Risky Business (1983)

Director: Paul Brickman Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Bronson Pinchot, Curtis Armstrong, Joe Pantoliano

When his parents leave him home alone, high school student Joel takes his friend’s advice and decides to make the most of it. However, he gets into some trouble with a call girl and things start to spiral out of control.

So going in I thought this movie was a comedy- and to be fair, most things I’ve read say that it is. Over-confident teenager is left with the house to himself and gets into some silly japes with his friends, while managing to get everything back in order just in time for his parents get back. While that generally is the list of the film, it didn’t quite pan out how I’d imagined. The film starts off innocently enough- teenage boy doesn’t know how to make a microwave dinner, ho ho ho- but then all of a sudden he decides to invite a prostitute round like it’s no big deal- what?! Where did that come from?? Is that regular behaviour for high school students in America or something?! So yeah, that happens and then he gets “involved” with her and they end up running a brothel from his house.

The whole thing just felt totally unrealistic and, well, stupid. It escalates and gets kind of dark pretty suddenly and is just plain weird. I feel like it would have made more sense if it was more clearly defined as a comedy, but it’s really not and the fact that it’s so serious is a little disturbing. What certainly doesn’t help is the weird soundtrack, composed by Tangerine Dream- the ambience is more Bladerunner than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. While it’s an 80s movie, it doesn’t really seem to fit with all those other Golden Age classics. Basically, it would sit better with me if it was just funnier.

Did I like this film? I mean, I sat through it and didn’t hate it, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. In terms of the actual quality of the film-making, there’s not really much to complain about but the vibe feels off. There are some messages in there such as obsession with making money and moving from high school into the real world, but it’s not an enjoyable watch at times. It’s the movie that launched Tom Cruise but I prefer him in other stuff.

Risky Business isn’t family viewing and I wouldn’t want to watch it with my parents. I’m not sure I would go out of my way to recommend it to anyone I know, but if you’re intrigued I would say give it a go and see what you make of it.

2.5 stars


Gremlins (1984)

Director: Joe Dante Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain

As a gift from his father for Christmas, Billy receives a “mogwai” called Gizmo as a new pet. He’s given three rules for looking after him: don’t let him out in sunlight, don’t let him near water and don’t give him any food after midnight. Of course, with Billy being a stupid boy he breaks the rules almost immediately, and chaos ensues.

Now, you may have noticed I’ve put this down as one of my Christmas Crackers. While I am 100% certain, no doubt in my mind, that Die Hard is a Christmas film, Gremlins falls into that same category of debate but is a little trickier. My usual two factors for deciding are 1) The setting of Christmas is vital to the plot; and 2) It contains Christmassy themes such as family, redemption and coming together. While I would say that Gremlins fulfils the first criteria (Billy receives Gizmo as a Christmas present, so Christmas provides key context to the plot) it doesn’t really contain any of the key Christmas themes. So it’s still up for debate but as it’s the Christmas season I’m feeling generous.

The film itself is a good caper, but it’s not really hugely gripping from beginning to end. The first half is good, with the mystery of the mogwai and finding out more about them, but once the mogwai have become “gremlins” the film is basically just scenes of the chaos they cause with a bunch of random characters coming in and out chasing after them. The final climax is over quickly and there’s not much suspense. So it starts well, but after a while I got a bit bored and I think it could have done with reaching the end quicker.

I’ve mentioned that the film doesn’t contain the classic Christmas themes of reconciliation or redemption. Billy is completely useless and he doesn’t seem to learn anything at all by the end. He’s terrible at looking after Gizmo- he forgets the rules straight away, and when Gizmo has water splashed over him and he starts writhing in agony, Billy just ignores him. He doesn’t manage to kill any of the gremlins by himself either- his mum kills loads and then he only manages it with the help of his love interest. Then at the end, he thinks he’s responsible enough to keep looking after Gizmo?! No lessons learnt or character improvement whatsoever. Billy, you’re just the worst.

What I did like was the mogwai/gremlins themselves. There’s something sinister about the puppets they use which is really effective (as they actually are pretty sinister- they actually kill a few people…), and I’m glad that this film came out before CGI as I don’t think CGI creatures would have had quite the same creepy effect. Overall I would say it’s a family film but certainly for small children it could be pretty scary.

