Tag Archives: John Hughes

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York

Part of watching and enjoying Home Alone is letting go of all the improbability and nonsense and just taking the film as it comes. My 6 year old nephew Ben watched it recently and had this to say about it:

We watched it too, and Sean reviewed it himself, though less adorably. I’m sure you know its premise: it’s about an 8 year old kid named Kevin (Macauley Culkin) (in the first take of the above video, Ben called him “Cameron” and I think it’s really funny that in the 30 years since this movie was released, it is now more common to know a Cameron than a Kevin) who accidentally gets left behind at home when his whole family takes a European vacation. His mother (Catherine O’Hara) struggles to get home to him while Kevin has quite an adventure thwarting two burglars (Daniel Stern, Joe Pesci) from terrorizing his house. You really have to stretch the imagination to allow for an 8 year old’s prank assault on two hardened criminals, and his family’s supposed inability to have virtually any adult in the entire city of Chicago check in on him. But it’s fun.

Home Alone did such voracious box office that they couldn’t help but come out with a sequel. Now, it’s fairly common to leave a kid behind. My mom was vigilant and caring but with 4 daughters and a mini van that was often brimming with extra hangers-on, I myself was left behind as a kid and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one (were you? have you done it as a parent?). I was peeing when they left and wasn’t too distressed to find my family had disappeared. I knew right away what must have happened and didn’t panic. I’m sure my family came back for me within minutes. But I bet it’s even easier to forget a kid now, with parents splitting duties with different cars and different destinations. It happens. But really, has it ever happened that someone BOARDS A PLANE AND LEAVES THE COUNTRY without their kid? I realize this was pre-9/11, but there were still security measures. You still had to check your luggage and have your passport checked and your boarding pass printed and your carry-on scanned through security. How did they continually not notice their youngest was missing? The one that writer John Hughes has repeatedly pointed out is a troublemaker, a constant thorn in almost everyone’s side. Wouldn’t the silence have been a dead giveaway?

Anyway, Home Alone 2 asks us to believe that it has happened again. The very next year, Kevin’s family plan to spend Christmas in Florida. Kevin gets as far as the airport but is separated from the group but is somehow not missed. And wouldn’t you be extra vigilant after the first time? And despite airport security being a general thing, Kevin doesn’t just get left behind but in fact manages to board a flight to New York. And then has a whole vacation, checking himself into a swanky hotel with his dad’s credit card and going to town on room service. And if your incredulity was already meeting its limit, get this: the very same criminals who tried to rob him last year have just been released from prison and are headed for – you guessed it – New York City, which Kevin, though just a 9 year old boy, must defend with a very similar set of elaborate pranks, frankly enough to kill just about anyone and yet somehow not enough to discourage these two dimwits even though there isn’t a heist in the world that’s worth this aggravation.

This movie strikes me as incredibly dated, though I love seeing all these weird little relics of the past – a carbon paper credit card imprinter, a hotel room key that’s actually a key, a cameo by Donald Trump that nobody boos.

The thing that I feel is unforgivable? Kevin’s family have had a whole year to rehearse him in emergency protocol. Last year they were unprepared. Kevin could have made one call to a grandparent or a family friend or the goddamned police, and been done with it. Again, in New York, he decides to take on criminals himself rather than asking a grown-up for help. How dumb is this kid?

Home Alone 2 takes no chances, it simply replicates the first movie almost exactly, sometimes line for line, scene for scene. It’s more a remake than a sequel, but what the heck, give the people what they want!

[Note: Disney+ has announced plans to reboot the franchise. Jojo Rabbit‘s breakout star, Archie Yates, is set to star (not as Kevin McCallister, but as another neglected child), and Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney are also set to appear.]

[And another note: check out more of Ben’s reviews on Frozen 2 and Detective Pikachu.]

Ode to John Cusack

It’s impossible not to encounter an AWFUL lot of John Cusack when you’re perusing teen comedies. He practically had right of first refusal back in the 80s.

Say Anything

This one seems to lose a lot of sparkle the more I see it, and I’m not sure if it’s because it’s not aging well, or I’m not. Either way, the things that used to get me – the Peter Gabriel on the boomsayanything box, the post-virginity snail mail, it all starts to feel like not quite enough. Like, is this really the gold standard? I’m not sure if it used to impress me, but nowadays I just can’t shake the feeling that Lloyd Dobler is a loser. “Noble underachiever” is a phrase that can only be used by someone with the word teen at the end of their age. Unemployed, unambitious lazybones is more like it. Does that make me sound like my mother? Sure he’s sweet, but I like my sweet with a steady paycheque and some hobbies that go beyond stalking.

Better Off Dead

This movie is so bad I can’t even. Hadn’t seen this before, and should have kept it that way. The effects are terrible, although not quite as terrible as the wigs on the stunt doubles, but nothing holds a candle to the terribleness of the sentient hamburger animation. I can’t believe this didn’t derail Cusack’s career then and there. This comedy, which deals repeatedly with Lane (Cusack) better-off-dead-burgerwanting (and attempting) to kill himself because his girlfriend dumped him, should be much too dark for a burger playing an Eddie Van Halen song. And yet!

