Revenge of the Nerds” (1984) came out 15 years before “American Pie,” but if you watch the scene of a roomful of nerds ogling a closed-circuit hidden-camera feed of a sorority house, it plays like a parody of the accidental computer-camera scene in “American Pie.” Lewis (Robert Carradine) and his sex-obsessed buddies – including a kid genius who gets into the college – watch coeds in their bathrooms and bedrooms all night long. (In a slight nod to reality, some of the guys complain that watching girls brush their teeth is boring, and they eventually fall asleep.)
The King of Staten Island” is the most prominent of the few brave films that switched from theatrical release to video-on-demand amid the pandemic, and it’s also a good one. It had been long enough since I’d seen a good Judd Apatow movie – 2012’s “This Is 40,” the last film he both wrote and directed – that it’s a revelation to rediscover his sharp dialog and knack for showing that deeply flawed people are still worth rooting for.
Everyone looks they’re having a good time on “Lethal Weapon 4” (1998). That’s sometimes a warning sign that the viewer will be as miserable as a wallflower at a raucous party, but that’s not the case here. Although director Richard Donner, veteran TV writer Channing Gibson (in his film debut; no relation to Mel) and the cast make this stuff look effortless, “LW4” is at the same time the most tightly plotted of the sequels as it finds room for boffo action sequences.
After “Back to the Future” (1985), a pitch-perfect comedy, and “Back to the Future Part II” (1989), a thrillingly inventive time-hopper, “Back to the Future Part III” (1990) is tame by comparison. It’s almost entirely set in the Old West of 1885 as Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) devise a method to get the empty-tanked DeLorean up to 88 mph in a world without gasoline.
Back to the Future Part II” (1989) is a master class in plotting, as Bob Gale tells the latest adventure of time-traveler Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) within the nooks and crannies of his first 1955 journey in “Back to the Future” (1985). Meanwhile, director Robert Zemeckis and his team masterfully intersperse new footage with familiar shots from the first film; this must’ve been tons of fun for moviegoers at the time, and honestly, it still is.
Back to the Future” (1985) is one of the all-time great films, utterly fun and free-wheeling, yet it rewards film nerds’ deeper explorations with its flawless storytelling structure and genre balance. It’s adorable despite being about a teenage girl crushing on her future son, it’s smart despite being about something that’s impossible, and it accurately captures two out of three eras. Its 1955 and 1985 are pitch-perfect; the flying-cars version of 2015 not so much. But it does promise more time-hopping fun, teasing the possibilities of further adventures with that classic ending where Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) views his own actions from earlier in the film.
Through the end of May, I’m looking back at the nine movies of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, watching most of them for the first time. Next up is the spinoff movie “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” (2019).
Has anyone had a better three films in one year than Jim Carrey’s 1994? He broke into the mainstream with “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and later delivered my favorite comedy of all time, “Dumb and Dumber.” In between came “The Mask,” which is his best superhero performance/movie (sorry “Batman Forever” and “Kick-Ass 2”), even though it comes up in conversation less than other roles from his vintage period.
After the monumentally dumb (but nonetheless entertaining) “Lethal Weapon 2” (1989), the saga pulls back from so-bad-it’s-good territory for the solid boilerplate actioner “Lethal Weapon 3” (1992). Director Richard Donner and writers Jeffrey Boam and Robert Mark Kamen dial back the stupidity – although there’s still plenty – and give good arcs to Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) while adding Rene Russo, who slots right in as internal affairs investigator Lorna Cole.
Who would’ve thought one of the most sneaky-cool films of 2019 would also be one you can recommend to your parents? Writer-director Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” re-invigorates the mystery genre, and while its unusual smattering of comedy is a big talking point, this ain’t exactly “Clue.” It’s ultimately a masterfully plotted, thoroughly gripping story that reveals new pieces of information right up until the old-fashioned “here’s what happened” finale. It sprinkles comedy and social commentary as spices.