From the 1980s Golden Age of cinema, this isn’t one of the best but is worth a watch. Gizmo is very cute (and marketable…) and it’s an interesting concept before the mayhem gets a bit over-the-top. I’m slightly leaning towards the side of not a Christmas film, but perhaps worth watching earlier on in the season before going full-on Christmas.

3 stars

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher

Following the events of The Force Awakens, the resistance are still fighting against the First Order. Rey has been sent to find Luke Skywalker, while the others try to hold on as they wait for Luke to come to help them out.

As with The Force Awakens, I went to the 12.01am showing on the day of release in my Star Wars t-shirt, like the massive saddo I am. Compared to last time, however, it wasn’t all great and for every fantastic scene there was a bad scene of equal proportions.

Starting with the positives, Luke was awesome in this movie and single-handedly makes up for the bad bits. I’ve pretty much completely forgiven him for being a whiney teenager in A New Hope, and his story arc in this was convincing and added a lot of depth and grit to Luke’s character. Luke and Rey’s relationship was interesting to watch and had a lot of to-and-fro, making it unpredictable, and it added a lot to the general plot to explore a bit more of what happened between Luke and Kylo Ren. The final scenes of the movie are essentially centred around Luke and it really brings the whole thing in at the end. I’m not sure what Mark Hamill has been doing in the years since Star Wars acting-wise, but he has seriously stepped his game up and he was brilliant in this.

Rey was good in this and I liked seeing her interact more with Kylo Ren and the conflict between bad and good that all Jedis face. Poe Dameron was in this film way more than the last one, and since he’s a fan fave I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate that. It was good to see Carrie Fisher, apart from one totally ridiculous scene (probably the worst in the movie) that you’ll definitely agree with me on when you see it.

My main gripe with the film is that it’s quite bitty and feels disjointed a lot of the time. There are several storylines going on at the same time and it jumps around a fair bit. The worst part is that Finn’s storyline pretty much has no outcome on the conclusion of the film, so he’s basically irrelevant and I think his character is wasted. I would have liked to see him more with Poe Dameron, as The Force Awakens kind of sets up their friendship but then doesn’t build on it here. There are a lot of new characters introduced, most of which are kind of pointless and I’m not really sure what their purpose is.

Finally, without wanting to give too much away, there were several scenes in which I thought they could have brought back some old faces here and there, which totally would have satisfied the Star Wars nostalgia in me. There were actually two separate lines of plot in which it would have completely made sense to bring back Lando- but alas, we’ll just have to be satisfied with a young Lando in next year’s Han Solo spin-off.

So, would I recommend this? Yes, of course, because it’s Star Wars and I have a very biased view of the whole thing as a fan since early childhood. However, it’s certainly not the best Star Wars film as some reviews have stated and I would probably rank it fifth overall, after the original three and The Force Awakens. As I’ve said, there are good and bad moments but the good scenes are really really good so the stupid bits can just about be balanced out (if I’m feeling in a generous mood). I’ll certainly go back in a couple of weeks to watch it again as I really do think you pick up a lot more second time around, and there are already a couple of scenes to which I’m now wishing I had paid more attention. Hardcore fans will enjoy it but casual fans probably won’t do so as much.

3.5 stars

Deck the Halls (2006)

Director: John Whitesell Cast: Matthew Broderick, Danny DeVito, Kristen Chenoweth, Kristin Davis

Popular local figure Steve becomes frustrated when a new neighbour, Buddy, moves in across the street and rivals him for the title of the town’s “Christmas guy”. Buddy is determined that his house is so lit up with Christmas lights that it can be seen from space, however Steve won’t let that happen.

While Deck the Halls will never quite become a Christmas classic, it’s an enjoyable if perhaps low-quality watch. Overall it’s a pretty rubbish film by usual standards, but I did enjoy it and I certainly felt Christmassy watching it. I laughed out loud a few times, and while much of the comedy is basic slapstick it’s not too over-the-top. The plot is a classic Christmas movie setup, with the two main characters learning some life lessons and everything ending up right in the end.

There are certainly better Christmas films out there but this is worth a watch, and I would probably watch it again (although it won’t be an annual feature of my Christmas viewing list). It’s lightweight and family friendly, so good for a cosy December evening in.

2.5 stars