Directed by noir great Robert Aldrich, 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was a shocker in its day, from the lurid subject matter to the monumental uniting of two of the silver screen’s greatest actresses (and fiercest rivals), Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, each in her mid-fifties then. It’s a twisted tale of two once-famous, now codependent sisters: Davis’ Jane was famous in childhood as Baby Jane Hudson, while Crawford’s Blanche went on to greater stardom in Hollywood before being hit by a car, presumably driven by jealous Jane, and crippled.
When Marvel Comics’ gang of superheroes—Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye—get together after the first four of them starred in their own movies, you know something big is up. And it’s no surprise that Loki, Thor’s adopted brother, who teamed up with an army of nasty aliens, is behind it.
There was a time long before the Twilight era when vampires were stylishly suave, spoke with heavy European accents, resided in palatial gothic stone mansions, and didn’t get their wardrobes from Abercrombie & Fitch. Based on the popular cult soap opera from the late ’60s that ran for more than 1,200 episodes, Dark Shadows tells the story of a young 18th century aristocrat, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) who foolishly spurns the love of a vindictive witch ironically named Angelique (Eva Green). Proving that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, Angelique places a curse on him and his entire family line. After witnessing his beloved fiancée take a suicide plunge off a seaside cliff while under a spell, Barnabas is condemned to be a vampire and then promptly sealed in a coffin and buried. And you thought your ex was a raving psychopath.
Everything worth knowing about teenagers in the 1980s is found in John Hughes’ 1984 directorial debut, Sixteen Candles. This is a perfect movie, capturing it all in just two days in the life of 16-year-old Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald). Sam’s 16th birthday is the day before her older sister’s wedding, and it starts out anything but sweet. Her entire family is so consumed with the wedding details, they forget. Sam heads to the back-to-school dance saddled with her grandparents’ Asian exchange student Long Duk Dong, in love with impossibly sweet campus hunk Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), and chased by relentless freshman geek, Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall). Hilarity, revelations, and romance ensue.
Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion remains, 75 years on, one of the greatest films ever made. To some, it may seem a bit clichéd, but that’s only because so many movies since have cribbed from its plot lines. It takes place in German POW camps during the First World War and was shot on what many recognized at the time as the eve of a Second World War. One of the things it’s about is the world that vanished, for better and for worse, in the two decades between the two wars. There has been much debate over just which “great illusion” Renoir was referring to in his title. Some have assumed it’s war. But this is not a simple anti-war movie; at the end, our French heroes, who have escaped from the camp, can’t wait to get home so they can reenlist in the fighting.
Writer/director Wes Anderson’s artsy comedies are so distinct, you’d never mistake a single frame of his movies for anyone else’s. 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums showcases many of his hallmarks and themes: a mixed family of blood and adopted relatives separating and then banding together to overcome collective dysfunction, oddly brilliant characters whose clothes are identity uniforms, a simultaneous embracing and lampooning of academia, a labyrinthine set that functions like a cross between a playhouse and a fort, and a nice role for the great character actor Seymour Cassel. It’s Anderson’s most polarizing film in terms of accessibility, but it’s also his funniest.
For those who found Revolutionary Road too upbeat comes its British postwar counterpart in the soul-crushing slog that is The Deep Blue Sea (for those hoping to read a review of Renny Harlin’s guilty pleasure of a shark movie, the title of that is simply Deep Blue Sea, so sorry to disappoint you!). Set in 1950 post-war London, The Deep Blue Sea gives us Hester (Rachel Weisz), a smart, cultured, and ardent woman at a time when none of those traits was apparently valued in British society. Hester leaves her staid marriage to a wealthy judge old enough to be her father (and who looks old enough to be her grandfather), falling in for a fiery affair with a handsome pilot nearer her age named Freddie (Tom Hiddleston, or Loki to Avengers fans out there). The drag is, Freddie’s rather a creep and has issues with both commitment and finding gainful employment.
