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Classic Canadian 1979 comedy is the first starring role for SNL alumni Bill Murray and the first big hit for director Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters). The flick takes place at bargain basement Camp North Star and is basically the misadventures of head counsellor Tripper Harrison (Murray) and his staff and charges during summer camp. There really isn’t much of a story, aside from North Star’s competition with the elite Camp Mohawk and Tipper’s bonding with lonely misfit Rudy Gerner (Vamp’s Chris Makepeace in his first film).
It’s a light and breezy comedy as directed by Reitman from a script by four people, including the late Harold Ramis. Odd it took so many to write the screenplay, when it barely has what’s considered a story. It’s almost just a series of comic skits, till the Olympiad competition between the two camps, and maybe that was the intention. It’s fun, though not outright hilarious and extremely tame by teen coming of age comedy standards. It is very nostalgic to adolescence, the summers of childhood and the comedies of this time. No better example than Murray’s advances on cute councilor Roxanne (Kate Lynch), which would be outright sexual harassment nowadays and not portrayed as cute and funny, as it is here. It’s a good time and a classic, though not quite as funny to an adult watching it all these years later as it was when seen as a kid.
While there is a large cast of characters, it’s Murray’s show. His horny, mischievous teen in a grown-up’s body act that he made his early career on, is in full swing. His slightly offbeat humor is also coming to bear and we can see his lovable weirdo persona forming. Makepeace is sweet and sympathetic as the insecure and quiet Rudy. He and Murray get along well here and they make a good team. The rest of the cast are all fine in their roles as councilors and kids, including Harvey Atkin as the much harassed camp director Morty.
Overall, It’s not as laugh out loud funny as one might remember it, but then it is aimed at the audience it portrays, with a PG rating and thus very tame in language and sexual hi-jinx. It’s dated, but still fun and very nostalgic and one can see Murray developing the persona that would make him a star in the 80s and 90s, before he moved into indie film roles in more recent decades. Certainly worth a revisit if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it. Brings back memories and that alone is a noble purpose four decades later.
Flick may be the first zombie Christmas musical ever, but, aside from that honor, it’s also quite fun. Story takes place at Christmas time and finds Anna (a delightful Ella Hunt), soon to graduate high school and dealing with things most girls her age deal with. Anna’s life, in the small town of Little Haven, is turned upside-down, however, as a zombie apocalypse breaks out. Now Anna and her dwindling number of friends must fight for survival with guts, determination…and song.
Film is directed by John McPhail from a script by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry, based on Henry’s Zombie Musical short film. It is surprisingly bloody and takes it’s zombie subject seriously, while also providing some laughs and quite a few catchy musical numbers. Star Ella Hunt is quite charming in the role of Anna and even when the tone darkens, as the zombie outbreak intensifies, Hunt’s Anna remains buoyant and hopeful…and so do we. A cute, fun movie that is both musical and comedy, yet remains a horror flick, too. Mixing genres isn’t easy and this flick does it right. Very entertaining.
SONG LIST *
1.”Christmas Means Nothing Without You”-Shonagh Murray
2.”Break Away”-Ella Hunt, Sarah Swire and Malcolm Cumming
3.”Hollywood Ending”-Cast from Anna and the Apocalypse
4.”The Fish Wrap”-Roddy Hart, Tommy Reilly and John McPhail
5.”It’s That Time of Year”-Marli Siu
6.”Turning My Life Around”-Ella Hunt and Malcolm Cumming
7.”Human Voice”-Cast from Anna and the Apocalypse
8.”Soldier at War”-Ben Wiggins
9.”Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now”-Paul Kaye
10.”Give Them a Show”-Ella Hunt and Paul Kaye
11.”I Will Believe”-Ella Hunt and Mark Benton
12.”What a Time to Be Alive”-Ryan Joseph Burns
13.”What a Time to Be Alive (Orchestral Version)”-Cast from Anna and the Apocalypse
Sequel takes place at Christmas time with our three Bad Moms, Amy, Kiki and Carla (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) getting visits from their own moms (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon respectively). This turns their lives upside down and threatens to ruin their holidays.
