) ranks as the weakest with The Living Daylights (1987) being superior. But that doesn’t mean the film has no good qualities.

It’s an okay film and director John Glen, now returning for his fifth James Bond film seems a little out of gas. Many of the stunts and sequences are very familiar territory and the dialogue is far from crackling or exciting.

The James Bond film franchise would go on a six-year hiatus after Licence to Kill and return refreshed in 1995. Perhaps it needed to.

Dalton does his best but his heart doesn’t quite seem in it and the serious tone of the film gets even darker than The Living Daylights. I don’t think this is a bad thing and I love how the franchise regular Felix Leiter (David Hedison) gets more of a storyline. But the wit and charm are lacking.

Events begin in sunny Key West at the impending nuptials of former CIA agent and Bond friend, Leiter. On the tale of one of the international drug cartel’s most brutal and powerful leaders, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), events quickly escalate. After a double-crossing poor Felix is fed to the sharks. While he survives the attack his now wife is murdered. Bond goes rogue and seeks personal vengeance.

What separates Licence to Kill from other Bond entries is the limited locales. Though exquisite, they only take place in North America. The Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Mexico are used in fine form especially the latter. The gorgeous coastline feels European and I surmised that it was shot and set in Spain when in fact it was Mexico.

Also enjoyable is the Latin flair with lots of cultures throughout. Davi is powerful and dangerous as the Latin drug lord and he exudes violence and treachery. He is gleeful when a nemesis falls victim to his pet shark and loses a limb or two before succumbing to death. A great kill is when dastardly Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) topples into a giant microwave oven and explodes into bloody bits. His death is deserved and satisfying.

To build on this, the inevitable death of Sanchez himself is a crowd cheering moment. Before he explodes into a giant ball of flames Bond is certain to let the villain know that his death is courtesy of Leiter. This is an exciting and fulfilling moment.

The Bond girls are not at their finest in Licence to Kill. Carey Lowell plays Pam Bouvier, an ex-Army pilot, and DEA informant. While sometimes portrayed as a tough-minded and brazen female character she is also written as simpering and pining over Bond. She can also be silly and foolhardy like when she carelessly plays with dangerous gadgets that Q creates. I would expect more intelligence and wherewithal based on her credentials.

Secondary Bond girl Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) and girlfriend of Sanchez, lacks much depth. Beautiful to be sure, she is quite wooden in the acting department and suddenly falls in love with Bond insisting on her powerful feelings for the man she barely knows. It’s a bit far-fetched even for Bond standards but she is nice to look at. So there’s that.

Licence to Kill (1989) usually gets either lost in the shuffle or derided completely and this is unfair. It’s not one of the greats but neither is it garbage. Rather, it feels a bit tired and of its time. Truth be told, it’s grown on me since I first saw it and even the title song performed by Gladys Knight has enamored me over the years.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan-1989

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan-1989

Director-Rob Hedden

Starring-Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves

Scott’s Review #1,163

Reviewed July 21, 2021

Grade: D+

After eight installments in only nine years of the iconic horror Friday the 13th series fans by this time know what they are in store for. The title of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten (1989) and its accompanying cover art offers a glimmer of originality and intrigue.

If this were 1989 I would be excited at the prospects of what this film could deliver.

Hell, the city of New York was dour and dirty in the late 1980s, filled with grit, grime, and seediness. What a perfect setup for our crazed killer Jason to mix and mingle with the dregs of society. I conjured up images of Jason chasing frightened teenagers through graffiti-laced subways and x-rated peep show theaters in the Times Square district.

We get a few location shots of Times Square but not much more.

Unfortunately for fans, only the final thirty minutes or so of the film is even set amid the Big Apple and for eagle-eyed viewers, much less than that is even filmed in New York City. Years later, director Rob Hedden would blame Paramount studios for severely limiting the budget allowed for on-location filming.

The result is that Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten feels like a sham.

Okay, the film is a terrible, cheesy, poorly acted, jaggedly paced film, but on a late Saturday night, it provides some fun and comfort alongside the proper mood and spirits.

A few years following the events of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) multiple mass murderer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) is resurrected from the bottom of Crystal Lake after an underwater electrical fire.

After he kills a passing boat’s occupants, he stows away on a cruise ship filled with a high-school graduating class excitedly bound for New York City. Strict Biology teacher Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman) is on board with his niece, Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who has visions of Jason drowning as a child. They temporarily escape his bloody rampage, but, when Rennie and Charles reach Manhattan, Jason is hot in pursuit.

