(Second viewing, On TV, March 2017) I was wary of revisiting The ’burbs: what if it didn’t measure up to my good memories? Fortunately, I shouldn’t have worried: As a comedy, it’s still as increasingly anarchic as I recalled, and the film has aged relatively well largely due to director Joe Dante’s off-beat genre sensibilities. Baby-faced Tom Hanks stars as a driven suburban man daring himself to spend a week at home doing nothing. But his holiday soon turns to real work as he starts obsessing over his neighbours and, egged on by friends, suspecting them of the worst crimes. Set entirely in a quiet cul-de-sac, The ’burbs still has a few things to say about the hidden depths of suburbia, dangerous obsessions and the unknowability of neighbours. It’s also increasingly funny as actions become steadily more extreme—by the time a house blows up in the middle of the climax, it’s clear that the movie has gone as far as it could go. Corey Feldman (as a fascinated teenager treating the whole thing like a reality-TV show), Bruce Dern (as a crazed survivalist), Carrie Fisher (as a voice of exasperated reason) and Henry Gibson (deliciously evil) are also remarkable in supporting roles. The “burbs may take a while to heat up, but it quickly goes to a boil and remains just as funny today.
(On Cable TV, October 2016) I’ve been revisiting a lot of eighties classics lately, and this often means watching movies again for the first time in twenty-plus years. Not Gremlins, though: while I remember a lot of the film’s marketing (including the three “rules” of gremlins care and feeding), I had unexplainably managed to miss watching the film until now. I say “unexplainably” because Gremlins ends up being right up my alleyway and a quasi-classic after only one viewing. The anarchic mixture of horror and comedy rarely lets up once the film gets going midway through, and the second half is a gag-every-ten-seconds experience. Director Joe Dante successfully helms a film embarrassingly dense in practical effects, comic cues, dark humour and unbridled chaos. Despite the often sadistic humour (which helped usher in the PG-13 rating), it’s a lot of fun as a spectacle even if much of the connective tissue is dumb or irritating. The kitchen fight sequence is particularly good, making an action heroine out of an ordinary mom. Gremlins is compelling to watch (and I say this on some authority as I’m going through the often dull eighties greatest hits) and I’m now actively looking into watching Gremlins 2.
(On Cable TV, June 2014) Just about the only noteworthy thing about The Hole is that it’s directed by Joe Dante, a veteran whose influence in the eighties and early nineties has faded to nothingness ever since. His professionalism certainly shows through this minor production: Despite an imperfect script and a family-friendly focus, horror film The Hole is handled professionally, has a pleasant rhythm and doesn’t let late-script disappointment get the better of its presentation. The 3D motif feels silly on the small flat screen, but the direction is clean and polished throughout. The story of three teenagers who discover a bottomless hole in their basement reflecting their deepest fears, The Hole is decidedly a horror film for young teenage audiences: it’s barely gory, low-key in its scare sequences and plays off childhood fears more than deep-set adult trauma. Nonetheless, the quality of the production holds it aloft even if the script doesn’t quite manage to hold together: not only does it spend its time on the symptoms of the hole rather than its root, it squanders some promising leads when it devolves to fairly standard “confront your deepest fears” messaging, along with a suddenly-bizarre finale that literalizes too many metaphors with sub-standard special effects. Chris Massoglia is a bit dull in the lead role, whereas Haley Bennett easily steals her scenes with a bubbly girl-next-door portrayal (although, typically, later script revelations contradict her early-movie reactions). There is, frustratingly, a lot of untapped potential in the initial set-up that is nowhere nearly fulfilled by the rest of the film. Still, it’s handled fairly well, can be watched without too much trouble and generally holds interest until the end. As far as horror movies go, it’s not too bad, and considering the wretched horror films aimed at younger teenagers, The Hole eventually ends up feeling like a welcome throwback to the kind of movies that Joe Dante himself was directing in the eighties.