Second flick is again written and directed by Scott Moore and Jon Lucas and sadly lacks the energy and buoyant fun the original was, while doubling up on the melodramatic schmaltz. The first flick was routine and predictable, but it had attitude, some cleverness and a charming cast. This holiday installment is flat, rolling out all the “Christmas in ruins” movie clichés without any ingenuity and the vulgarity lacks the wit that made it work the first time around. It replays a lot of the shtick of the original movie and even with the addition of the bad grand-moms, it comes across as stale. If there is a redeeming quality, it is the cast once again shines and makes the best out of the weak material with Baranski, Hines and Sarandon playing their thinly written parts well. Veteran actresses who deserved better material, as do the Bad Moms trio, Kunis, Bell and Hahn, who also give it their all. Sequel co-stars Jay Hernandez again as Jessie, Peter Gallagher as Amy’s dad and a funny cameo by Kenny G. Maybe they should have taken a little more time developing this instead of rushing it out a mere 15 months after the first flick.
Generic comedy replays scenarios seen before in flicks like Very Bad Things and Weekend at Bernie’s as a bachelorette party goes horribly wrong. Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is running for office and getting married and her friends gather to take her to Miami for a rowdy bachelorette party, including some heavy partying and a hunky male stripper (Ryan Cooper) back at the rented house. When that stripper is accidentally killed, the girls panic and now have to find a way to get rid of the body and hide the evidence of their activities. Bad girls, bad!
Cliché comedy is directed by Lucia Arielle from an uninspired script she co-wrote with Paul W. Downs…who also plays Jess’ fiancé. There are a few funny moments here and there and the cast seems to be having a fun time, but there is very little originality and we’ve simply seen it all before and funnier. The scenario is directly lifted from other movies and the ladies are given very little to work with. Johansson tries, but seems out of place in this vulgar comedy, New Yorker Kate McKinnon is playing an Australian, which adds nothing to the story and only Jillian Bell seems to really be taking the meager material and doing her best with it. A forgettable flick, but harmless in it’s own underachieving way. Also stars Zoë Kravitz and Ilana Glazer as the remaining members of the bachelorette crew.
Pretty mother of two, Amy (Mila Kunis) has had enough! She works hard at her job, drives the kids to school, does their homework and makes dinner. Her lazy immature husband doesn’t help and even gets caught having a virtual affair with a woman online. Amy, along with new friends and fellow moms Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell), decides it’s time to take a break from and have a little fun!
Written and directed by Scott Moore and Jon Lucas this is a routine and predictable comedy, but thanks to a witty script and charming cast, it is a lot of fun. The film has a buoyant mood to it, as Amy throws her responsibilities aside…and her cyber-cheating husband out…and decides to live life for herself for a bit. Sure the situations that result are totally routine, such as wild parties, picking up the hot single dad (Jay Hernandez) in a bar and starting up a fierce rivalry with the snooty PTA head (Christina Applegate), but Kunis is a delight in the role, even if she comes across as a little too young to be a mother of two kids close to their tweens (She’s 33, so it works). There is some vulgarity, but it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and is witty enough to work and be funny. The supporting cast are also having a blast too, especially Kristin Bell and it translates to the audience even if you have seen it all before. A routine but fun, funny and sometimes very sweet comedy. Added bonus is the interviews with the actresses and their real moms during the credits.
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Horror/comedy opens with a couple of bumbling truckers hitting a deer causing one of the containers of toxic waste they are carrying to fall off the truck and into a nearby lake. The container has sprung a leak and floats up against a beaver dam. Our title creatures are born! Three cuties Jenn (Lexi Atkins), Mary (Rachel Melvin) and Zoe (Cortney Palm) arrive at the same time at a lakeside cabin for some fun girl time and soon are under siege by zombified beavers and a surprise visit from their boyfriends. Not only are the zombeavers out for flesh, but, their bite turns their victims into zombeaver-like creatures, as well. Will any of them make it out alive?