Apparently, the ten million other Manhattanites are uninteresting and Jason must kill Rennie and cohorts.

There is an unnecessary side story of Uncle Charles having pushed Rennie into Camp Crystal Lake in a sink or swim moment where she first saw glimpses of Jason. This has nothing to do with the main story nor is it needed.

The rest of the film is exactly as one might suspect with very few surprises. The character development, limited in slasher films like this, is extremely pitiful and uneven. One female character is a rocker chick who clutches her electric guitar and plays it nonstop, practically during her own death scene.

Other unintentionally laughable characters include a young black man who is an aspiring boxer and attempts to spar with Jason on the rooftop building. This proves to be a big mistake when Jason takes one punch at him and decapitates him. The popular blonde prom queen/mean girl, Tamara (Sharlene Martin) decides to throw Rennie overboard after she catches Tamara doing drugs. Apparently murdering a fellow student is a better option than being caught.

Finally, the deckhand played by Alex Diakund is a carbon copy of the Crazy Ralph character from Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th: Part II (1981) even uttering the famous “You’re all doomed” line.

The stereotypes are rampant. However, unusual in the slasher genre for 1989, diversity is apparent with African-American, Hispanic, and Asian characters. While all are supporting characters and know their purpose is to be bludgeoned, the inclusiveness is at least a slight win.

Other positives are the familiar Camp Crystal Lake setting not being completely scrapped as the title might indicate. There is something nice and familiar with Jason, a lake, darkness, and murder.

Rob Hedden’s idea to take much of the action to an unfamiliar setting like a metropolis is a good one, a city is the opposite of a lake, but the studio screwed the director over royally with their limitations. Still, a wonderful shot of Times Square can easily transplant a viewer watching the film in present times back to 1989 and experience, if only for a minute, what life was like.

That’s worth a small something.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child-1989

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child-1989

Director-Stephen Hopkins

Starring-Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox

Scott’s Review #1,032

Reviewed June 12, 2020

Grade: C+

When one compares A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) to the first A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), made merely five years prior, the latter is shockingly bad, but rated on its own merits it is okay with both creative and silly moments.

The franchise feels exhausted at this point, a long rest recommended, as too many cheesy and doltish moments make this installment more of a comic failure with rarely any scary or sinister moments. A watered-down and forgettable entry in a series once blooming with potential.

Sadly, it would only be two years before another Nightmare was released.

With a mother theme complete, nearly all the parents and children involved in Freddy Krueger’s original story-line dead and buried, a dream sequence double-shot contained within parts 3 and 4, the logical next idea is to utilize a child story. This is not a bad idea given that Freddy was accused of child molestation, but the intention to produce a spawn of Freddy is less than marvelous. The Child’s Play franchise (1988-2019) took this cue with Seed of Chucky in 2004.

Once again, a year has passed since the events of the previous entry as Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Dan (Danny Hassel) cheerily date and enjoy their lives together as they graduate from high school. They are accompanied by friends Greta, Yvonne, and Mark.

When Alice has a strange dream about a nun, a mental hospital, and an attack by patients, Dan stresses that she controls her own dreams.

As the dreams persist she begins to have nightmares of Freddy and a strange baby. When Alice and Dan learn they are pregnant, things become violent when Dan and the others are systematically killed off in their dreams while Alice is deemed “crazy”.

A pleasantry to mention is that at least the film offers a slight measure of consistency and continuity as we are reintroduced to Alice and Dan, familiar characters from Part 4.

The film wisely keeps the same actors to avoid the jarring disruption that existed in Part 4 when a startling recast was made of its main character from Part 3. Johnson and Jordan are not the greatest actors nor are the supporting cast, but the great acting ability is a nicety not a necessity in slasher films.

The visuals are also entertaining, which has habitually been good throughout each of the chapters. Some animated sequences emerge, particularly within the dream sequences. The kills and attacks are also well crafted as when a comic book artist is terrorized by Freddy and when one victim, Greta, eats herself alive. There is more humor to the kills than in other installments.

Greta’s death is almost revenge against her controlling mother, who is weight conscious. When Greta chokes to death (in real life) she drops dead in front of her mother and their dinner guests. The scene is macabre black humor.

