“Spaceballs” – Going where No “Star Wars” Parody has gone Before

On the 25th of May, 1977, a little movie entitled “Star Wars”: A New Hope was released in theatres worldwide.  A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away,  Luke Skywalker, ( Mark Hamill),a humble farmboy, gets thrust into an intergalactic war, and must rescue a princess from distress. As you all know, the franchise is possibly one of the most iconic out there, next to “Lord of the Rings”, “Harry Potter”, “James Bond” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of this acclaimed series. So, to celebrate, I’m going to review  Mel Brook’s 1987 parody “Spaceballs”, which gleefully sends up all of the common tropes and plot lines from George Lucas’ classic space odyssey adventure, and while the plot closely rehashes many elements of the original trilogy, it also pokes fun of other TV shows and movies, such as “Star Trek”, “Jaws”, “Alien” and “Planet of the Apes”, in very much the same fashion as the “Airplane” or “Naked Gun” movies!

In “Spaceballs”,  the villainous Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) plots to capture spoiled princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) and deprive her planet Druidia of air. It’s up to scruffy space jockey Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his loyal mawg (Half-man, half-dog) sidekick Barf (John Candy) to step up to the challenge and rescue her. Along the way, they encounter some parodies of “Star Wars” characters, such as the CP30 inspired bot, Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers), gangster Pizza the Hut (Dom DeLuise), and the sage mentor Yoghurt (played by Brooks himself), who advises our heroes to use the power of “the schwartz” when necessary.

In one word, “Spaceballs”, is, well, ridiculous. However, it’s cheerfully aware of its own absurdity, and has the characters acknowledge that they’re in a movie several times by openly “breaking the forth wall, so to speak. This is brilliantly conveyed in one particular scene, in which Helmet and his underling, Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) actually watch “Spaceballs: The Movie” in order to get a solution to their current dilemma, and end up viewing themselves viewing themselves in the actual scene that we’re currently watching! A similar joke also involves Yoghurt brandishing “Spaceballs” merchandise, including t-shirts, lunchboxes and a flamethrower.

Another favourite gag towards the end of the movie involves a cameo from the late actor, John Hurt, in a replication of his famous “chestbuster” scene from the original “Alien” (1979) movie. This  comes complete with the alien performing a ragtime dance number in the style of Michigan J. Frog from the old cartoon short “One Froggy Evening”. Hurt’s reaction of “Not again” , makes the spectacle all the more funnier.

John Candy, as always, is as brilliant with his jokes as ever. In addition to Yoghurt, Brooks also plays ditsy Spaceball president  Skroob, and Rick Moranis, best known for playing nerdy characters in works such as “Ghostbusters” and “Honey, I shrunk the kids”.

“Spaceballs” is a fun movie to watch, and I give it 3 out of 5 stars in total. Even if you’re not a fan of the “Star Wars” franchise, you may enjoy many of the cultural gags and references that are scattered throughout.  The movie was followed by a short lived animated adaptation decades later, but it didn’t fare too well, and was axed by the network before it even aired. Its brand of humour won’t suit to everyone’s tastes. Nevertheless, I would still recommend giving this flick a watch, anyway. May the schwartz be with you!

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“The Princess Bride”-An Inconceivable Fairy Tale

Love is in the air, as we have reached one of my favourite holidays of all time- Valentine’s Day! And what better way to mark the occasion than to view a romantic movie? And if the latest “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie doesn’t quite cater to your idea of “romance”, then perhaps “The Princess Bride”, Rob Reiner’s 1987 adaptation of William Goldman’s novel of the same name, can be of some assistance. While some male members of the audience may be instantly turned off as soon as they hear the title, believing it to be a girly “kissing” story, it’s more about more than just “a princess bride”. It’s got elements that will keep young boys satisfied too, such as pirates, adventure and revenge!

