“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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A “Wonderful” Love Triangle Movie

Hello everyone!  It’s back to the 80’s reviews, and what better movie to kick off with than “Some Kind of Wonderful” (1987), directed by Howard Deutch. It has the old familiar set up of the hero being caught between two contrasting choices of girls. Roger Ebert probably summed up the concept best in his review, “it is not about whether the hero will get the girl, it is whether the hero should get the girl, and when was the last time you saw a movie that even knew that could be the question?”

Eric Stolz stars as Keith Nelson, an artsy teenage mechanic from a working class background. His best friend is a tomboyish drummer named Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), and his dad Cliff (John Ashton), puts pressure on him to attend college, and get the education he never did, while Keith would much rather paint instead. He has a crush on the beautiful, seemingly unattainable Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). In a refreshing take on the normal procedure, Amanda comes from the same modest background as Watts and Keith, but as she hangs out with the “popular” crowd, this makes her “rich by association”.

After Amanda breaks up with her caddish boyfriend, Hardy (Craig Sheffer), Keith wastes no time in asking her out. She accepts his offer, primarily out of spite for Hardy.  This eventually leads to Amanda being shunned by her snooty friends for daring to date outside the “in” crowd. Meanwhile, Watts has some issues of her own, as she has developed unrequited feelings for her best friend…

If you feel that the story that I’ve summarized sounds a little familiar, it’s because it was based the movie “Pretty in Pink” (1986), which preceded this movie by one year. It was not only directed by Howard Deutch, but was scripted by the king of 80’s teen movies, John Hughes. It’s worth noting that the stories are eeriely similar to each other. While “Pink” is about Molly Ringwald trying to choose between a smooth rich guy Andrew McCarthy and quirky best friend Jon Cryer, “Wonderful”  has essentially the exact same premise with the genders reversed.

When Hughes produced “Pretty in Pink”, his original intention was to have Molly Ringwald end up with Jon Cryer’s lovable goofball Duckie. However, the test audience for that film weren’t receptive to that ending, taking it as a sign that the rich and the poor social classes didn’t belong together. The ending was then changed to the one we all know, in which Ringwald ends up with McCarthy’s. It’s funny to note that had “Pink” ended up the way that Hughes originally envisioned it, it’s highly likely that we wouldn’t have “Wonderful”.

If I had to pick between “Pink” and “Wonderful” as being the better film, I’d ultimately have to choose the latter movie, as the supporting characters are more fleshed out and entertaining in my opinion. In “Wonderful”, we have  Duncan(Elias Koteas), a skinhead delinquent pal of Keith’s,who steals many of his scenes,  Laura (Maddie Corman), his annoying younger sister, and Ashton as the open-minded parent who just wants the best for his son.

As for the main trio of Stolz, Masterson and Thompson, they all pull off their respective roles with aplomb. Stolz is appealing as the man in the middle, Thompson pulls off the typical popular girl role with freshness, and Masterson shines as the friend who pines away from afar.

“Some Kind of Wonderful” rates as 4 stars our of a 5 star rating. Although it’s predictable and slow moving in parts, it ultimately captures the decisions of high school, and retains the typical Hughes charm that come from his teen movies. “Some Kind of Wonderful” was the last teen movie Hughes was involved in, before he decided to try his hand at making more adult themed pictures. Nevertheless, “Wonderful” ensures that Hughes’ teen movie period went out with not a fizzle, but with a bang.

If you enjoyed this review, please feel free to check out the movie, “Pretty in Pink”, or you can read my review of the film here! Until next time!

Why We Won’t Forget About “The Breakfast Club”

 

There are some movies out there that are simply iconic, whether they define a certain genre. “The Godfather” is considered the ultimate gangster thriller, “Rocky” as the top sports flick, and “Star Wars” as the greatest Space fantasy epic. But when it comes to high school movies, one is nearly always lauded as being the one that nearly everyone will remember as being the one flick which actually gets what’s its like to be a teenager- 1985’s “The Breakfast Club”, written and directed by the  king of 1980’s teen movies, John Hughes (1950-2009).