Zombeavers is a fun 85 minutes that may not be a modern classic but, is a bloody good time. Directed by Jordan Rubin, who co-wrote with Al and Jon Kaplan, there is a well blended mix of horror and laughs and while it never really goes quite as over-the-top as we would have liked, it does provide a decent quota of entertainment. There is, of course, a generous supply of beaver double-entendres and beaver clichés to go with the plentiful gore, intentionally cheesy creatures and delightful nudity from the tattooed Miss Palm. It rolls out the horror tropes as we would expect and has a good time turning cast members…and other forest life…into it’s zombie beaver creatures to go along with it’s zombie beavers. The film is shot well by Jonathan Hall and co-scripters Al and Jon Kaplan also provide an appropriate score. Again, not a classic but, a fun effort that succeeds far more than it fails and even gives us a surprising shift in who our final girl turns out to be. Rubin and the Kaplans know their material and seem to have a genuine affection for it that translates onscreen.
The cast are all fine and get the material perfectly. The girls Atkins, Melvin and Palm are suitably, very good-looking and have fun with their parts. As mentioned, lovely Cortney Palm is not afraid to shed her bikini top but, actually might surprise you when things get going and the fight for their lives begins. The girls are joined by Jake Weary, Hutch Dano and Peter Gilroy as their boyfriends and the lads perform with a mix of seriousness and a wink, just like the ladies. There are some supporting characters that play locals, too and they are equally fun in their parts. A very efficient cast for a low budget horror spoof.
What can I say, this was fun. Director Rubin mixes the horror elements with the comedy very well…which isn’t easy…as does the script. It could have been a bit more clever or funny at times but, is far more successful at what it’s trying to do then you might expect. It delivers enough beaver jokes, zombie beavers and spattering blood to satisfy and gives us three likable and very adorable heroines to root for and crush on. What else would you want from a movie called Zombeavers?… oh, and stay through the credits.
Another teen-centric sci-fi movie based on a book series. This one by Veronica Roth has a post-war walled city of Chicago where society is separated into 5 groups referred to as ‘factions’ that each serve a purpose to support the city. If you think this is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the high school class structure, it just shows how obvious it all is. Subjects are tested when they come of age to determine which group they are best suited for but, are ultimately allowed to choose their own faction… which kinda negates the point of the test. Enter Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) who is born into the Abnegation (the good kids) faction but, yearns to be in the Dauntless faction (the rebels, cool kids) who protect the city and maintain law. But, her aptitude test brands her a ‘Divergent’… someone capable of being in any of the five groups… and thus she must try to hide her designation, as being whoever you want to be, is frowned upon in this high school… ah-hem, futuristic society. Throw in her efforts to succeed as a Dauntless, falling for her hunky Dauntless trainer ‘Four’ (Theo James) and saving the city from a coup d’etat and we have all the paper thin messages about being who you are, being whatever you want to be, overcoming adversity and first love that any pimpled teen could want. The saving grace is that director Neil Burger (Limitless) moves everything at a brisk pace, takes this teen angst metaphor seriously and gets good work out of his cast especially leading lady Woodley, who is no Jennifer Lawrence and her ‘Triss’ is no Katniss, but, she is charming and endearing enough and makes a feisty heroine. Overall, it’s actually manages to be somewhat entertaining despite how obvious and derivative the material is. Also stars Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson and Jai Courtney.