We start off with a grandfather (Peter Falk) settling down to tell his sick young grandson (Fred Savage) a bedtime story. The tale he weaves tells of Westley (Cary Elwes), a lowly farmhand who works for the family of Buttercup (Robin Wright), whom he loves. When she realizes that she reciprocates  his feelings, he leaves in order to make his fortune so that they can get married. However, she hears that Westley’s ship has been attacked by by the fearsome Dread Pirate Roberts, with Westley being presumed dead. Resigning herself to the loss of her one true love, Buttercup doesn’t resist when vile Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon) chooses her as his intended bride, with the hidden agenda of murdering her in order to profit from her death.

Buttercup gets kidnapped by a trio of outlaws- Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a Sicilian mastermind who greatly overestimates his own brilliance, gentle giant Fezzik, (Andre the Giant), and dashing Hispanic swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), who wishes to avenge his father’s murder at the hand of six fingered swordsman, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest). Shortly afterwards, they encounter a mysterious masked bandit known as the Man in Black, who is determined to rescue Buttercup…

“The Princess Bride” was simply a joy to watch. I hadn’t seen it since I was about 8 years old, and I remember being transfixed by the fantastical elements and sets. The characters themselves are immensely memorable. The villains are entertaining without being too hammy or over the top. The cameo appearances by notable celebrities contained no shortage of jokes. One of my favourites includes  British comedian Peter Cook as the “Impressive Clergyman” who mangles phrases such as “Mawage” and “Twue wuv”. It simply has to be seen to be believed! Plus, Billy Crystal, unrecognisable under make up and prosthetics appears in one short sequence as medicine man, Miracle Max, with Carol Kane as his nagging wife, Valerie.

Another thing I should note about this movie is that it’s incredibly quotable. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s almost  guaranteed that you can recite lines from it at random. Some of these include “as you wish” , “Have fun storming the castle” and “Inconceivable”. But the most famous quote possibly has to be (all together now!): “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”!

One aspect of the story that I didn’t expect to enjoy was the framing device between the grandfather and his grandson. Usually when a movie’s main narrative is depicted as one character telling it to another, it can get a little jarring to be pulled out of the action just to show the character’s reactions to the events at hand (as seen in “The Notebook”, Reiner’s own “Stand by Me” and virtually any episode of “How I Met your Mother”). Not so much in this case.  The cutaways to Savage and Falk flowed naturally, and didn’t attract attention away from the main story. If anything, they only enhanced them.

“The Princess Bride” earns a full distinction of 5 out of 5 stars from me. It’s one of those classic movies that almost everyone can remember being a staple of their childhoods, and I’d definitely recommend showing it to younger kids. (And yes, there is some kissing involved!) Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

“E.T.”is a Magical Classic that Never Fails to Enchant

Greetings, fellow bloggers! For my Halloween review, I have decided to review the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic, “E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial”. Spielberg considers it to be a loose sequel to one of his previous works, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). It’s regarded as a children’s film, but it appeals to the entire family as well. It’s undeniably a classic, for both old and young alike, and is iconic for featuring memorable scenes and quotations. I had originally penned a review for “E.T.” elsewhere on the site, but decided to revisit the movie again, after binge watching many a “Stranger Things” episode!

The Plot in a Nutshell: 10 year old Elliot (Henry Thomas) is a lonely, alienated kid living with his sarcastic older brother Michael (Robert McNaughton), precocious little sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and his single mother Mary (Dee Wallace), who is still reeling from her husband having left her several months previously for another woman. Elliot is fetching a pizza in his back yard when he gets the feeling that something, or rather someone, is closely watching him.

It’s none other than the eponymous character, E.T., an alien who has been left behind by his own kind. Elliot is at first petrified of E.T., but then discovers that E.T. is just as lonely as himself, and wants to “phone home” to contact his own family, and alongside Michael and Gertie, makes it his mission to protect his new found ally from being discovered by their oblivious mother. Alas, sinister government agent “Keys” (Peter Coyote) seeks to take E.T. away…

My Favourite Scenes of the Flick: In a word, this movie is… timeless. Everyone remembers one significant scene from their childhood memories from this movie. That’s why it’s hard for me to choose just one moment. There’s the famous moon shot with the bicycle levitating across it, Elliot using  “Reese’s Piece’s” to lure E.T. out of hiding, E.T. going out treat or treating with Elliot and Michael at Halloween, and gleefully mistaking a kid dressed as Yoda from “Star Wars” to be one of his own kind, and my personal favourite, E.T. getting drunk off of some beer in the fridge, which causes Elliot to feel the effects of this in class, and revolt and unleash a gang of frogs from being dissected: “back to the rivers, back to the forest”!

