Serenades, Boomboxes and John Cusack make”Say Anything” an Endearing Love Story

As per a recent request, I’ve decided to make the 1989 Cameron Crowe romance movie, “Say Anything”, the subject of my newest post. Chances are, many of you have heard of the movie through the excellent 2010 high school comedy, “Easy A”. You may also have heard of the movie through the countless parodies that have been spawned of a particular scene involving a boombox playing Peter Gabriel’s “In your Eyes”. But the question is, how does the rest of the movie hold up in comparison to that scene?

The Plot in a Nutshell: Recent high school graduate Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is a kind-hearted, yet aimless underachiever with no set direction in his life other than kickboxing. Diane Court (Ione Skye) is the brainy class valedictorian with a scholarship in England ahead of her. They’re poles apart, but when they become an item the summer before college, no one is more opposed to the match than Diane’s divorced father, James (John Mahoney). The owner of a retirement home, James has always shared a special bond with Diane, to the point where he has encouraged her to “say anything” to him, hence the movie’s title. The last thing he desires is for his precious daughter to be distracted by who he deems to be an irresponsible slacker.

As the summer progresses, Lloyd and Diane grow more in love with each other, eventually leading to them consummating their relationship in the back of a car. Pressured by her father, Diane ends things with Lloyd. Never one to be deterred, Lloyd attempts to win back her affections, to no avail. Meanwhile, Diane grows to see that perhaps perfection isn’t everything, and that maybe Lloyd is the only person she can truly trust, as her beloved father comes under scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service…

Character/Actor Observations: This movie is one of my favourites in John Cusack’s filmography. In my opinion, Lloyd is one of the nicest, most sympathetic characters that Cusack has ever portrayed on screen. Though his earnestness, he creates a character whom the audience empathizes with. Ione Skye is an excellent choice as  Diane, conveying the unsureness  of a high school girl who, despite having all the makings of success, but has felt alienated throughout her school career as a result. Lloyd admires her for her intelligence, and despite her initially not knowing much about him, they hit it off. The chemistry between Cusack and Skye comes off as being authentic and unforced, and they have several gentle, charismatic moments together.

My Favourite Scene in “Say Anything”: My favourite scene from this movie would have to be when Lloyd and Diane are proclaiming their love to each other after Lloyd’s kickboxing session. After all they’ve been through, it makes for a heartwarming moment that they’re both vowing to be there for each other from that moment onwards.

My Least Favourite Scene in “Say Anything”: Although it’s hard for me to select  a scene from this film that I didn’t think worked well, I have to say that I felt slightly underwhelmed by the famous boombox scene. Perhaps this was due to having seen it relentlessly be lampooned through various forms of pop culture over the years, that when the scene itself popped up, it was something of a letdown for me. While I feel that it’s still a powerful, striking scene in its own right, I was ultimately let down by the hype surrounding the scene in pop culture.

Actors Before they were Famous: In addition to Cusack, his sister, Joan Cusack, appears in a few brief scenes, as Lloyd’s… sister. John Mahoney, of “Frasier” fame, appears in one of his earliest roles, pulling off an impressive American accent which hides his British origins. Finally, future “Six Feet Under” actress Lili Taylor has a supporting role as Corey, one of Lloyd’s female confidants, who advises him “The world is full of guys. Be a man, don’t be a guy”.

My Take on “Say Anything”: “Say Anything” has quite a straightforward story, but treats the main characters with sympathy. What I admire the most about this movie is that through his direction of the material, Cameron Crowe permits for us to view James as a humane character, and not a one dimensional caricature. The two most vital relationships in the movie are ones that Diane has with both Lloyd and her father. For me, one of the highlights I have watching the movie are seeing both of these respective relationships evolve and be altered. To my surprise, I found myself feeling sorry for James, as while some of his actions were questionable, he comes across as any parent who simply wants the best for his child, and not as a one note villain, as some other teen movies may have portrayed him as.

Ratings and Recommendations: “Say Anything” receives a distinctional rate of 5 out of 5 stars from me. Its story make be straightforward, but it’ll appeal to those of you who enjoy watching films which showcase the ordinary lives of teenagers, while not preaching or looking down on them. The narrative understands what it is to be a teenager with a seemingly impossible love.

If you enjoyed this feature, then I recommend some of Crowe’s other works, such as “Almost Famous”, “Jerry Maguire” or “Elizabethtown”. As always, if you have any suggestions for a movie or a TV show that I could review, please feel free to share them in the comments!

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!

Samantha’s Sweet 16th is anything but Sweet…

Picture the scene- it’s the morning of your 16th birthday. You’ve promised yourself that you’ll have “four inches of bod and a great birthday” ahead of you. But unfortunately, fate seems to be set against you, as nobody (except for your annoying kid brother) remembers the occasion, as they’re fixated on your older sister’s upcoming wedding. As if that wasn’t irritating enough, you’re in love with the hottest guy in the senior class at school, who doesn’t know that you exist, and already has a perky, if shallow, cheerleader girlfriend. Also, a dorky freshman is obsessed with you trying to “win” you,all for the sake of a bet with his friends, to the point that you’ll give him your underwear because you feel sorry for the guy. And that’s only the beginning of your troubles…

That’s the case with Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald), the heroine of  John Hughes’ 1984 teen classic, “Sixteen Candles”. As if that aforementioned scenario of her entire family forgetting her special day wasn’t enough, Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling), the boy in question, reads a note Samantha had written to her friend, where she declares her love for him. He sets out trying to track down Samantha, all while trying to rid himself of Caroline (Haviland Morris), his popular girlfriend. Meanwhile, geeky “Farmer Ted” (Anthony Michael Hall), is desperate to increase his popularity (or lack therefore). Samantha’s troubles are exemplified by foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe).Wild teen parties, a wedding day gone awry due to muscle relaxers and an underwear showing ensue. Can Samantha still have the birthday, and the guy, of her dreams?

As I’ve mentioned before, I simply adore John Hughes movies. He definitely possessed an astute insight to how the teenage brain works, as well as the awkward shenanigans that seem to be a package deal when it comes to being an adolescent. Many contemporary teenagers can relate with this, showing them that even in the 80’s, kids suffered through similar pitfalls as they do currently.  This leads to many laugh out loud moments, many due to the actions of the amicable Ted, who, to me, is the epitome of all the wannabe cool kids stereotypes that I am familiar with. The film also features early appearances of siblings John and Joan Cusack, as Ted’s just as geeky friend Bryce, and a girl with embarrassingly uncool orthodontic braces, respectively.

While the film has held up well where school life and teenagers are concerned, one thing that might not seem as funny to viewers in 2015 as it might have to those in 1984 is how the film represents Long Duk Dong. How he is portrayed has sparked off many a controversy in recent years, with many sources stating that this treatment of his character is offensive and unnecessary. However, this doesn’t hamper the enjoyment of the film itself, in my opinion.

In conclusion, “Sixteen Candles” is not my favourite Hughes film of all time (that honour would have to go to either “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” or “The Breakfast Club”), but it is the movie by him which I can relate to the most, mostly because I identified so strongly with Samantha and Ted, as I’m sure many others did likewise while watching it. It is for that reason, that I’m awarding “Sixteen Candles” a strong score of four and a half stars out of five.