Otherwise, the film is very familiar territory. The baby topic culminates in a wacky sequence that does not work well and is implausible even for a horror film. In dreams, Freddy is feeding his victims to the baby (strangely, named Jacob- wouldn’t Freddy Jr. have been cleverer?) as nourishment to make him be like Freddy. In the real world, Dan’s (now dead) parents demand the baby from Alice when it is born.

This is a silly television afternoon special moment. The story concludes with Alice going to sleep to fight Freddy and save her son, which she naturally does.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, 1989 was a paltry year in cinema and specifically in the slasher genre. Quite successful during the late 1970s and the early 1980s, it became over-saturated and riddled with carbon copies. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) is a forgettable film offering little to distinguish itself from other chapters. In its defense, how could it, be the fifth release in six years?

A feeble attempt by the studio to capitalize financially on a name brand that has run out of steam.

Do the Right Thing-1989

Do the Right Thing-1989

Director-Spike Lee

Starring- Danny Aiello, Spike Lee

Scott’s Review #746

Reviewed April 21, 2018

Grade: A

Do the Right Thing is one of the few great films to come out of the year 1989, not remembered as a fantastic year in cinema, when most mainstream films were as glossy as a tin foil- and barren on quality substance.

Here we have a small, independent gem that made people have discussions about current race relations in the United States and also became a monumental, influential film. Filmmaker (and star) Spike Lee carves a controversial story of racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood one hot summer day.

Beginning rather light and comedic, then turning violent and dark, the action is set in a largely black neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, were twenty-five year old, Mookie (Spike Lee) works delivering pizzas at an Italian pizzeria owned by Sal (Danny Aiello).

With a toddler at home and a nagging girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez) always in his face, Mookie is unmotivated yet still a decent guy and loyal friend.

Sal has two sons who work at the pizza place- Pino (John Turturro), who is angry and racist, and nice guy Vito, who is a friend of Mookie’s.

When conflicts erupt over whether Sal’s restaurant should celebrate black celebrities as well as white on a wall in the dining room, tensions reach their breaking point as the intense heatwave makes matters much worse.

What makes Do the Right Thing a marvel are both the overall tone of the film and the atmosphere relayed by Spike Lee, who does an incredible job of writing, producing, and starring in the film.

The elements having little to do with the actual story immediately impress as big, bright colors, in comic book style scream at the big screen in bold fashion, eliciting both a warm, inviting feeling and an angry, contemptuous vibe.

The loud rap and hip hop beats are exceptionally instrumental at portraying a certain feeling and emotion to the film. Made independently, with little budget, the film feels raw and intense from the get-go.

Brooklyn, and New York City, in particular, are the perfect setting as Sal and his family are white folks living in a predominantly black neighborhood, so, in turn, are the minorities in the story. Additionally, the viewer sees the friendly neighborhood and feels a sense of belonging regardless of race- the humorous drunk, the kindly, grandmotherly type people-watching from her stoop, and the boombox music kid all form a sense of community and togetherness. This point is tremendously important to the overall plot of the film.

The relationship between Mookie and Sal and his sons is very important and the centerpiece of the entire film, which I found quite interesting as a character study.

Clearly open-minded, Sal is a decent man and fine with the diversity in his neighborhood- yet still true to his Italian roots. Aiello does a fantastic job of portraying this complex, conflicted character. His two sons could not be more different from each other- Vito, who is a close friend of Mookie’s, is sympathetic and sweet- with nary a racist bone in his body.

Pino, on the other hand, is angry and resentful of the black community taking over what he feels is his territory. Finally, Mookie, while lazy, is also a sympathetic character as he is conflicted once tension reaches its boiling point. These diverse characters make the film so dynamic.

Revered director Spike Lee carves out a story and brings it to the big screen telling of an important topic that is as vital in modern times as it was when Do the Right Thing was released in 1989. The film is intelligent and timely without being condescending to either black or white races, nor preachy- instead of telling a poignant story that is angry and sometimes painful to watch, but more importantly, is empathetic and real.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Danny Aiello, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Heathers-1989

Heathers-1989

Director-Michael Lehman

Starring-Winona Ryder, Christian Slater

Scott’s Review #207

580335

Reviewed December 25, 2014

Grade: B

My gut tells me that Heathers was quite controversial and influential upon release in 1989 and has sustained a cult following that continues to this day- 2014.

