“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!

Advertisements

“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!

“Stranger Things” is a Marvelous Homage to 1980’s Pop Culture

Greetings! Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past two months, then you’ve probably  heard of the Netflix streamed series that took the world by storm earlier this year- “Stranger Things”, created by twins Matt and Ross Duffer. The Duffer Brothers have worked on shows such as “Wayward Pines” in the past. The Duffers have cited the works of Stephen King and John Carpenter  to be their biggest influences behind the show’s themes. They’ve even gone so far as to emulate the font from many of King’s novels for the title screenshot. It also pays homage to many of the classic movies of the 1980’s, such as “The Goonies”, “Stand by Me” and “E.T. : The Extraterrestrial” . It was a surprise summer hit that came right the heck out of nowhere, but instantly garnered a loyal fanbase.

After hearing about the rave reviews that it had been receiving, I decided to binge watch all eight episodes of the current series. After having viewed all of the episodes in about two days, I have so much to discuss regarding it.

The Plot in a Nutshell:  November 1983. In the sleepy suburban town of Hawkins, Indiana, 12 year old Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears suddenly under mysterious circumstances one dark night after playing “Dungeons and Dragons” with his circle of misfit friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) . His frantic mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder) is convinced that Will is still alive, and tries to communicate with him by using alphabet Christmas lights. Chief Hopper (David Harbour) is similarly anxious, and gradually uncovers a governmental conspiracy headed by the ominous Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine).

While searching for Will, Mike, Lucas and Dustin stumble upon Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a mystical young girl with a shaved head and psychic abilities. Feeling that she can help them locate Will, the boys take her in as one of their own. They speculate that whatever stole Will is a creature similar to the “Demogorgon” from “Dungeons and Dragons”, and dub it as such.  Meanwhile, Will’s older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) teams up with Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) to combat the Demogorgon, with the hope of finding both Will and Nancy’s best friend Barb (played by fan favourite Shannon Purser).  As these disparate parties continue to work upon the same case, things gradually come to a head in the final episode…

Actor/Character Observations: In my opinion, all of the actors were expertly cast in their respective roles. Winona Ryder, in particular, is convincing as a mother who has lost her child. While there are times when her performance can seem a little grating, it’s understandable, given the situation at hand. The child actors all give credible performances, particularly Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven. She doesn’t receive many verbal lines, seeing as Eleven has a basic gap in her language lexicon. However, what she lacks in words she more than makes up for with her eerie silence and haunting presence. The other preteens are also given time to shine, and their diverse personalities help to make them relatable to the audience. Dustin was easily my favourite of the bunch, as his one liners cracked me up to no end.

My Favourite Aspect of “Stranger Things”: What I love the most about this series is that it creates an essence of wonder of the 1980’s, and it’s evident that the Duffer brothers have a deep fondness for films and TV shows of that era. In addition to the original story, there’s references to nostalgic shows and pop culture that is synonymous with the 1980’s. Even if you come into this show not knowing what to expect, chances are that you’d be impressed by how spot on their references are in relation to the time period.  However, I occasionally found the obvious parallels, especially to “ET” and “The Goonies”, to be a little too overdone at times. On the other hand, that may be simply part of the show’s charm.

Ratings and Recommendations: “Stranger Things” receives a rating of 5 out of 5 stars,as I found “Stranger Things to be a riveting, enjoyable show.  What adds to its current popularity is that the narrative focuses on adults, teenagers and pubescent children, which means that several members of those demographics can relate to the various exploits that the cast get embroiled in, complete with supernatural elements. I’d suggest viewing this show if you’re a fan of Stephen King’s work, or if you’re a fan of supernatural movies such as “Aliens”.

As of this writing, a second series of “Stranger Things” has officially been commissioned,  and will be expected to air sometime in 2017. Here’s hoping that this upcoming continuation will supply all the answers to the questions that remain unanswered. But no matter what unfolds in Season 2, more stranger things will be afoot for our protagonists!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gremlins: The Unconventional Christmas Movie

Happy Christmas, all! I hope that you’re all having a Merry Holiday indeed! To commemorate the festive season, I’m taking a look at a movie most might associate more with Halloween than with Christmas:  Joe Dante’s 1984 hit, “Gremlins”. There has been many a debate as to whether the movie should be considered a Christmas movie.  However, seeing as most of the action primarily takes place in the festive period, it has made the list of my Yuletide viewing movies. It just happens to contain a series of seemingly harmless creatures which soon lead to chaos at the highest order…

As the movie opens, lovable inventor Rand Pelzter (Hoyt Axton) is searching in vain for a Christmas gift for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). He stumbles across the perfect present in a Chinese thrift shop, a cute, furry gremlin creature (“Mogwai”) by the name of Gizmo.

However, Rand is issued three warnings beforehand: not to get the creature wet, to avoid it from being exposed to direct sunlight, and most crucially, to never, ever feed it after midnight. As you can imagine, all of these rules end up being broken within a few short hours. This ends up causing multiple mogwais to revolt around the town. It’s up to Billy, his girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) and Gizmo to put a stop to the riot…

“Gremlins” has always been my favourite flick to watch a few days days prior to Christmas, just to get me in the festive spirit. Although you may argue that “Gremlins” sticks out in comparison to other holiday movies such as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street” or even “Home Alone”, but the contrast doesn’t hamper the enjoyment of the flick for me.

Some aspects of the movie may be darker than expected for a Christmas flick, such as the scene where Mrs Peltzer (Frances Lee McCain) faces off against all of the mogwais, eventually leading to a  satisfying demise via microwave. Another memorable scene comes about when Kate reaccounts to Billy the reason she despises Christmas, which always never fails to send a shiver up my spine, no matter how creepy and unusual it may seem to some.

While to some, “Gremlins” may seem dated and corny by modern standards (including a few shots where the puppeteer controlling the mogwais can be clearly visible upon several rewatches), but I can openly say that despite those shortcomings, I prefer this movie to all of its contemporary successors. It’s a classic movie which simply can’t be replicated.

“Gremlins” receives a total of three and a half out of five stars from this reviewer, as it’s a fantastically thrilling movie which I’d recommend viewing if you’re not in the mood for traditional Christmas flicks. And for once, the sequel movie, “Gremlins: The New Batch” is worth a watch! Merry Christmas to all!

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!