The Plot in a Nutshell:   March 24th, 1984, Shermer High School. Five high school students, all different stereotypes, who would never interact with each other under normal circumstances,  are forced to spend a  Saturday together – in detention. There’s John Bender, the aggressive, rebellious tough guy (Judd Nelson), Brian, the intellectual, amiable nerd, (Anthony Michael Hall), Claire, the pristine and pampered rich girl (Molly Ringwald), Andy, the acclaimed wrestler (Emilio Estevez), and Allison, the anonymous eyeliner-clad   loner (Ally Sheedy). They appear to have nothing in common except for their detained status and contempt for their overzealous, pompous principal, Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason). Initially, they do nothing but snipe at each other, and keep their distance, but as the day gradually wears on,they begin to learn about each of their home lives, and how there’s more to each of them than their first impressions suggested…

Actor/Character Observations:   Everyone gets a chance to shine, and not a single cast member can be faulted for their performances.  Hall is appealing as the sweet, vulnerable nerd with a hidden dark side, and Ringwald manages to make a typical snobby popular girl archetype into a sympathetic character. Estevez shows off his emotional acting chops in a rather touching scene. Sheedy makes the most out of playing a character who doesn’t even speak for most of her screentime, so she has to rely reacting to the others, until she slowly comes out of her shell .She and Estevez get some engaging moments together.  Nelson is at the core of most of the proceedings as  the thug whose wisecracks and bravado mask some deep-seated emotional problems.

The adult characters aren’t as strong as the teenagers, but Gleason delivers in his role as a grouchy disciplinarian who has lost touch with his youth. Finally, John Kapelos, as Carl the Janitor, acts as a foil to Vernon, in that he can easily relate to the kids, and has much more common sense than Vernon.

 My Favourite Scene(s) in “The Breakfast Club”: Where do I even begin with this category? There’s the crazily awesome dancing sequence where the gang just lets loose and dance together in the library, the club’s big emotional therapy session, and Bender’s “Eat my Shorts” verbal smackdown to Vernon (which may or may not have influenced Bart Simpson’s catchphrase only a few years later) .

But the most poignant moment has to be that after the group have emotionally opened up about their respective issues, they deduce that they’ll never be like their abusive parents. This prompts Allison to utter  “When you grow up, your heart dies”. This line alone sums up the belief that once we grow up, we lose all touch of the innocence and the possibilities that supposedly attends our teenage years. It’s after this scene that our protagonists appear willing to defy the  fate of becoming just as cold and uncaring as their parents before them.

My Least Favourite Scene(s) in “The Breakfast Club”: The scene that I always find difficult to watch in an otherwise fantastic movie is the one which takes place after Claire shows off her “lipstick trick” in front of the others (i.e. her ability to put on lipstick using her breasts). Bender is the only one who is unimpressed, and proceeds to cruelly mock and belittle her in front of everyone else.  Granted, he did have a rough home life, but it was still no excuse for reducing the poor girl to tears.

Ratings and Recommendations: So, after watching the movie again, do I still like it as much as I did? Well, after watching it again, I have to admit that it’s still one of my top movies. Even though it had been a while seen I had last viewed it, I still recall relating to the characters and their plights. The reason that this movie continues to relate to modern audience  members is because nearly everyone can identify with the protagonists. Even if you don’t empathize with the kids, you can still feel for Carl and Vernon, much like my friend. It delivers the underlying message is that nobody is alone, and we’re all going through similar issues in our lives, without being preachy.  “The Breakfast Club”earns a total of 4 and a half out of 5 stars from me.

So what do you think?  Is “The Breakfast Club” a classic or just plain overrated? Which clique did you fit into in school? Feel free to let me know! But for now, I’ll let Simple Minds have the last word with their iconic ditty, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. Until next time!

“Sing Street” is a Fantastic Irish Musical Comedy

For my latest movie review, I’m going to critique a movie that was released a few months ago in my native country of Ireland, and features a copious amount of Irish actors and was filmed in Dublin- “Sing Street” (2016), directed by John Carney. It deviates from my usual reviews in that it’s a recent movie which takes place in the 1980’s, as opposed to being released in that decade. The movie has drawn comparisons to Alan Parker’s 1991 musical comedy, “The Commitments”, which is also a movie about a group of youths based in Dublin who put a band together. Despite both of them including actress Maria Doyle Kennedy in a supporting role, the plots of both flicks are vastly different.

The Plot in a Nutshell: The year is 1985. 15 year old Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) doesn’t have the most enviable home life. His parents, Robert (Aidan Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are constantly at each others’ throats. While his sister Ann (Kelly Thornton) copes by burying herself into her schoolwork,his college dropout brother Brendan  (Jack Reynor) smokes pot and makes wisecracks.  Due to the downsizing of the economy, Conor is transferred from his private school to Synge Street Christian Brothers School, a rough Catholic establishment. After running afoul of both schoolyard bullies and Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), the school’s oppressive principal, Conor spies mysterious budding model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) from across the street. Willing to impress her, he offers her the chance to star in his band’s music video. The slight catch? The band doesn’t exist.