While this is happening, E.T. watches “The Quiet Man”, the classic 50’s movie starring John Wayne as a retired boxer. As soon as the scene where he forcefully kisses Maureen O’Hara materialises, this causes Elliot  in his inebriated  state to kiss one of his pretty blonde school mates (Erika Eleniak)… only to find that she’s much taller than him. Thankfully, one of his buddies decides to help him out by allowing Elliot to stand on him so that he can have his kiss. This was a major “Awwww” moment for me when I was younger!

My Least Favourite Scenes of the Flick: It’s tricky for me to find a scene in this movie which I don’t like, but as a kid, the scenes towards the end of the movie where the government officials are invading Elliot’s home wearing spacesuits always gave me the chills as soon as they find out that there’s evidence of an alien in the dwelling. Watching it years later with a more mature perspective, it doesn’t come across as scary as it had been, but it’s still a tense moment.

Cast and Actor  Observations: For me, the casting in this movie is truly perfect. Henry Thomas is superb as the lonely Elliot, who finds solace in a similarly lost soul, and Robert McNaughton gets in a few comical moments as the initially aloof brother turned protector. Dee Wallace convinces as the mother who, for the most part, is unaware for the goings on surrounding her, as she’s so engulfed in her own grief. But the star performance for me was a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie. I just find her acting to be cute and endearing, and not irritating, as some child actors can be. I never fail to crack up at her declaring that she doesn’t like E.T.’s feet, in that matter of fact way that kids sometimes are particular to. As an additional note, Harrison Ford was to be cast as Elliot’s school principal who reprimands him after the frog incident. However, Spielberg felt that having such a well known thespian would distract audiences from the story, and ultimately sacked Ford.

My Take on “ET”: Part of the reason that “E.T.” is such a memorable movie even 34 years after it was first released is that it illustrates what it’s like to be a kid, especially during the chase scenes towards the end. (Word has it that Spielberg deliberately filmed the angle from the kids’ perspectives, so as to evoke a clear cut sense of opposition against authority). It’s without a doubt my  favourite movie by Spielberg, and one which I never get tired of watching. Plus, as I outlined in  my review of “The Goonies”, it gave me an appetite for “Reese’s Pieces” candy, an opportunity which “M and Ms” turned down, as they believed that the film would be a complete and utter flop. Needless to say, they ultimately came to regret the decision when “Reece’s Pieces” trumped them in sales.

Rating and Recommendations: “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” earns a full distinction of 5 out of five stars from me. It’s a fantastic movie which has aged well. It spawned several parodies, most notoriously in the form of the blatant rip-off that was “Mac and Me” (1988), but that’s for yet another review. The oldest I’d recommend a kid to be to watch this movie is 8 years old, as there are several scary moments. Also, the ending still manages to tug at my heartstrings, and likely will with old and young alike.  Happy watching!

Join Peggy Sue on an Adventure 25 Years into the Past…

Hi, everyone! I don’t know about any of you, but I have always been entranced by stories which feature the characters either time travelling to the past (likely before they were born) or to the future. When it comes to time travel movies, there are the classics (“Back to the Future”), the abysmal (the 2002 remake of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”, starring Guy Pearce), and the tremendously goofy ones (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”). That brings me to today’s movie, “Peggy Sue got Married” (from 1986), where Kathleen Turner gets the chance to relive her high school years.

The Plot in a Nutshell: Life isn’t looking too bright for Peggy Sue Bodell (Turner). She’s on the cusp of divorce from her wayward husband Charlie (Nicolas Cage), whom she married at the end of high school when she got pregnant. When she goes to her 25th high school reunion with daughter Beth (Helen Hunt) in tow, she meets up with her old school friends, including Richard (Barry Miller), former class nerd turned billionaire inventor. When she, alongside Richard as her King, is crowned as “Reunion Queen”, she ends up fainting on the stage.

When Peggy comes to, she’s shocked to discover that it’s 1960, and she’s been transported into her senior year of high school. After her understandable shock, Peggy is determined to do things right the second time around, as Peggy Sue Kelcher, where she’s expected not to drink, have sex or experiment with drugs. Peggy confides her  dilemma to the teenage version of Richard, and in turn for his solution to her time travel conundrum , offers him advice about future inventions in the 1980’s.   She becomes closer to her parents (Don Murray and Barbara Harris) and little sister Nancy (Sophia Coppola), fools around with mysterious Bohemian poet Michael (Kevin J. O’Connor), and attempts to prevent herself from getting tied down by Charlie at an early age. But will Peggy discover the reason she fell for Charlie in the first place, or does destiny have other plans in store for Peggy Sue?

Cast and Acting Observations: Kathleen Turner was 32 years old when she made this picture, yet she convincingly plays both a high school teenager and her 42 year old self. This isn’t an easy feat to achieve, but Turner pulls it off with enough charm to make this unlikely scenario plausible by just her performance alone. Nicolas Cage adopts a dodgy accent as Charlie, but nevertheless delivers all the right notes as a character who has more layers to him than Peggy or the audience initially gave him credit for.

Actors Before They were Famous: When I first watched the movie, I was greatly amused to see Jim Carrey in a supporting role as Charlie’s goofball of a best friend, Walter. In addition, future “Lost in Translation” and “The Virgin Suicides” director Sofia Coppola is Peggy’s preteen sister Nancy, five years before she become known for her less than stellar, but not downright horrible, turn as Mary Corleone in “The Godfather Part III”, which, like “Peggy Sue”, was directed by her father, the legendary Francis Ford Coppola.

My Favourite Scene(s) in the Movie:  I (and those of you who may detest Maths as much as I always have) got a kick out of the scene where Peggy awesomely lectures her sadistic teacher on how she won’t have have any need for Algebra in the future. But the real scene that makes the movie for me is when Peggy answers the phone in her home, only to realize that she’s talking to her long deceased grandmother (Maureen O’Sullivan). Overcome with emotion, she hurriedly flees, with her mother having to comfort her without realizing the true instigation behind her daughter’s outburst. Anyone who has ever lost anyone close to them can easily empathize with Peggy’s plight.

My Least Favourite Scene(s) in the Movie: While this may just be a ridiculous nitpick in an otherwise enjoyable movie, there was one scene that I found to be a little awkward. After Peggy has revealed her strange situation to Richard, they’re confused as to whether she’s in limbo or dead. Then Richard proposes testing out the “dead” concept, and proceeds to shove Peggy onto the path of an oncoming fire engine to determine this theory. While it’s rather short-lived (with Peggy leaping out of the way just before the engine hits home), it still unsettled me. If she hadn’t jumped away just in the nick of time, then Richard would have been accidentally, but directly responsible for her demise. I know that it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but still.

My Take on “Peggy Sue got Married”: I immensely enjoyed the movie, as I felt that it was a fantastic representation of time travel movies. It may inevitably draw comparisons with the similarly themed “Back to the Future”, which was released just a year prior to this this flick. However, “Peggy Sue” is a remarkable film in its own right, and an unexpected picture from the man who directed “The Godfather Trilogy”.

My Rating and Recommendations: “Peggy Sue Got Married” gets 4 out of 5 stars in my book, as it’s a compelling movie with sympathetic and engaging characters. If you’re intrigued by movies concerning time travel, then please feel free to check out my reviews for “Back to the Futureand Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure“.

“Scrooged” puts a Little Love into Christmas

The next Yuletide Christmas movie we’ll be covering is “Scrooged”, the 1988 retelling of the classic Charles Dickens novel, “A Christmas Carol”. We all know the basic plot: cold-hearted miser who abhors Christmas is shown the error of his ways by three ghosts, and redeems himself. This flick follows this formula to a tee, but updates it to a TV news station in the 1980’s.

Bill Murray stars in the Ebenezer Scrooge role of Frank Cross, a perpetually grumpy TV executive who will stop at nothing to ensure that his network gets the highest ratings. He plots to make all of his workers slave away on Christmas Eve by staging a live adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”. As Cross’ own memories of Christmas was less than fond, he takes his anger and bitterness out on his long-suffering assistant Grace (Alfre Goodard), and has alienated himself from his only brother, James (played by Murray’s own brother, John). When one of his employees, Elliot (Bobcat Goldthwait) poses an objection towards one of Cross’ promos for the network, he’s callously fired.

All of this leads into a very clear parallel of Dicken’s tale, especially when Cross is accosted by his old boss, Lew Hayward (John Forsythe), who warns him of the impending visit of three ghosts. There’s demonic cab driver, Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johanson), the nymph Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane), and the Grim Reaper-like Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Through these encounters, Cross second handly witnesses the events that transpired to convert him into the man he is at present, the miserable lives of James, Elliot and Grace thanks to his influence, and the loss of his former love, Claire (Karen Allen). Will this be enough to make Cross see the light?

The main reason I love this flick is because of Bill Murray’s conviction in the lead role. Similar to his character in “Groundhog Day”, Murray’s Cross undergoes a transformation from a selfish egotistic to a more civil individual. However, there are some moments which seemed contrived and false, such as the one where Cross gatecrashes the taping of “A Christmas Carol” to recite a monologue of what he’s learned due to his exploits. To me, this speech, while intended to be heart-warming and touching, instead seems forced. Granted, Murray does what he can in that scene to make it believable, but it still falls flat. Likewise, almost all of Cross’ interactions with the Ghost of Christmas Present involve her beating him up, which didn’t seem necessary at all. (It’s worth reporting that Carol Kane hated having to rough Murray up in their scenes together).

On the other hand, the plot is a unique retelling of a classic Christmas plot. I liked how it wasn’t a direct retelling of the tale everyone’s heard almost umpteen times, but placed its own unique spin on things. Some performances which stood out significantly to me were Alfre Goodard as the put-upon assistant, and Karen Allen as the sweet idealistic Claire.

In summation, “Scrooged” achieves two and a half stars out of five from me.  It’s worth watching for a different interpretation to “A Christmas Carol”, as well as hearing the Annie Lennox and Al Green cover of “Put a little love in your heart”. God bless us, everyone!

 

Enter the Labyrinth this Autumn…

One movie I always make sure to watch each Autumn is “Labyrinth”. The reasons for this could be because of it being one of the movies where we can see acclaimed puppeteer Jim Henson’s creations come to life, or watch future Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly delve in an extraordinary fantasy land beyond her wildest dreams. However, I’m going to go for the reason that most of you likely saw the movie was either because of David Bowie and his… ahem, rather tight pants, as well as seeing the Starman himself in a villianous role in a kid’s movie.

The story centres around Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a creative, if self-centred teenage girl, who is furious at her dad for remarrying so soon following her parents’s collapse of marriage and subsequent divorce. Sarah bides her time by seeking refuge in her own universe of fantasy. She despises her infant half-brother, Toby (Toby Froud), whom she blames many of her current problems on . This leads to her making a wish out of spite that the goblins from her favourite story would seize Toby and carry him away.

As misfortune would have it, her prays are answered by in the worst possible way, when Toby is captured by the Goblin King, Jareth (David Bowie). Sarah is assigned thirteen hours to reclaim Toby, or else he’ll be turned into a goblin for eternity. Along the way, she meets up with the dwarfish Hoggle (Brian Henson), who is double crossing her by secretly working for Jareth, as well as magnificent beast Ludo (Ron Mueck). Will Sarah manage to use her imagination to defeat Jareth and save Toby?

