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.
Mike Flanagan counts himself as an admirer of writer-director Remi Weekes’ “His House” (Netflix), and it’s no wonder: Like Flanagan’s work, Weekes’ calling-card film uses the structure and tropes of horror to slyly tell a surprising, insightful story about the human experience. Specifically, it’s the chronicle Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) Majur settling in the U.K., having fled the tribal war in South Sudan.
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.
When Michael Keaton was cast as Batman later in the Eighties, it was a popular joke that they cast Mr. Mom as the Dark Knight. Today, it’s a sign of Keaton’s versatility, and a cautionary tale of how we shouldn’t be quick to judge casting decisions: Keaton is great as Batman, and he’s one of the best parts of “Mr. Mom” (1983). But even though John Hughes wrote “Vacation” the same year, “Mr. Mom” does not rank as one of his finer efforts.
For a novella published in 1898, Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” is having a boffo 2020. The Netflix miniseries “The Haunting of Bly Manor” is rightfully getting all the hype, but “The Turning” also came out this year, in January before the mass theater shutdown. I watched this lesser-known adaptation out of curiosity after finishing “Bly Manor.” It gets some appeal from the intrigue of how a different creative team (screenwriters Chad and Carey W. Hayes of “The Conjuring” and director Floria Sigismondi) adapts the novella, but also loses suspense because I knew the story’s broad strokes.
After his four high school films as a director, John Hughes moved on to four family friendly films – the last of which is the strangest: “Curly Sue” (1991). On one level, this is another easy-to-like yarn about family and friendships. Chicago has never looked better in a Hughes film, as cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball showcases both halves: the glitzy side and the seedy side. The latter half is still appealing because it features our lovable, homeless title kid (Alisan Porter) and the surprisingly principled dad (Jim Belushi as Bill Dancer) who devises small-time cons to get their next meal.
With “The Haunting of Bly Manor” (Netflix) – his spiritual (pun intended) sequel to 2018’s “The Haunting of Hill House” — Mike Flanagan continues to solidify his status as a horror auteur tapped into the tragic beauty afforded by the genre. A damp, dark-haired, white-dressed, hidden-faced woman in a Flanagan work is more than a scary ghost: She symbolizes the bittersweet tragedy of a forgotten past. (SPOILERS FOLLOW.)
John Candy wraps up his trilogy of starring roles in John Hughes movies – following “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “The Great Outdoors” – with the one where he’s asked to do the most heavy lifting. He’s not armed with an A-list co-star or a riotous screenplay in “Uncle Buck” (1989). In the seventh of the eight films where writer Hughes also directs, Candy’s title character finds his sweet bachelor lifestyle (betting at the track, a bowling league, no steady job) is not so cool anymore now that he’s 40.
With many shows releasing entire seasons at once nowadays, I haven’t had time to watch full seasons yet, but I have checked out some first episodes and wanted to weigh in on them. Even with the pandemic limiting the number of new fall shows, there are still more than any one TV geek can watch, so here are my first-episode impressions of four September launches: