Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Director: Amy Heckerling Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Brain Backer, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates (and also Nicholas Cage for all of 5 seconds)

We follow the escapades of a group of high school students over the course of a year, including romance, jobs, studies and general teenagery-ness.

Fast Times is a bit of a cult classic, lesser known than some of the other 1980s high school student flicks, but feels like one of the more authentic or realistic ones. Indeed, the story is based on the experiences of film-maker Cameron Crowe, who spent a year undercover as a high school student and wrote a book on his experiences. The events feel a lot more like stuff that would actually happen to regular teenagers, rather than far-fetched hijinks, and I think it definitely adds to the enjoyability of the film if you can look back and reminisce on some of your own high school experiences.

Not all the stories are totally connected and the links between the characters or individual plots can be a bit tenuous, so from a standard film-viewing perspective it might seem a little unstructured or random. However, this also adds to the realism, so we can mostly forgive that. I would also warn that not all the scenes would probably get past a film classification board today, so might be a little odd for modern audiences (mainly the underage sex). It’s not one I’d watch with my parents…

This is definitely a must-see for 80s fans, especially as it’s up there in the genre of “golden-age” classics such as The Breakfast ClubBack to the Future or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s certainly not appropriate for younger audiences (I think it’s rated 18 here in the UK), but is a good dose of nostalgia for adults.

3 stars

Jingle All The Way (1996)

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Director: Brian Levant Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Jake Lloyd

A father wrapped up in his work forgets to buy his son the one gift he wants for Christmas, leaving him only Christmas Eve to track it down. However, it turns out everywhere is out of stock and he’s not the only one looking for a last minute gift.

Another year, another addition to my seasonal Christmas Crackers series, this time featuring the thrilling combination of the Terminator and young Anakin Skywalker. Let’s just say T + AS does not equal GA (good acting). Having said that, literally no film ever made can be worse than The Santa Clause, last year’s Christmas horror, so it’s not all bad.

First things first, before whiney Jake Lloyd desecrated the Star Wars universe with his incessant moaning, his whinging actually makes him an ideal casting choice for this role- the classic demanding child growing up in a world of consumerism who only wants material objects to make him happy. There must be a Christmas lesson for him to learn in there somewhere! And there is. I don’t think it would be classed as a spoiler to say that by the end of the film both father and son learn that Christmas isn’t all about the presents, but about family.

Poor acting aside, I did laugh a few times in this film. It’s quite slapstick which produces a few amusing moments, plus I did laugh at the (unintentional) dry delivery from Arnie. It’s not a Christmas classic, but I didn’t hate it and if it was on telly on a free Saturday afternoon next December, I would probably watch it again.

This film gets no points for things like originality, acting or cinematography but it’s mindless and inoffensive, plus it’s Christmas and at this time year people will watch anything. Worth a go if you’ve already watched all the classic seasonal hits and need something else.

2 stars

The Great Dictator (1940)

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Director: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner, Henry Daniell

After spending years in a hospital recovering from memory loss brought on from an accident in the First World War, a Jewish barber returns to his old neighbourhood to find it is suffering persecution under the rule of a new dictator. Meanwhile the dictator himself struggles to assert his new authority.

I think the most interesting aspect of the film is putting it into the context of when it was made- 1940, as the Second World War was really starting to get underway. Post-war films have often struggled about how to portray Hitler and the persecution of the Jewish people, and for many years film-makers avoided it altogether, not wanting to provoke controversy. However The Great Dictator is both an amusing satire that successfully pokes fun at Hitler and the politics of the time, as well as a poignant and powerful portrayal of what was then the present-day reality of Germany under the Nazi regime. The film was made before the full extent of the atrocities in Europe were known, and so perhaps benefitted from not having the pressure to consider the extreme aspects of the Second World War that we now know.

Subject matter aside, the film (which was Chaplin’s first “talkie”) is pleasantly amusing. There’s plenty of Chaplin’s signature slapstick, as well as some clever satire which is still funny almost 80 years later. One particular scene in which Hynkel and Napaloni (Chaplin’s portrayals of Hitler and Mussolini respectively) can’t work out whether to shake hands or salute had me reminiscing about a Dad’s Army style of humour.

While I wouldn’t say that the film is light, it’s certainly not your usual intense Second World War drama (no Das Boot levels of tension here). It’s enjoyable, but quite clearly makes its points about fascism. It’s also considered a classic on a number of levels, so certainly worth a watch.

5 stars

Tremors (1990)

Tremors

Director: Ron Underwood Cast: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter

After a number of mysterious disappearances, the residents of a small town discover that there’s some strange species living underground popping up to eat them one by one. When the town is surrounded by these creatures, the residents led by the ever-heroic Kevin Bacon have no choice but to fight them off themselves.

For a B-Movie, Tremors is actually pretty good. The risk with B-Movies is that there’s a very fine line between so bad it’s good, and then just outright bad; Tremors is definitely the former. It’s funny, the plot makes sense, and at times it’s actually a bit tense. The worm-like creatures are a ridiculous concept but up close they’re actually a bit creepy, plus the added factor that they’re very difficult to kill makes the story quite compelling.

I must confess that I absolutely love Kevin Bacon so admittedly I am biased in favour of any movie he’s in. The fact that he’s a well known actor elevates this among B-Movies as he’s arguably quite good at acting, as is Fred Ward who’s also got a strong acting repertoire under his belt. Overall then, Tremors isn’t totally embarrassing to watch.

I’ve struggled with what to rate this one, since it’s actually quite good but can’t really rate it the same as some of the other films I’ve done which are considered classics… So I’ve given it a special B-Movie rating, taking into account that it’s supposed to be bad (or maybe I’m just trying to excuse myself for having terrible taste).

3 B-Movie stars