Friday, September 30, 2011

The Great Outdoors

Starring: Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Annette Bening, Stephanie Faracy, 
Written by: John Hughes
Director: Howard Deutch

Rating: * * *   Stars       +       (Fan Bonus -  )  Total: * * *

A week's getaway in the wilderness with the family is exactly what Chet needed. That is, until his obnoxious Brother-In-Law and his family crash the vacation.

Chet (John Candy), a native of Chicago, arrives to the small lakeside resort of Pechoggin, Wisconsin with his wife Connie (Stephanie Faracy) and their two boys, Buck and Benny. Chet rents a huge cabin, with high hopes of some family bonding over cookouts, hikes, fishing and boating. Suddenly, this picturesque setting is disturbed by his Brother-In-Law Roman (Dan Aykroyd), his wife Kate (Annette Bening), and their twin girls Mara and Cara. 

From the get go, it's clear that Chet really despises Roman, but tolerates him for his wife's sake. Roman is an obnoxious investment broker always looking for the bigger, better deal. Where Chet likes the simple pleasures in life, Roman likes to flaunt his money. This clash of styles is played out throughout the film, such as Roman renting a speed boat over Chet's inclination of renting a simple pontoon boat. The speed boat works against Chet as he goes water-skiing, only to be dragged all over the lake at a 100mph. Connie begins to resent her sister Kate as well. While both Chet and Connie grow increasingly irritated, Roman and Kate are blissfully unaware how their presence is affecting others. If that isn't bad enough, Chet and Roman have to work together as they deal with natures finest, including a bat, leeches, a bald-headed grizzly bear, and a family of raccoon's that keep getting in the garbage. 

Dan Aykroyd is clearly made for the role of Roman Craig, and comes off as irritatingly enjoyable. John Candy is perfect as the every man Chet who simply wants a quiet vacation, but is thwarted at every turn. John Hughes' writing style isn't lost, despite this film not being focused on teen angst. His sense of comedy doesn't push any ratings envelopes, yet still tugs the funny bone. 

While certainly a delightful film, it does seem to have lost some edge to it some 22 years later. Still, seeing John Candy and Dan Aykroyd share a film together is worthy of peeping out.

SEE THE TRAILER: The Great Outdoors

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Starring: Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Brian Dennehy, Steve Guttenberg, Jessica Tandy
Written by: Tom Benedict, David Saperstein
Director: Ron Howard

Rating: * * * *   Stars       +       (Fan Bonus -  )  Total: * * * *

Three elderly friends discover the Fountain Of Youth in a swimming pool next door. 

Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche, and Hume Cronyn play Ben, Art and Joe respectively. Three friends who live with their wives at a retirement community. Despite activities such as checkers, aerobics and shuffleboard, the three of them tqke great pleasure in hoping a fence to swim in the pool next door. The property sits empty, but is maintained by the lease holder. This gives them the perfect opportunity to swim and regain a sense of independence. Unbeknownst to them, the villa does get rented out for the month, and they're surprised to see what appears to be giant rocks at the bottom of the pool. Figuring there's no harm as long as they dont touch the rocks, they continue their watery mischief. However, now they begin to notice changes. The water has made them virile. They have more energy than before. It seems the more they swim, the younger they feel. Ben, for example, retakes an eye exam and passes, regaining his driving privilages. Joe flirts with women 20 years his junior. Art smokes the competition on the dance floor.

Everything goes fine till they bump into the owners of the rocks. Turns out, they're aliens, who have returned to Earth to retrieve their lost friends. The rocks are in fact cocoons, with hibernating aliens inside. The aliens are peaceful, wanting only to retrieve their friends from the ocean, put them in the pool, than simply wait for pick-up. Walter (Brian Dennehy) is the leader and tells Art, Joe and Ben they can continue to use the water, a long as the cocoons are not disturbed. There seems to be plenty of life force to go around. But as they introduce their wives to the pool and the aliens, the other seniors at the center catch on that something magical is in the pool, and before you know it, all the seniors show up, and try cracking open one of the cocoons. The life force is drained from the pool, and those inside risk dying. 