“Labyrinth” is one of those flicks where the setting of the movie is stunning to look at. Even though you know that’s it’s all a lavishly designed set when watching as an adult, as a kid, it’s perhaps the most magical kingdom you’ve seen. Likewise, the puppets still have the power to affect me with awe and astonishment, even years after I initially viewed this flick.

David Bowie, surprisingly enough for a non actor, really suits the role of the hammy, evil Goblin King. Yes, his performance borders on being campy and over the top at times, but to me, it’s all part of the movie’s charm. Jennifer Connelly is a fine actress, and although she’s been accused of showing little to no emotion at times in this movie, I feel as though she pulled off a convincing enough performance, especially given that she was only 15 years old when it was released.

If this movie has a weak point, I’d say it’s towards the end of the film, where certain scenes drag on, and don’t seem to go anywhere, in particular Bowie’s song and dance number (though I admit it’s fairly catchy).

I rate “Labyrinth” a total of 4 out of 5 stars. I recommend it to kids aged eights and up, seeing how it’s a fantasy adventure filled with vivid, exquisite imagery. On the other hand, I was dissuade very young children from watching, as they may be alarmed by the various creatures and suspenseful scenes depicted in this movie. Happy viewing!

Update: Upon hearing of David Bowie’s tragic passing on January 10th, 2016, “Labyrinth” is now tinged with sadness. I’d still recommend watching this movie, if only to see Bowie in his most notable film role. Rest in Peace, Starman in the Sky!

“Teen Witch” is not the Finest Hour for Witchcraft

Resuming my reviews of 80’s movies which are fantasy or thrillers, I am going to take you back to 1989’s corny movie, “Teen Witch”. You may have heard of the flick through the popular web video vlogger, “Nostalgia Chick”, when she reviewed it way back in 2008. The video inspired me to check it out for myself. And boy, was I in for quite a ridiculous, if entertaining watch!

“Teen Witch” was made to cash in on the success of the 1985 Michael J. Fox comedy “Teen Wolf”. However, it mostly catered towards boys. The solution for a more female orientated version? Make the female lead a witch. It concerns Louise Miller (Robyn Lively, sister of “Gossip Girl” actress Blake Lively), a dorky 15 year old girl who pines after star athlete, Brad (Dan Gauthier),but he’s oblivious to her existence, and is happily dating the perky Randa (Lisa Fuller). If that wasn’t bad enough, her sadistic English teacher Mr Weaver (Shelley Berman) continually harasses her on a regular basis in front of the entire class.

The week before she turns 16,  she has a chance meeting with psychic Madame Serena (Zelda Rubinstein), who reveals that Louise is one of the descendants of the Salem witches,and will inherit her powers on her 16th birthday. Louise’s powers enable her to exact revenge on her tormentors, make her nerdy date David disappear (who, despite being seen as less desirable than Brad, actually reminds me of a retro Buddy Holly), and turn her annoying kid brother (Joshua John Miller) into a dog, with water reversing these spells.

As Louise’s powers manifest, she uses them to make herself popular at school, and Brad eventually falls victim to her charms, so to speak. But her new found popularity causes friction with her best friend Polly (Mandy Ingber)…

“Teen Witch” is a movie more renowned for its mediocrity than its credibility. In fact, most of you who have been brave enough to watch the movie the entire way through might only remember the cheerleaders prancing around the locker room to a “new cheer” and declaring that they “like boys”, which seemed to be a thing in the 80’s. The boys in this flick aren’t immune to spontaneous dances either, as a trio of wannabe rapper guys periodically strut around the school corridors, with nobody appearing to bat an eyelid at how random this spectacle is. They come to fruition again when Polly faces off against their leader, Rhett (Noah Blake), thanks to Louise’s confidence boosting powers.

My general consensus of this flick is that it’s watchable enough, as long as you don’t take it  too seriously. Although I may mock it every time I see it, “Teen Witch” remains one of my all time favourite Halloween viewing movies. For that reason, it receives a score of 2 and a half stars from me. Top that!