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!

Steel Magnolias is a Fantastic Weepy about Female Friendships

Upon hearing the premise of “Steel Magnolias” (1989) – a group of southern women share secrets and advice in a Louisiana beauty parlour- I was a tad skeptical as to whether this flick would be any good. However, the inclusion of renowned actresses such as Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Daryl Hannah and Shirley MacLaine in the cast, not to mention the successful stage play off which it is based, I was convinced to check out this movie. And boy, am I glad I did.

As the story opens, nurse Shelby (Julia Roberts) is due to be wed to Jackson (Dylan McDermot), a hotshot lawyer. Her loving, yet shielding mother, M’Lynn (Sally Field), frantically assists her in preparing for the nuptials. Also at the centre of the story are sunny beautician Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton), Annelle (Daryl Hannah), her demure, recently appointed assistant with a questionable past, and Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine) and Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), a pair of wealthy widows who occasionally butt heads more often than not.

These six women are there for each other, through thick and thin. When Shelby, a diabetic, announces her pregnancy shortly after the wedding, M’Lynn is cautious of the risks having a child could potentially bring to her daughter’s body, but is nevertheless supportive of the decision. As Shelby’s disease starts to take its toil on her, M’Lynn soon realizes that she needs the friendship of the group at the beauty salon more than ever…

The playwright behind “Steel Magnolias”, Robert Harling, based the character of Shelby on his sister, Susan, who also battled against diabetes for most of her life, and eventually finally succumbed to the condition. Harling himself cameos as the pastor who marries Jackson and Shelby at the beginning of the movie.

While the male actors are decent enough, with Dylan McDermot, Tom Skeritt and Sam Shepard all delivering strong performances, this is ultimately a woman’s picture, as their distinctive personalities and problems drive the story along. They are all given a chance to come into their own. MacLaine and Dukakis offer some comic relief in addition to the harrowing main story line with their witty verbal banter. Daryl Hannah is unrecognizable as the initially frumpy Annelle, who gradually becomes her own person throughout the flick, thanks to the nurturing of  Dolly Parton’s  Truvy. Hannah was seen as being too attractive to portray Annelle at first, but the filmmakers reconsidered when Hannah turned up to her audition dressed dowdily.

At the heart of the story is Shelby’s relationship with M’Lynn. The two actresses are suitably effective, with Field giving her performance her all as the distraught mother determined to do right by her daughter. Roberts is just as impressive in one of her earliest roles, going on to receive an Oscar nomination in the process.

I hereby award “Steel Magnolias” a total of four out of five stars for its ability to tug at the heartstrings. Be warned, you will need plenty of tissues on hand towards the end! I would also recommend the 2012 television version, featuring Queen Latifah as M’Lynn.