Just a wonderful story from start to finish. It really examines the human condition of old age and death. Some look to cheat it, others embrace their fate, and each have their reasons for doing so. Ron Howard does not create a sci fi film, but rather uses sci-fi elements to tell a true drama. Should we outlive our children? Is it right to cheat death? How long do we grieve before we let go? The meaning of friendship, and man's ability to ruin a truly good thing are all themes woven into this film. 

A few years later, a so-so sequel was made, but the original Cocoon is a true classic.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Masters Of The Universe

Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Meg Foster, Courteney Cox
Written by: David Odell 
Director: Gary Goddard

Rating: * 1/2   Stars       +       (Fan Bonus -  )  Total: * 1/2

Live action adaptation of the popular He-Man cartoons of the 80's.

Skeletor has seized castle Greyskull, and holds the Sorceress prisoner. When the moon of Eternia is in proper alignment with the Great Eye of the Universe, it will bestow great power to Skeletor. He just needs the Cosmic Key to carry out his plan, however He-Man and his allies have the Cosmic Key, and have accidentally opened a portal to Earth. Skeletor sends his minions to Earth to retrieve it. The Key falls in the hands of two Earth teenagers, who know nothing of the Key's true power or potential. 

He-Man fans have much to cringe over as the film takes the cheap route of moving the central backdrop of Eternia aside and putting the principle characters on Earth. Dolph Lundgren is passable as He-Man, and familiar heroes such as Teela (Chelsea Field) and Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher) are less-than-remarkably translated to film. Courteney Cox brings nothing to the table in this film as the teen musicians girlfriend Julie. It seems if anyone went beyond the call of duty, it was Frank Langella's performance as Skeletor. While everyone's acting was stiff, Frank just seemed to go balls out with his character, and truly had fun playing him.

The special effects are no better or worse than other sword and sorcery sci-fi of this type. A fun romp for kids, but older fans will want to make a pass on this film. 

SEE THE TRAILER: Masters Of The Universe

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Neverending Story

Starring: Barret Oliver, Noah Hathaway, Tami Stonach
Written by: Wolfgang Petersen, Herman Weigel 
Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Rating: * * * 1/2   Stars       +       (Fan Bonus -  )  Total: * * * 1/2

A boy who loves to read finds a book in which he becomes part of the story.

Young Sebastian (Barret Oliver) is a conflicted kid. He has to deal with the recent loss of his Mother, failing grades, and neighborhood bullies. His Father wants him to forget his fantasies and become grounded in reality. His only solace is inside books. Tarzan, 10,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Time Machine, etc, are just a few of the books he already read. But its when he meets a crusty old bookstore owner that he encounters The Neverending Story. Sebastian goes to school, but ends up in the school attic, where he begins to read a fantastic tale. A tale of a land called Fantasia, a dying young Empress (Tami Stonach), and a terrible nothing that threatens to consume everything. Turns out, the only thing that can save Fantasia, is Sebastian himself.

This is a true masterpiece of childhood fantasy. Original concepts and characters are brought to life with great acting, vivid scenery, and wonderful visual effects. Southern Oracles, a giant turtle, Falkor the luck dragon, and the Rockbiter are just a few of the colorful characters audiences will come across. The underlying motif of imagination verses banality is fully played out. Fantasia is a land created by human imagination, and the Nothing is what awaits all young children, that time when we put childish things aside. We stop dreaming, stop believing, stop fantasizing, and that kills our individual and collective spirits. In the end, the character of the Empress calls out to Sebastian, and he must decide to go against his Father's wishes and buckle down, closing the book on the Neverending Story, or dare to do what he dreams of.