BAD WORDS (2014)
Actor Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut in this deviously funny and delightfully inappropriate comedy about 40 year old grade school drop out Guy Trilby (Bateman) who exploits a loophole in the rules to enter a children’s national spelling bee. Trilby obviously has an agenda, other than embarrassing a bunch of 10 year olds, as he drags a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) along and enters in a friendship/rivalry with a precocious Indian boy (Rohand Chand) who also wants the championship. Andrew Dodge’s script has some blisteringly funny moments, though there are a few sentimental ones too, and director Bateman gives a really hilarious performances as the bitter and angry Trilby, who will stoop to any level to mow down his pre-adolescent competition. Bateman also gets very good work out of his fellow cast members, including young Chand, and crafts a movie that is not afraid to ‘go there’ and present it’s young spelling bee contestants in hysterically inappropriate spots. Suffers slightly from a routine, sentimental climax but, otherwise is a daring and very funny work from first-time director Bateman and writer Dodge. Also, at 88 minutes the movie knows not to wear out it’s welcome.
This week’s double feature is one that not only works perfectly but, is a lot of fun. It pairs Tim Burton’s first two films together, the hilarious and delightfully surreal Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and the supernatural Gothic laugh fest that is Beetlejuice. Both films would introduce the world to Burton’s cartoonish visual style and have gone on to become cult classics in their own right. When stacked up against his body of work, they still rank as two of his best. So crack open your favorite beverage and enjoy this double bill of offbeat hilarity.
PEE WEE’s BIG ADVENTURE (1985)
Paul Reubens’ Pee Wee Herman character became a sensation in the 80s. He started out as a more adult-themed comedy act and cable TV show and then became an all-out, though still pretty bizarre, hit children’s show. So, the transition to feature films was a natural and quirky new filmmaker Tim Burton was perfectly picked to guide Pee Wee to the big screen in this cartoonish and surreal adventure.
The plot is simple. Pee Wee’s prized bicycle is stolen and the strange man-child sets off on a cross country adventure to hunt it down and get it back. His travels lead him to some strange places, where he meets some equally strange characters as he follows a trail that takes him all the way to the Alamo and then eventually brings him to Hollywood.
Tim Burton was the perfect director for this project scripted by Reubens, the late Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol. It’s a colorful, yet bizarre, road trip populated by some very eccentric and equally colorful characters. And Burton’s Edward Gorey-ish visual style is perfect for the weird situations Pee Wee gets into such as his encounters with escaped convict Micky (Judd Omen), a rowdy biker gang, the phantom-like Large Marge (Alice Nunn) and the climactic chase through Warner Brothers Studios. Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman was brought in to score and his whimsical musical style was a perfect fit for the situations on-screen. Reubens, Burton and Elfman where so perfectly matched here, it’s sad the three have never, at least so far, collaborated again on another movie, unless you count Reubens’ small role in Batman Returns. Burton brings a sense of whimsy to the proceedings and has no problem indulging in the surreal such as two amusing nightmare sequences where Pee Wee fears about the fate of his bike. The FX are simple and quaint and even involve a little stop-motion animation and it adds to the film’s charm which it has lots of. It gives the film an almost demented fairly tale vibe at times, which fits the universe Reubens has already created for his character.
The cast have a lot of fun with this, too. Reubens is at his Pee Wee best and his reactions to things, such as his impatience with The Alamo tour guide, Tina are just as hysterical as is the broader physical comedy. 80s cutie and icon E.G. Daily plays the only, fairly down to earth character in the film, bike shop repair girl Dottie, who crushes on the reluctant Pee Wee. The rest of the characters are all cartoonish such as spoiled brat and bike theft suspect Francis (Mark Holton) and of course, Lou Cutell as Amazing Larry. And the actors all have a lot of fun with their over the top screen personas. Burton gets good work out of everyone for the gallery of oddball characters that inhabit Pee Wee’s world.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a comedy classic and rightfully so. It’s delightfully offbeat and amusingly surreal at times and Burton was the perfect choice to bring Pee Wee’s off-kilter world to the big screen. The movie is incredibly quotable and I still laugh heartily when I watch it all these years later and it definitely is one of my all time favorite comedies. And if that makes me a geek, fine… I know you are but, what am I ?
3 and 1/2 Pee Wees!
