Tag Archives: Penelope Ann Miller

Big Top Pee-Wee (1988)

big top pee wee

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pee-Wee joins the circus.

Pee-Wee (Paul Reubens) is now living the quiet life of a farmer. He’s not too popular with the older townsfolk of the neighboring small town where he resides, but manages to find friends with the circus that blows in after a violent storm. Although he is currently engaged to Winnie (Penelope Ann Miller), who is the beautiful local schoolteacher, he soon finds himself entranced with the trapeze artist Gine (Valeria Golino), which causes a great deal of conflict especially after Winnie finds out about it.

I’m not exactly sure why Tim Burton wasn’t brought in to direct this sequel and it could have something to do with the fact that a different studio produced it, but his vision is noticeably missed. Randal Kleiser has directed some good movies of his own, but never anything in this type of genre. It was Burton’s direction and not Pee-Wee’s persona, which is rather one-dimensional and can only be amusing in small doses, that made the first film the success that it was.  Burton infused a lot of garishly colorful sets, oddball characters that complemented Pee-Wees’, and a surreal storyline that all helped to make it strangely intriguing and funny, but here we get none of that.

Instead it is a contrived and conventional storyline that goes nowhere and just isn’t original enough to be worth catching. The first half comes off as disjointed and makes little sense. Pee-Wee seems to have gone back into time as the people in the town where he lives all wear clothes and drive cars that look that they are from the 1940’s, but with no explanation for why that is. The presence of the circus is equally stupid as it seems to have quite literally ‘blown in’ with the storm and into Pee-Wee’s backyard.

The film really gets boring when it focuses on the romantic subplot, which is what takes up the film’s whole second half. One big issue is why would two really beautiful women find this man-child attractive to begin with? A much funnier scenario that would’ve kept more with the bizarreness of the character would be for him to have a romance with one of the sideshow freaks at the circus like the bearded lady, or even the Siamese twins, which could’ve been played up to an even funnier level by having both twins in-love with him and compete for his affections, or having one in-love with him while the other couldn’t stand him.

In either case the film is just not weird enough to be entertaining and it also leans towards the formulaic by having most of its humor aimed at the kiddie crowd, which the first one had thankfully avoided. A definite letdown when compared to the first one.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Randal Kleiser

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

adventures in babysitting 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s got babysittin’ blues.

After being stood up on a date high school senior Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) decides to take one last babysitting job. It is for the Anderson family and their two children: 7-year-old Sara (Maia Brewton) and her 15-year-old brother Brad (Keith Coogan), who secretly has a crush on Chris. Things start out okay, but then her best friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) calls stating that she is stranded at a rundown bus station and needs Chris’s help to get home. Despite her better judgment Chris decides to pack up the kids into her mother’s station wagon as well as Brad’s friend Darryl (Anthony Rapp) and takes them into the city to save her friend only to end up dealing with one disaster after another.

Shue’s presence, in her first starring role, is what really makes this movie work. She is not only beautiful, but shows perfect comic timing and despite the fact that she was already 24 at the time of filming still looks like a teen albeit on the very mature side. The kids though aren’t as good and although they do grow on you a bit as the movie progresses it would’ve worked better had she been babysitting a family of mutes. The Brad character is too bland and clean-cut, his friend Darryl is too obnoxious and the young Sara, who wears a stupid looking, winged, metal helmet for almost the entire movie comes off like an annoying little brat.

Miller’s Brenda character is the most irritating as she is ditzy and airheaded to the extreme and her scenes come off as forced humor at its worst. Since all the calamity starts when they get a flat tire I thought they could’ve used a different motivation for driving into the city, like going for ice cream or to a movie and cut the Brenda character out completely since it ends up being the film’s weakest part.

Although the setting is in Chicago and most of the scenes were filmed there a few of them weren’t including the frat house party, the restaurant scene and Anderson’s residence which were all done in Toronto. Either way it tends to paint Chicago in an unflattering light by playing up its urban stigma and for a film that seems squarely aimed at the preteen crowd it has some surprisingly edgy elements including 17-year-old prostitutes, a story thread dealing with a Playboy centerfold and even a few F-bombs.

However, on the whole it’s quite funny and entertaining; much funnier than I was expecting. I even found myself sitting on the edge of my seat in a few places including the scene where they have to walk across some ceiling rafters to escape from the bad guys as well as a tense, well-filmed climatic segment done on the glass roof of a skyscraper. The segment where Chris narrates her babysitting adventures to the background music of a blues band is great and her line “Don’t fuck with the babysitter!” which she states to an intimidating gang leader is classic.

In many ways this is quite similar to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but better. The comic scenarios aren’t quite as over-the-top, the adults aren’t so painfully stupid and the main character is thankfully not as smug. Like in Ferris there is also an amusing moment shown after the end credits, which I found to be just as funny.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Chris Columbus

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video