Nevertheless, Conor gathers a motley crew of musicians, who remarkably have all the skills needed to create a band. Guided by Brendan, he starts to write original songs for the group, now called “Sing Street” after their school, in a bid to distract himself from his crumbling domestic life. Along the way, he starts to become closer to Raphina, and he begins to embark on a path that he never quite anticipated…

Character/Actor Observations: For starters, the young ensemble cast was very expertly cast. I felt that all of the teenage band members had a natural presence, and that they would be the type of youths that I would run into on a daily basis. As someone who is used to seeing actors in their twenties and beyond portray teenagers on screen, it was refreshing to see real teenagers take on these roles. I especially liked the prominent relationship that Conor has with Brendan, as they reestablish the bond through their love of music. Reynor steals many of the scenes that he appears in, and has excellent brotherly chemistry with newcomer Walsh-Peelo. Lucy Boynton is well cast opposite Walsh-Peelo, and many of their scenes together were tinged with the appropriate amount of tenderness required.

My Favourite Scene in “Sing Street”: Two scenes vie for being my favourite in the movie. The first comes about when Sing Street are shooting their first music video, entitled “The Riddle of the Model” (definitely NOT inspired by Raphina). The video looks amateurish, exactly as if a group of kids had filmed it, with the band sporting garish costumes. The song is additionally catchy to boot!

The second scene appears much later in the movie, when Sing Street are scheduled to preform a concert in their school gym. Conor fantasizes about the whole school breaking out into a dance, to their song, “Drive it like you stole it”, clearly influenced by “Back to the Future”, with the students decked out in 1950’s attire, much like that movie. Beneath the humour, however, there is an undercurrent of sadness to this sequence, but it still manages to be entertaining and visually stunning to look at.

My Least Favourite Scene in “Sing Street”: If I’m being completely honest, I was on board with this film and the characters until the climax. Without giving too much away, I felt that the end didn’t quite mesh well with the rest of the movie, and frankly seemed a little rushed in my opinion. Some of you may hold different opinions on the ending, and I’d be interested to know how anyone feels regarding it.

Actors Before They were Famous: The jury’s still out on whether any of the young cast will amount to greater things in the future. However, it still contains supporting performances from many notable Irish actors, such as Aidan Gillen from acclaimed Irish gangster drama “Love/Hate”, and the aforementioned Maria Doyle Kennedy, who has appeared in such works as “Downton Abbey” and “Jupiter Ascending”.

Ratings and Recommendations : If you’re a fan of 80’s bands such as Duran Duran, The Clash, A-Ha and Hall and Oates, then I’d suggest watching this movie, as it makes for a trip down memory lane of sorts for those who grew up in the 1980’s. For those who were not as fortunate to grow up in that era, such as myself, it can give an insight to how people lived in Ireland in that period.

In summation, “Sing Street” receives a grand total of 4 and a half stars out of five. If you enjoyed this movie, I’d suggest watching some of John Carney’s other directorial projects, such as the Academy Award winning “Once” (2006), or 2013’s “Begin Again”, for some more tales of musical triumphs and pitfalls. Highly recommended!

 

Take a Thanksgiving Road Trip with Candy and Martin

Happy December, everyone! In the run up to Christmas, I plan to review several Christmas themed 80’s movies to indulge in in the run up to the festive season. But before I delve into Christmas, I’d like to take a look at one of my favourite holiday movies of all time, as well as one of my favourite movies directed by the late, great John Hughes, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. Although Hughes was better known for his teen comedy flicks (namely “Sixteen Candles”, “The Breakfast Club, and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), “Planes…” was his first attempt to break out of his comfort zone and write more screenplays based around adults.

Set around Thanksgiving, the flick stars Steve Martin as Neal Page, a successful, if somewhat abrasive, advertising executive who simply wants a nice relaxing trip home to Chicago to be with his wife Susan (Lalia Robbins) and his children. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go to plan for Neal, as his plane undergoes a layover in Kansas. What really infuriates Neal is his constant meetings with overly chatty shower curtain ring salesman, Del Griffith (John Candy), especially since Del unwittingly stole Neal’s first taxi cab in New York City.

Neal and Del decide to team up to get to Chicago, but first they have to travel  not only via planes, trains, or cars, but on foot and by bus. Amidst all of the wacky hijinks which ensue, will the ill-matched duo ever get home?

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is ultimately my go- to movie to watch around the holidays.  In fact, the best part of the movie is seeing Del and Neal grow closer together. Interestingly enough, Hughes mixes up the formula of two oddly matched people being forced together by fate of circumstance by having Neal yell at Del for being irritating  come at the beginning of the flick, rather than at the end, so that we’re uncertain about how the events will unfold from this point onwards.

Among some of the movie’s highlights is having Neal flip out at a car rental agent (Edie McClurg) by delivering a rant which features several F-bombs in quick succession (which earned the movie an “R” rating strictly because of this scene), Del and Neal waking up in a motel, wrapped in each other’s arms, dreaming of their wives, complete with the most hysterical payoff imaginable, and Del “doing the mess around” while on driving duty.

