Tag Archives: Chris Columbus

Adventures in Babysitting (1987, Chris Columbus)

If it weren’t for the acting, Adventures in Babysitting would probably be more interesting as a cultural document than anything else. The way the film treats race is probably worth a couple sociology articles. Black people aren’t scary as much as foreign beyond belief. Space aliens would have more in common with the suburban kids than the room of black people they find themselves in a room with. Working class whites, actually, are far more scary.

So I guess, as a Chicagoland filmmaker, Chris Columbus is less racist than mentor John Hughes. Spielberg must have rubbed off on Columbus a little.

The film’s finely acted. Elisabeth Shue’s great in the lead. As her charges, Maia Brewton, Keith Coogan and Anthony Rapp are all good. Brewton and Coogan are sort of best (Coogan has some rather difficult scenes). Calvin Levels is excellent as the car thief who helps them out, as is John Ford Noonan as the first scary guy they meet. George Newbern and Bradley Whitford are both good as Shue’s romantic interests, though Whitford’s got more to do.

In the film’s silliest role, Vincent D’Onofrio has a hard time not laughing.

Penelope Ann Miller starts out strong, but the film eventually requires everyone to laugh at her and dismiss her as silly. Otherwise, she has some of the strongest line deliveries.

John Davis Chandler is weak as the lame villain.

Columbus does a better job with actors than composing shots.

Babysitting‘s moderately amusing, its parts stronger than the whole.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Columbus; written by David Simkins; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Debra Hill and Lynda Obst; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Chris Parker), Maia Brewton (Sara Anderson), Keith Coogan (Brad Anderson), Anthony Rapp (Daryl Coopersmith), Calvin Levels (Joe Gipp), Vincent D’Onofrio (Dawson), Penelope Ann Miller (Brenda), George Newbern (Dan Lynch), John Ford Noonan (Handsome John Pruitt), Bradley Whitford (Mike Todwell), Ron Canada (Graydon) and John Davis Chandler (Bleak).


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Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990, Joe Dante)

Gremlins 2 might be one of the more absurdly funny films ever made. Much of it relies on the viewer laughing at him or herself laughing at the film. My wife claims her occasional giggles were in response to my laughter, not the film itself. I just read Dante wanted it to be a spoof of itself, of the idea of a Gremlins 2 and it’s incredibly successful.

The film is very much a product of its time. There are Die Hard references (both in the film, with Gizmo heading into a duct, and out–the single setting of an office high rise), there are references to classic films, there are references to not so classic films. Where Gremlins 2 is particularly strange is in the corporate branding. Besides the Looney Tunes opening–to celebrate Warner’s anniversary–there’s a big Batman reference and then the Warner Bros. logo shows up tattooed to a Gremlin. It’s strange, but I guess Warner really did establish itself differently back then (I still remember the Warner Bros. store catalogs with their Batman, Gremlins 2 and “Murphy Brown” goodies).

It all combines to make the film a strange experience, since movies dedicated to making the viewer laugh out loud–not just smile–are difficult. But Gremlins 2 takes it a step further, practically requiring moderate film literacy.

The film relies heavily on its actors–John Glover being the most outright fantastic. Glover doesn’t do a Donald Trump imitation (his character’s a mix of Trump and Ted Turner), instead just goes crazy in a way only he can–one of Glover’s best scenes is one of his simplest. He walks around his office, bored, until he decides it’d be fun to do a memo. It’s great.

The rest of the supporting cast–Robert Prosky, Christopher Lee, Dick Miller, Gedde Watanabe and especially Robert Picardo–are excellent as well. Only Haviland Morris, with an over-affected performance, is lacking. Zach Galligan, who starts out more in the center, is good… even as his character takes a backseat to the wacky Gremlins. Phoebe Cates has a few good scenes, but she’s absent even more than Galligan. They literally get her lost in the building and forget about her.

One of Dante’s great achievements with this film is his handling of the sets. He directs the chaos in the hallway scenes like it’s an old B picture, but these scenes match perfectly with the rest. The exterior scenes–Galligan and Cates walking home, Miller fighting the flying Gremlin outside–all look exceptional. But those interior scenes are even better. Then, with the musical number at the end, Dante makes Gremlins 2 into the greatest Muppet movie (on acid) ever.

The script’s good a lot of great one liners, but what really sets it apart is when Cates is telling a Gremlin-to-be to be careful around the kitchen, she and Galligan don’t have the money to replace broken appliances. It’s a strange, wonderful detail and just makes Gremlins 2 more singular.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by Charles S. Haas, based on characters by Chris Columbus; director of photography, John Hora; edited by Kent Beyda; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Michael Finnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Zach Galligan (Billy Peltzer), Phoebe Cates (Kate Beringer), John Glover (Daniel Clamp), Robert Prosky (Grandpa Fred), Robert Picardo (Forster), Christopher Lee (Doctor Catheter), Haviland Morris (Marla Bloodstone), Dick Miller (Murray Futterman), Jackie Joseph (Sheila Futterman), Gedde Watanabe (Mr. Katsuji) and Keye Luke (Mr. Wing).


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Gremlins (1984, Joe Dante)

Okay, I don’t get it. How did Zach Galligan not succeed as an actor? He’s not astoundingly good or anything, but he’s incredibly likable. From his filmography, it looks like he just disappeared… Anyway, I watched Gremlins because I haven’t seen it in ten years and, I don’t know, I thought Blockbuster was sending me the special edition (they didn’t).

What’s incredible about Gremlins is that it’s a special effects spectacular, back when they knew how to make them. I watched this film and constantly wondered how they did the models, the moving faces, the puppetry (I assume it was puppetry). That feeling is incredible today, because I never feel it anymore. At best, it’s something like Hellboy–watching the ‘making of’ documentary and being surprised they didn’t just use CG.

But Gremlins isn’t just odd because it’s visually interesting, it’s also interesting–and amusing–because they made it to amuse the audience. There is no reality in the storytelling–the Gremlins know pop culture references within an hour of birth–and once you let it go, Gremlins is amusing. A lot of it doesn’t work. For example, the connection between “gremlins” in machines to the Gremlins of the title, that’s all forced. It’s not funny enough either, though I saw the second one before the first, and I think they got that one right.

Oh, and I love how all the characters seem to meet just before the film begins. Presumably, since it’s a small town, everyone would know how Phoebe Cates’ dad died. No one does. It just doesn’t work that there’d be these young stars stuck there with no other young people around… the small size of the town really limited that aspect of the film’s “reality.” It gets the quotation marks because I’m not sure they cared about reality too much. You can’t force a purely amusing film–Gremlins writer Chris Columbus has been trying to do that again for twenty years–so it’s an admirable feat.

I’m trying to think if there’s anything I forgot… Hoyt Axton is really good… I think that’s it….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Chris Columbus; director of photography, John Hora; edited by Tina Hirsch; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Michael Finnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Zach Galligan (Billy), Phoebe Cates (Kate), Hoyt Axton (Rand Peltzer), Frances Lee McCain (Lynn Peltzer), Polly Holliday (Mrs. Deagle), Keye Luke (Grandfather), John Louie (Chinese Boy), Dick Miller (Mr. Futterman), Jackie Joseph (Mrs. Futterman), Scott Brady (Sheriff Frank), Harry Carey Jr. (Mr. Anderson), Corey Feldman (Pete), Glynn Turman (Roy Hanson) and Judge Reinhold (Gerald).