Baby Boom. Directed by Charles Shyer. I have become more of a Diane Keaton fan over the years. Seeing Father of the Bride, Marvin’s Room and Crimes of the Heart last summer changed my mind about her likeability (and acting ability) and seeing Annie Hall and Sleeper again after many years proved Keaton’s performances to be better than my memory suggested. Baby Boom combines all of her best attributes into a funny, heartwarming comedy. The score by Bill Conti (yes, the man who created the Rocky theme) is so deliciously 80s that it’s awesome no matter what the context is in the film. You can’t go wrong with a romantic interest played by Sam Shepard, either. The other roles in the film are small enough that they couldn’t be fleshed out, although Harold Ramis, Sam Wanamaker, a young James Spader, Pat Hingle, Britt Leach and Carol Gillies did nicely with what they had.
Dirty Dancing. Directed by Emile Ardolino. As predictable as it is, Dirty Dancing is made in such a way that you want to watch. The opening credits, set to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” suitably set the tone. Although the film as a whole does not feel as much like the early 60s as does The Year My Voice Broke (reviewed below) – some songs like Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” (in this scene), while memorable, are too obviously 80s – its use of music is still a lot of fun. (And then, of course, there’s all that 80s hair.) Patrick Swayze is perfect for the role of Johnny Castle, merging his natural charisma and good looks with some truly excellent dancing. Jennifer Grey, who I will always think of as Jeanie Bueller, also does well as Frances “Baby” Houseman. Jerry Orbach, whom I love from “Law & Order,” does a fine job as Baby’s father, whose set-in ways dictate the Houseman household but lead to an emotional scene between him and his daughter near the end of the film.
Lethal Weapon. Directed by Richard Donner. As I’m sure is the case with many other people, I find it difficult to watch Mel Gibson movies. I find it incredibly difficult to detach myself from the 21st century mindset of awareness regarding his various violent, racist and/or misogynistic outbursts. Still, Lethal Weapon is an enjoyable movie with some truly impressive action sequences. Regardless of the occasional homophobic comments made by Gibson’s character, the screenplay is unexpectedly witty. Gary Busey makes for a formidable bad guy, involving Gibson in what is undoubtedly one of the greatest mud-soaked brawls ever captured on film. At the 1988 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Sound, losing to The Last Emperor. Extra points, though, for having a theme song by Honeymoon Suite whose chorus says, “even love can become a lethal weapon!”
Summer School. Directed by Carl Reiner. Say what you will about Mark Harmon’s acting on “NCIS,” but in this comedy, he’s absolutely hilarious as a gym teacher trying to teach a summer school English class for slacker students. A number of up-and-coming young faces dot the landscape of Ocean Front High: Patrick Labyorteaux, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Dean Cameron, Gary Riley (has anybody ever come forward to definitively prove if he’s alive?), Kelly Jo Minter, Shawnee Smith and Fabiana Udenio, among others. Co-written by Jeff Franklin, best known for creating the TV shows “Full House” and “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” the humor in Summer School is often broad and extremely silly, but it’s usually good-natured and sweet. Harmon has chemistry with his leading lady, a svelte pre-“Cheers” Kirstie Alley. Even director Reiner has a cameo as a teacher. Bonus: the film has a score by Danny Elfman!
The Year My Voice Broke. Directed by John Duigan. The pain of growing up and experiencing heartbreak in Australia circa 1962 is depicted beautifully in this film written by director Duigan. The film is anchored by its three adolescent leads: Noah Taylor as Danny, Loene Carmen (her debut) as Freya and Ben Mendelsohn as Trevor. Taylor is the actor best known in America, having had roles in Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, although Mendelsohn garnered great acclaim and awards for his chilling work in Animal Kingdom; in 2005, both Taylor and Mendelsohn appeared in Terrence Malick’s film The New World. Duigan’s film uses English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” as its main theme, casting an exquisitely haunting shadow over the proceedings. I get a lump in my throat just from remembering the feeling of watching the film and hearing that music.