“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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“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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science just got a whole lot Weirder…

Filmmaker John Hughes is known for his ability to connect with teenagers through his movies about their lives, and the problems they may face. Examples of some of his earlier work consists of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles”, among others. But one of the many teen-orientated flicks that he directed stands out distinctively is “Weird Science”. By throwing a dash of science-fiction into the mix alongside his usual bout of adolescent hiijinks, you can be sure that you’re in for quite a series of events.

The movie stars Hughes’ regular muse, Anthony Michael Hall, as Gary, and Ilan Mitchell-Smith as his best friend, Wyatt. As you might expect, Gary and Wyatt are two hopeless geeks who secretly long to have girlfriends. When they’re publicly humiliated by thuggish bullies Max (Robert Rusler) and Ian (a young Robert Downey Junior) as punishment for lusting after their girlfriends, Deb (Suzanne Synder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson), Gary and Wyatt decide that it’s time to take action once and for all.

Desperate for a chance at being popular, Wyatt persuades Gary to create their ideal woman from a computer (as you do), inspired by the movie “Frankenstein”. To their surprise, the plan is actually effective when an alluring woman (Kelly LeBrock) materializes and inquires to the bemused boys “So, what would you little maniacs like to do first”?

After the initial shock has worn off, Gary and Wyatt gift their creation with the name “Lisa”, after a former crush of Gary’s who didn’t reciprocate his feelings. Lisa makes it her mission to show the nerdy teenagers some fun, so treats them to a night on the town, ending with Gary getting completely drunk. She becomes a sort of older sister to them, instead of the object of lust they anticipated.

The trio then encounter Wyatt’s mean-spirited older brother, Chet (Bill Paxton), who takes sadistic pleasure in bulling his younger sibling. However, Lisa has some tricks up her sleeve which just might inspire the boys’ confidence, and encourage them to take risks, as well as serving up a healthy dose of comeuppance for their tormentors…

“Weird Science” isn’t one of Hughes’ best flicks, with the jokes being cruder and the element of fantasy is a prominent element here. However, with intelligent nerds being the protagonists, and the story takes place in the fictional suburb of Shermer in Chicago, a common setting in Hughes’ work. All of the main cast are on form here, with Hall in particular excelling as the most assertive of the geeks, though Ilan Mitchell-Smith has some interesting moments, making it sad that he retired from acting only six years following the movie. As for LeBrock and Paxton, they clearly have fun in their roles, and their best scenes have the two of them together, where Lisa is successfully intimidating Chet into treating Gary and Wyatt with respect.

I give “Weird Science” a total of four out of five stars, as it has funny moments of dorky comedy that teens of 15 and over should appreciate. Among some of of the risky forms of content for younger kids are in the form of swearing, teen drinking ,some shots of female nudity on a computer monitor, and a team of bikers crashing a party. If you enjoyed this title, then check out the 90’s TV series, “Weird Science”, starring model Vanessa Angel as Lisa.

The GhostBusters are on call for more Ghostly Thrills…

Hey everybody, my apologies for not having posted any reviews of movies from the 80’s in quite a while. However, the good news is that I’m back, and with several movies under my belt. This time round, I’m going to shine the spotlight on a movie that needs no introduction, and is especially notable for its infectious theme song- “Ghostbusters”(1984).

Everybody agrees that “Ghostbusters” is one of the most defining movies to come from the 80’s, not least because of the chemistry of the main actors, in addition to the light-hearted comedy. With Ivan Reitman directing, and the comedic talents of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd to add the laughs to a franchise which offers many thrills and sci-fiction adventures.

The first film sees disgraced college scientists Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) being fired from Columbia University following an attack by a library ghost. Hoping to rid the city of ghosts once and for all, they employ the only method they deem effective- to go into business as a professional team of ghost exterminators. They set up headquarters in an abandoned firestation, and have limited success at first. When more ghosts start plaguing New York, they enlist a forth Ghostbuster, ex-marine Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson). Eventually, it transpires that the ghosts are emerging from the apartment of Venkman’s would be love interest, Dana (Sigourney Weaver). Our heroes have to prevent Dana from being possessed by demonic sources, as well as facing diabolical EPA agent, Walter Peck (William Atherton), who plots to thwart the Ghostbusters’ success.

The sequel, “Ghostbusters II”(1989) sees the gang, having gone their separate ways, only to be beckoned back to their ghostbusting ways. Venkman reconnects with his ex girlfriend, Dana Barrett, who is now divorced and living alone with her infant son, Oscar. Little do they know, paranormal forces are out to possess Oscar…

I always enjoyed the first movie immensely, as it was offered a fresh plot and a fantastic cast. Bill Murray, in my opinion, is at his best when he’s dishing out sarcastic barbs, but is actually a softie underneath. He’s well supported by Dan Akyroyd as the goofy, excitable Stantz, the late Harold Ramis as stoic intellectual Spengler, and Ernie Hudson as the only sane man amongst the bunch of scientists, and Rick Moranis as Dana’s nebbish neighbour with a hopeless crush on her.

The second film, while not terrible by any means, is more divisive than the first, having much of the same plot as the original, although it does have some fans. I think that it’s credible enough, although it lacks some elements that made the initial installment great, namely the climatic showdown with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. There’s a third film rumoured to be in the works for 2016, so let’s hope it has the charm and energy of the movies which preceded it.

The “Ghostbusters” movies contain many jump sequences, crude language and racy jokes that may pass some kids by. On the contrary, older kids aged 12 and up may be suited to watch these movies. I give “Ghostbusters” four and a half stars out of five, as there’s no shortage of fun, and it’s become a notable staple of 80’s pop culture. Now, who you gonna call?