Turns out, no one hates this movie more than John Cusack. He walked out of the movie after 20 minutes of the screening and accused writer-director Savage Steve Holland of tricking him. “Better Off Dead was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don’t speak to me.” He felt used and foolish and finished working with Holland only out of contractual obligation. Too bad they don’t mention any of this on the back of the DVD.

Sixteen Candles

Poor Molly Ringwald. She’s trying to turn 16 and it’s all going horribly wrong. John Cusack is only in this peripherally, as a skinny little nerd, but even he’s not enough to keep the nostalgic glow sixteencandlesalive. Matt recently re-watched this and couldn’t get over the overt racism – a gong literally sounds every time not-at-all-racistly-named Long Duk Dong comes on-screen. For me, it was the rape that was unbearable. There’s sexism throughout the movie, of course, but rape is rape. This isn’t creepy or questionable. It’s legally, certifiably, conviction-worthy rape, but the movie plays it like it’s just par for the course. John Hughes died in 2009, recently enough that a look back should have been painful, but we’ll never know what he thought because he all but retired from the spotlight in 1991 after John Candy died suddenly of a heart attack. He wrote a few terrible scripts – Maid In Manhattan, Drillbit Taylor – under a pseudonym but kept his privacy well-guarded. He was nevertheless a genius of his generation and I wish we could have heard him say he knew now that it was wrong. Because this movie does get it very, very wrong.

Home Alone

I thought I was too old to see this movie in the theatre. Now I have probably watched it ten times in my 30s (all by choice). It is somehow a sweet movie despite little Kevin nearly killing poor Harry and Marv (according to some doctor on the internet, they would have died several times over in real life from the injuries Kevin gives them). It is somehow a tale of a mother’s love for her son even though Kevin’s parents are totally neglectful.  After all, if they had just sat in coach instead of abandoning their kids there, Kevin’s parents would have clued into the fact that they were missing their son (and as an added bonus they could have prevented their other kids from terrorizing the rest of the passengers on the plane). It is a story of an old man saving the day on Christmas Eve, but also apparently taking great pleasure in scaring the neighbourhood kids the rest of the year. And be sure not to think too hard about how Harry and Marv ever got away with any of their alleged string of burglaries, when every step of the way they get thoroughly out-schemed (as well as savagely beaten) by a ten year old.

So how have I watched this so often and enjoyed it every time? Because this movie just works. It hits all the right crazy notes. It captures the magic of being a kid at Christmas. It doesn’t worry about justifying its ridiculous premise or anything else along the way. It takes pleasure in ramping up the craziness at every opportunity. It is truly joyful, a live action cartoon, a John Hughes caper to end all John Hughes capers. For accuracy’s sake, I checked the back of the DVD case to be sure that the late great Mr. Hughes had, in fact, written this movie but I was sure he had. It has his fingerprints all over it and that’s a wonderful thing.

Hands down, this is my favourite Christmas movie, for what it is and for what it captures. By the way, don’t bother with any of the terrible sequels, just watch this one three or four times and you’ll be far better off.

Ten wet bandits out of ten.

101 Dalmatians (1996)

Pongo the highly intelligent dalmatian is not just Roger’s best friend, he’s his alarm clock, personal assistant, and milkman. Roger is a video game developer but no one’s interested in his dalmatian game because it lacks a proper villain, a desire to annihilate.

Meanwhile, at the House of DeVil, Cruella (Glenn Close) runs a fashion empire and her look would makes Miranda Priestley look like a schlub; indeed, the devil wears DeVil. Anita (Joely Richardson), owner of Perdita, and one of Cruella’s top designers, attracts Cruella’s attention and inspires a spotted fur coat that has her boss salivating for the soft fur coats of dalmatian puppies. Unbeknownst to Anita, Cruella will stop at nothing to get her hands on the real thing. And thanks to a mutual swim in a park pond, Anita and Roger meet, and their dogs fall in love. So do they of course, and after a double wedding comes a double pregnancy (perhaps it’s lucky that Cruella only covets the skins of puppies and not babies).

Fifteen puppies come, and Cruella shows up with a cheque and a sac before Perdita’s even licked them clean. Not liking the wild glint in her eye, Anita and Roger refuse to sell them to her in a true moment of no fucking kidding.

Cruella kidnaps them anyway of course and only a strange network of animals can get them back.

Over 200 dalmatian puppies were trained for this film, and 20 adult dogs as well, some of them truly frightened of Glenn Close in full costume, hair, and makeup. I don’t know how costume designers Rosemary Burrows and Anthony Powell failed to score an Oscar nomination for their wondrous, over the top looks.

John Hughes, who wrote and produced, got the biggest paycheque for this film than for any other in his career because he snagged a piece of the merchandising and a staggering 17 000 different items were pumped out for the film’s release. There’s definitely a Hughes flavour to the film, particularly in the second half when the movie starts to feel like a doggie version of Home Alone.

This is perhaps the first of Disney’s live action remakes, and another, a prequel starring Emma Stone as Cruella, will hit theatres this spring.