In May 1977, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were vacationing in Hawaii together. Spielberg already had the biggest box-office hit of all time under his belt: a little film called Jaws; and Lucas was hiding out from what he was certain would be a monumental disaster: a pet project of his called Star Wars. After Star Wars exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations and then some, Spielberg and Lucas sat and mused about future projects. Spielberg expressed a boyish desire to direct a James Bond adventure. Lucas replied, “I’ve got that beat.”
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was the first summer blockbuster, a classic that not only cemented its director and stars in film’s pantheon, but transcended cinema altogether, taking a huge bite out of global pop culture. To this day, there are 40- and 50-somethings who quote this movie’s dialogue daily and still won’t go in the water. It’s the best monster movie ever made, and of course it’s legend that the unbearable suspense created by not seeing the beast for the first hour of the movie was due to the mechanical shark, Bruce, not working, forcing Spielberg and company to develop brilliant devices to have a shark movie without the shark.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the sexiest hunk of all? If given a choice between G.I. Joe or Ken, who do you think Barbie would choose? It’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is obvious all the same. And even though the handsome Prince in Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t exactly a Ken doll, he’s still hopelessly out of his depth here. A woman’s quest to stay forever young and beautiful can go to some pretty obsessive lengths depending on the woman (so I’m told), and in the kingdom of Tabor, the Evil Queen Ravenna is taking it to the harshest of extremes. Snow White, total hottie and legitimate heir to the throne, poses the last remaining threat to the queen’s eternal beauty and supreme rule, so drastic measures are called for.
The Pirate Captain (voiced by a wonderfully swaggering Hugh Grant) leads his merry men across the high seas, searching for gold, adventure…and ham? He’s never quite what we expect a career swashbuckler to be, and when the Captain sets his sights on the Pirate of the Year Award, we soon see that this criminal rogue is actually just a flawed softie with a chance at redemption. The underlying plot is surprisingly similar to the recent Despicable Me, but what sets The Pirates! Band of Misfits apart is a series of wacky twists involving a dateless, conniving scientist named Charles Darwin and a downright loopy Queen Victoria. The movie also overflows with subtle sight gags, little placards and such in the shadows just behind a character. My kids laughed hysterically along with me, and they didn’t even catch half the jokes, so this disc definitely merits a purchase for the sake of repeat viewings.
L ooking to impress the girl of his dreams by finding her a real-life Truffula tree, Ted Wiggins follows the advice of his grandmother and ventures outside the walls of Thneedville in search of the Once-ler. At first, the reclusive old man wants nothing to do with the teenage boy, but he eventually tells his story of how greed and ignorance led to the destruction of the Truffula forest and how he should have listened to the warnings of the mystical Lorax—the protector of the trees. Looking for a chance at redemption, the Once-ler put his faith in the teenager to correct the errors of his ways, although the ruthless Aloysius O’Hare will stop at nothing to deter the young lad from fulfilling his destiny to restore the trees and get the girl.
I saw American Pie in the theater and enjoyed it enough to stick it out through two sequels: American Pie 2 and American Wedding. By that point, though, I felt the creative teat had pretty much been sucked dry and it was time to call it a day. Imagine my astonishment when I discovered that the success of those films had spawned no less than four direct-to-video sequels: American Pie: Band Camp, American Pie: The Naked Mile, American Pie: Beta House, and American Pie: The Book of Love. Not done by a long shot, the original cast now reunites for another go-round in American Reunion. As the title implies, it’s been more than a decade since our fresh-faced and inexperienced teenagers graduated from high school and made the awkward transition into adulthood.
The second-highest-grossing movie of 1977 (behind only a certain science-fantasy film of some renown) and one of the biggest hits in the esteemed history of Universal Studios, Smokey and the Bandit combined frequent car chases, vast amounts of beer, and copious nose-thumbing at The Man to create a wildly popular piece of entertainment. Like most movies of the era, it lacks the slickness of modern fare and relies more heavily on the charm of its star, Burt Reynolds, as legendary trucker Bo “Bandit” Darville. He takes a big bet to deliver 400 cases of Coors beer across five states in only 28 hours, an extremely difficult and highly illegal challenge.