John Hughes’ other Thanksgiving movie, “Dutch” (1991), has that “other” status for a reason: It’s not as funny as “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987). However, as I got to the end of this road-tripper, I realized I owe it a future rewatch, because it’s not trying to be as humorous. Its interest is in the relationship between entitled kid Doyle (Ethan Embry) and potential stepfather Dutch (Ed O’Neill). I’ve been told this stuff will ring true to people thrown into such a relationship, but it’s frustrating how long it takes Doyle to turn into a nice kid. (It seems so wrong that Embry, later of “Vegas Vacation” and “Can’t Hardly Wait,” isn’t playing his usual sweetest-guy-ever.)
I’ve probably seen the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” more than any other movie (granted, most of those viewings were from 1990-92). That film is a perfect blend of respect for the source material with mass appeal, and the three sequels – although they have their moments — don’t match its quality or heart. In a perfect world, Nickelodeon’s return to the saga – 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (referred to here as “TMNT ’14”) – would tap into what worked in 1990, while adding untapped villains in cinematic debuts.
Iliked “Cabin in the Woods” (2011), but I’m uncomfortable with how it has risen to classic status in the horror genre. Wild genre shifting and brazen disregard for the illusion of fear you’ve created for the audience is eye-opening the first time but it would be an unappealing trend. Luckily, films like that aren’t the norm, and if “Cabin” shows how they can go right, “The Hunt” shows how they can go wrong.
If we started a debate over the greatest Christmas movie, it could go on until New Year’s, but “greatest Thanksgiving movie” is easier: It’s “Plains, Trains and Automobiles” (1987), an all-timer not only among Turkey Day films but also among the catalogs of John Hughes, John Candy and Steve Martin. Cleverly, it’s not about the family gathering itself, but rather about getting home to family – and it ultimately has a heartfelt message about the holiday’s original meaning.
I’m not the target audience for “Emma,” but given how good Anya Taylor-Joy is in everything – most recently, TV’s “The Queen’s Gambit” – I figured if she can’t hook me on this Jane Austen classic, nobody can. Well, actually, I am an admirer of “Clueless” (1995), but probably more for the modernized aspects than the core elements.
Midnight Run” (1988) is a classic not-too-serious road actioner featuring tough guys and tough talk. You can watch it without feeling queasy aftereffects, despite its plethora of swearing (Joe Pantoliano’s bond agent Eddie complains that he’s been told to go f*** himself twice in one day) and violence (Charles Grodin’s Jon gets knocked out a dangerous number of times). Everything about the movie is formulaic and obvious, but that doesn’t work against the fact that this is a touching story of an odd-couple friendship.
John Hughes gets a little dark in “She’s Having a Baby” (1988), his sixth entry as a writer-director. Stuck between the well-trod tropes of high school and the delightful absurdities of family life, Hughes and his main character, Jake Briggs (Kevin Bacon), don’t know what they want out of this movie/life. Jake is morose, with lots of forced smiles; his wife Kristy (Elizabeth McGovern) is hard to read; and their house is homey but ill-lit in that 1980s Midwest fashion. For most of its runtime, this isn’t a happy movie.
In a cosmic coincidence, Philip K. Dick’s depressive yelling-into-a-void rants that make up his wonderful midcentury California novels share common ground with the comedic sensibilities of the French. Fittingly, director/co-writer Jérôme Boivin’s “Barjo” — which translates as “nutcase” and is based on “Confessions of a Crap Artist” (written in 1959 and published in 1975) – is the lone movie drawn from PKD’s non-SF catalog. (It can be found here, with unfortunately too-literally translated subtitles — did they come straight from Google Translate? And you’ll want to change the Settings to 0.75 playback speed.)
Nate and Hayes” (1983) was probably not a passion project for John Hughes – who co-writes the screenplay with David Odell (“Supergirl”), from a story by Lloyd Phillips. It’s probably a case of him earning a paycheck as he worked to gain Hollywood clout. However, he infuses some fun and energy into this 19th century South Pacific swashbuckler. I wouldn’t know this is a Hughes script if I had gone in blind, but considering that Odell tends to embrace magic and mysticism in his other works, I’m tempted to credit Hughes for “N&H’s” grounded nature.
Writer-director Alexander Payne’s breakthrough film, “Election,” was somewhat buried among the glut of teen classics in 1999. That’s appropriate, because it’s more timeless and less nostalgic than its brethren from that year; today, it remains a near-perfect portrayal of elections, popularity and the fact that God does not favor the best human beings. I almost typed “satire” instead of “portrayal,” but “Election” is too on-point to be called a satire. (It is a comedy, though, in that way of extended takes and funny images – like a tiny car peeling through town – that are Payne’s staple.)