In my opinion, Del Griffith is John Candy’s best and most sympathetic role of his career. Despite his relentless chatter and larger than life personality, we gradually learn a lot more about him which only makes him more endearing to the viewer’s eyes. Martin provides a terrific foil as Neal, who gradually allows himself to soften under Del’s influence. The song, “Everytime you go away”, originally by Paul Young, but covered here by “Blue Room”, always brings a tear to my eye, when it’s featured in the touching final scene.

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” earns the full distinction of 5 out of 5 stars. It may not be regarded as Hughes’ best movie, but to me, it’s certainly his most warm, sentimental film. If you’re interested in finding out more facts regarding this holiday flick, then tune in to vlogger “The Nostalgia Critic”‘s video “What you never knew about Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. It also inspired the good, if more foul mouthed, Robert Downey Junior movie “Due Date”.

Molly Ringwald Proves Perfection in Pink

Molly Ringwald has always proved to me to be a fairly versatile actress, as she can convince me that she is the character she’s portraying. She convinces as an insecure, meek teenager in “Sixteen Candles”, a stuck-up rich girl in “The Breakfast Club”, and as a quirky, if unpopular, girl from the wrong side of the tracks in “Pretty in Pink”. “Pretty in Pink” marks Molly Ringwald’s final collaboration with John Hughes, in a partnership I like to refer to as “the Molly Trilogy”. Ringwald was Hughes’ muse during the mid-eighties, until she decided to sever ties with him out of fear of being typecast.

That brings us to “Pretty in Pink”(1986), Ringwald’s last hit movie she made while she was still a teenager. She shines as Andie Walsh, a working class girl with a quirky fashion sense who lives with her unemployed single father, Jack (Harry Dean Stanton), who is still in turmoil following his divorce. Andie ends up acting as a parent to him mostly. While she isn’t particularly liked at school, she has a loyal, if occasionally wacky, friend in Philip F. Dale, A.KA. Duckie (Jon Cryer), who has a rather overt crush on her.

Andie works part-time at funky record store “TRAX”, which is managed by her madcap older friend Iona (Annie Potts), who acts as a substitute parent for Andie. She encourages her to ignore the rich snobs at school, and to attend her upcoming school prom. She has eyes for “richie” Blane McDonough (Andrew McCarthy), who shares her feelings, but is scared of being shunned by his preppy friends, especially by the pompous Steff (a suitably nasty James Spader).

Nevertheless, Blane plucks up the courage to ask Andie out on a proper date. While the party they attend at Steff’s house goes less than smoothly when Steff’s equally stuck-up girlfriend Benny (Kate Vernon) demeans Andie. However, Andie and Blane continue their relationship, despite the obvious objections of their peers, mainly from Duckie, who is still feeling the sting of his own rejection. But as prom approaches, will Andie choose Duckie or Blane? And will either of them appreciate the “unusual” prom dress she dons?

While “Pretty in Pink” is as a John Hughes film, he only wrote the screenplay. The directing credit instead goes to Howard Deutch,who directed a similar film the following year, “Some Kind of Wonderful”, which also focused on the social divides between the upper and working classes. Some have argued about the ending of Pretty in Pink, as well as the boy Andie ends up choosing, which is a divisive choice to most viewers. In fact, the film’s test audience weren’t satisfied  with the original ending, so it was promptly altered. This film continues to be one of my top picks of the 80’s, as I feel that all of the actors were credible in their respective roles. Molly Ringwald is as compelling as ever to watch, especially in the moving scene towards the end where she confronts her father about his need to get over his divorce and move on with his life. Andrew McCarthy oozes charisma as the chivalrous cool kid who wants to break free from the mould his friends have placed him in. James Spader adds an interesting contrast to McCarthy as an arrogant jerk we love to hate. Annie Potts offers terrific comic support as the zany, often unpredictable Iona.

But most would agree that perhaps the most memorable character in the ensemble cast is Duckie. Whether he’s lip-syncing to Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”, remarking that “there’s no candy machine” in the boys’ bathroom after some bullies forcibly push him into the girls’ bathroom, and insisting that “Blane” isn’t a name, but a major appliance ,  you can imagine that he’s an absolute hoot to watch!

The soundtrack for the movie is just as impressive, with The Smiths and the Psychedelic Furs (who sing the title track). But, for me, the best song included in the movie’s climatic scene has to be “If you Leave” by British band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. This song fits the mood of the scene quite well. In an episode of “The O.C.”, “The Goodbye Girl”, used a cover version of the song by Nada Surf, as a tribute to the movie. I would rate “Pretty in Pink four stars out of five, as it’s a quality 80’s movie that anyone could enjoy, for either the fashions or the tunes!