Having seen the film for only the first time, in 2014, the film is good, but now suffers from a slightly dated look and feel. Still, it is a brave and unique expression of creativity.

It is clearly a film that sends the message that the popular kids are bad and that the meek shall inherit the earth. The uncool kids will rise.

To summarize the plot, Heathers is told from the perspective of high school student Veronica Sawyer, played by a young Winona Ryder. She is a second-tier popular girl- she is lieutenant to the generals if you will. The school is run by three popular girls-all named Heather. As popular as they are, they are also despised and feared by the other students but carry great influence. They enjoy playing cruel jokes on other students and ridiculing anyone beneath them.

A rebellious male student, J.D., played by Christian Slater, befriends Veronica and they hatch a plan to destroy the popular clique, including another pair of popular jocks. Shannon Doherty plays second in command Heather.

The tone of Heathers is surreal and dream-like. For example, in the opening scene all three Heathers- along with Veronica- are on a perfectly manicured lawn in the suburbs playing croquet.

The hierarchy is established as Veronica seems to be buried up to her neck and is the target of the croquet balls making her, without question, the lowest of the four girls. Whether or not this is a dream or real is unclear.

The film is well written and edgy. It reminds me at times of The Ice Storm and American Beauty, which Heathers preceded, and are superior in my opinion. Heathers is a teen angst film and quite dark at times- the various deaths are committed viciously (drain cleaner poisoning, concocting a setup for the jocks to appear to be having a love affair with each other and then passionately shooting each other), but with sly wit and humor.

Veronica is, at heart, a good girl, albeit misguided and heavily influenced by J.D., but her intentions of having a fair, just school society are noble. The character is likable.

All the parents are hilariously portrayed as buffoons and have no idea of the darkness that exists in their kid’s lives- Veronica’s parents in particular. Fearing that Veronica has committed or soon will attempt suicide, they fret that it is their fault stemming from childhood negligence, however, their concern has more to do with themselves than with Veronica’s well-being.

Small gripes about the film are the 1980’s style outfits and hairstyles, which, since made in the 1980s is not a particular fault of the films- though it does contain a slightly dated feel to it while watching in present times. Also, Christian Slater mimicking Jack Nicholson’s voice is odd- was this a decision by the film or by the actor himself? Either way, the imitation is both distracting and confusing. What is the point?

The ending of the film is a happy and satisfying conclusion- however, different from the dark tone of the rest of the movie- rumor has it the studio had some influence in toning down the original ending. 1989 was not a stellar year for film so Heathers deserves major props for thinking outside the box and doing something dark and creative. Brave, inventive, and unique, Heathers is a cult classic worth a look.

Independent Spirit Award Nominees: Best Female Lead-Winona Ryder, Best Screenplay, Best First Feature (won)

Last Exit to Brooklyn-1989

Last Exit to Brooklyn-1989

Director-Uli Edel

Starring-Stephen Lang, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Scott’s Review #152

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Reviewed August 13, 2014

Grade: A-

Last Exit to Brooklyn is a slice of life type film that takes place in the early 1950s and is set in lower-class Brooklyn, NY.

It tells the story of a group of struggling neighborhood people- sex workers, union members, drag queens, etc. whose lives intersect. Also in the neighborhood is a military base where soldiers come and go on their way to war-torn Korea.

The central characters, though there are several with small yet interesting stories, are Harry, played by Stephen Lang, a sexually conflicted union worker with a wife and newborn child, yet, in love with a selfish drag queen, and Marilyn Monroe lookalike, Tralala, played superbly by Jennifer Jason Leigh, a prostitute whose best days are behind her, and who will do anything for attention.

The sets and cinematography in the film are very well done- the feeling of despair and hopelessness are accomplished by the dowdy streets, homes, and bars that the cast frequents.

Some of the characters are sympathetic- the aforementioned plus Tralala’s love interest, the Diner boy madly in love with Tralala, and the virginal seeming (but not really), Donna, portrayed by a young Rikki Lake. Other characters are abhorrent in their violence and hatred.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is quite a dark film and sometimes tough to watch, but captures a dreary time and atmosphere. The Brooklyn set is excellent in its dreariness.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is the standout for me as the tough-talking, boozy prostitute who is losing her luster and the final scene of the film is truly a heartbreaker. The topics of union, strike, bisexuality, gangs, and drag queens are covered and unique characters and conflict/loneliness is presented.

This film is an overlooked gem from 1989.