SEE THE TRAILER: The Neverending Story

Monday, September 26, 2011

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment

Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Graf, Michael Winslow
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft
Director: Jerry Paris

Rating: * * *   Stars       +       (Fan Bonus -  )  Total: * * *

The police force worst have graduated the Police Academy. Now, they are assigned a precinct. Lock your doors.

With crime on the rise, its tough for police all over, but none more so than Cpt. Pete Lassard's precinct. The Police Chief gives him just one month to turn things around. Pete turns to his brother, Commandant Eric Lassard and his police academy. Eric sends him six rookies; Mahoning (Steve Guttenberg), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Tackleberry (David Graf), "Motormouth" Jones (Michael Winslow), Hooks (Marion Ramsey), and Fackler (Bruce Mahler). But the rising crime isn't the only thing Cpt. Lassard has to deal with, slime ball Cpt. Mauser (Art Metrano) is promised Lassard's position if he fails to turn things around, and Mauser plans to sabotage the rookies efforts every chance he can.

The principle characters return, and with them their familiar comedy shtick. Mahoney continues to agitate his superiors with cruel pranks. Jones continues to showcase his vocal talents. Tackleberry is still a gun nut. Hooks, who made progress at the end of the first film, is still meek and mild throughout this film. What keeps Police Academy 2 fresh is the introduction of new characters, many of which stay on for additional sequels. Tackleberry gets partnered with a female motorcycle officer, Sgt. Kathleen Kirkland (Colleen Camp). Reluctant at first, he soon realizes she's crazier than he is. It's a match made in heaven. Bobcat Goldthwait, who translates his stand-up style of comedy to this film, is Zed, the gang leader that's been menacing the city. Sgt. Proctor (Lance Kinsey) is Mauser's bumbling stooge, who tries to help Mauser in his nefarious plan.

No depth of character, nor nail-biting action, but plenty of laughs. At this point in the Police Academy series, we see it still has plenty of steam that draws out its intended laughs.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Muppet Movie

Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Bob Hope
Written by: Jack Burns, Jerry Juhl
Director: James Frawley

Rating: * * * *   Stars       +       (Fan Bonus -  )  Total: * * * *

A frog, a pig, and a bear head to Hollywood to find success. Along the way they meet a strange assortment of characters, while eluding the proprietor of a restaurant specializing in frog legs.

The Muppet Show cast make their big screen debut, which is a cross country journey to Hollywood.
All the muppets are here, from Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal, Gonzo, Dr. Teeth, Ralph, Waldorph and Statler, Scooter, Beaker and a hundred more. Furthermore, the cast is peppered with famous actors like Orson Wells, Dom DeLuise, and Bob Hope who help, or hinder, our heroes. 

An absolutely delightful film from forever child-at-heart Jim Henson and crew. Forget children, this is among the finest story-films of all time. Unlike future Muppet films that were more light-hearted and funny, the humor in this film is tempered by poignant and touching scenes regarding relationships, doubt, and the downside of business, art and entertainment. Gonzo's song "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday" is haunting, telling us of the loneliness of show business. A more positive spin on tales like The Incredible Journey, where the struggles along the way are just as important, if not more so, than the destination. Along the way, the characters learn about friendship, camaraderie, and that as different as they are, they have similar goals. Towards the end, this is summarized in the song where the lyrics tell us "life's like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending." Effectively, the Muppets write their own reality, and encourage us to do the same. The novelty is it's a movie about the making of the movie, with Henson's unique storytelling propelling it forward. His blend of abstract reasoning and sentimentality are the driving force behind his hopeful philosophy on life, love, and humanity.

While the muppets have endured, clearly the magic has left us with the passing of Jim Henson. The bible tells us that a child shall lead them, and Jim Henson was a child at heart, who lead us down his wholesome path of childhood enlightenment.

SEE THE TRAILER: The Muppet Movie

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Coming To America

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, John Amos, James Earl Jones, Eriq La Salle
Written by: Eddie Murphy, David Sheffield
Director: John Landis

Rating: * * * * 1/2  Stars       +       (Fan Bonus -  )  Total: * * * * 1/2

An African Prince doesn't want to go through with his arranged marriage, and wants to marry for love. He has 30 days to find his bride. Where would a prince find a wife in America? Why, Queens New York of course.

Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) talks his father King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) into letting him find his own bride. He gives him 30 days to find her, or else he marries the woman that has been pre-selected for him. Akeem and his best friend and servant, Semi (Arsenio Hall) take off to Queens New York to find her. A riches to rags premise, Akeem fully embraces American culture and the thrill of living poor, including a rat infested apartment and working at a fast-food restaurant. Semi, on the other hand does not, and often finds himself biting his lip. After several failed attempts at local nightclubs, Akeem becomes infatuated with Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), a woman he sees at a Black Awareness meeting. Her father, Cleo McDowell (John Amos) owns McDowells Restaurant (oddly similar to McDonalds) where she manages. To get close to her, Akeem and Semi take jobs there. But if winning her over isn't hard enough, posing as an exchange student from Africa, he contends with Darryl (Eriq La Salle),  Lisa's current boyfriend. Since Darryl is wealthy, due to a jheri-curl formula called Soul-Glo invented by his parents, he's also a favorite of Lisa's Father. Akeem could easily win them over by revealing his true identity, but wants Lisa to love him for who he is.

Eddie Murphy, who's known for playing multiple rolls in films, debuts this trademark here. besides Prince Akheem, he also plays lovable loud mouth Clarence the Barber, lead singer of Sexual Chocolate and the community embarrassment Randy Watson, and the crusty old Caucasian Jew, Saul. Arsenio Hall also follows suit as fellow barber Morris, the excitable Reverend Brown, and an ugly man-eater they encounter at a nightclub.

Eddie Murphy is at his comedic best in this film, and the chemistry he has with the rest of the cast is undeniable. His scenes with Cleo McDowell, Semi, Lisa and his Father feel truly organic and unscripted. Even secondary characters like Lisa's gold digging kid sister Patrice, the Landlord, and Oha tend to steal their respective scenes. The banter that goes on at the "My-T-Sharp" barber shop is so believable and witty, they alone are worth the price of admission. Eddie also pays homage to the film that gave him his start, Trading Places. There is a scene where he gives away a stack of money, somewhere around 20 grand, to two homeless men. They turn out to be Don Ameche and Ralph Belamy, reprising their roles as the Duke Brothers, now homeless after Billy Ray and Lewis took them for everything they had. 

This movie is non stop laughs from beginning to end. Plenty of great lines and scenes that still resonate today. Perhaps one of the best African-American ensembles since Roots, Coming To America also see's then unknown actors such as Samuel L. Jackson, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Vondie Curtis-Hall getting their big screen debuts. 

SEE THE TRAILER: Coming To America

Friday, September 23, 2011

Amazon Women On The Moon

Starring: Arsenio Hall, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sybil Danning, David Alan Grier, Steve Allen, Carrie Fisher, Ed Begley Jr, Rosanna Arquette, Steve Guttenberg
Written by: Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland
Director: Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton, John Landis, Robert K. Weiss

Rating: * * 1/2  Stars       +       (Fan Bonus *  )  Total: * * * 1/2

Late Night TV is the target of this star-studded spoof-a-rama.

This movie is a collection of short skits and sketches, meant to mock and spoof television culture, late night television, commercials, critics, entertainers, and more. The theme of the film, Amazon Women On The Moon, is in of itself a parody of B-rated sci-fi movies of the 1950's. It is interrupted several times through commercials, technical difficulties, etc., which then segways into other various sketches which includes Don "No Soul" Simmons, played by David Allen Grier, A funeral roast, a remote control that puts the viewer in the television, video pirates, a newborn baby that gets misplaced at the hospital, silly patte, and much more.

Incredibly funny film with an amateur, low-budget feel. Amazon Women delivers.

SEE THE TRAILER: Amazon Women On The Moon