Burton’s sophomore feature teamed him with another comic icon Michael Keaton, in this tale that puts a spin on the traditional haunted house story by having the ghosts trying to remove the humans from their house and not the other way around… and turning in desperation to the demonic bio-exorcist Beetlejuice (Keaton) for help.
The story has young couple Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin) Maitland, living a peaceful life in their large house in a remote New England town… until a horrible accident brings about their premature demise. But, things get worse for the dearly departed couple when, as they try to adjust to their new after-life, their home is invaded by the new owners, the new age Deetz family, Charles (Jeffery Jones), Delia (Catherine O’Hara) and their Goth emo daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder). With their gaudy interior decorator Otho (Glenn Shadix) in tow, they begin to completely remodel the Maitland’s house. The ghostly couple try to haunt the new family out but, only wind up intriguing them and in desperation, they turn to the demonic entity known as Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to evict the Deetzes from their home. But, they have started to bond with Lydia and realize all too late that the funky phantom they have unleashed has a far more sinister agenda and becomes a far worse problem then the Deetzes and their plans to turn the house into a paranormal sideshow attraction.
Written by Warren Skaaren and Michael McDowell from a story by McDowell and Larry Wilson, this was another film perfectly suited to Burton’s gothic, offbeat visual style and his quirky sense of whimsy. Burton really gets to have some surreal visual fun with his presentations of the afterlife and in the design of some of the supernatural beings that inhabit it. His teaming with Keaton is also perfect as the actor gets to really chew up the scenery as the bizarre and slightly perverse Beetlejuice. The character comes across less an actual demon than your creepy, pervy, alcoholic uncle… on crack… and that’s kinda what makes it work. Keaton is completely over the top and it fits Burton’s over the top style directing style very well. While not all the bits work, most do and the film is not only flat out hysterical at times but, whimsically spooky at others. The climactic last act when Beetlejuice is loosed on the Deetzes dinner party and trying to wed Lydia so he can remain corporeal is an amusement park ride, almost literally, and it makes it worth the wait to see him finally and fully unleashed. The film also makes it’s ghost characters, The Maitlands, the only normal people in the movie which adds to the turning the traditional haunting premise on it’s head. The film is a lot of fun and Burton imbues it with some nice sentimental moments too. Here he still knew when to temper the outlandish with the subtle, something some of his recent films seem to have lost. The FX here are very inventive and not only include some very bizarre make-up and prosthetics but, some charming stop-motion animation as well. A time before CGI and it’s all the more charming for it. Despite a modest budget the quaint FX enhance the film’s atmosphere and add to the fun. Again Danny Elfman was brought into score and again his music fits the film like a spooky glove.
As for the human cast elements, despite not having as much screen time as you might think, it’s Keaton’s show and he takes the demonic ball and runs with it. He is completely and unapologetically over the top as the perverted and devious oddball demon that is Beetlejuice. He has a lot of great bits to chew on and while not every line is knee-slapping, Keaton gives them his all anyway and the film would not have worked so well without him. Davis and Baldwin make a very endearing couple of ghosts and they have a really great chemistry together and with Ryder. The fact that they are played as the most normal characters in the film adds to the charm and they both give very down to earth performances… pun intended. It really works as a nice contrast to the eccentric Deetzes and their weird friends and, of course, Beetlejuice himself. And as the Deetzes there is also a nice contrast here with Jeffery Jones’ more down to earth real estate developer and Catherine O’Hara’s delightfully eccentric new age sculptor wife. Add in the adorably gloomy Lydia brought to life by a cute, young Winona Ryder and the obnoxious and self centered Otho, made all the more amusing by a scenery chewing Glenn Shadix (who sadly passed away in 2010 due to injuries sustained in a fall in his home). A very well cast comedy with some very talented people doing what they do best.
I love this movie. Sure, not all the bits work and a slightly tighter script could have made it even more of a tour de force for the eclectic cast but, with Keaton creating an iconic character and some truly inventively designed otherworldly characters and sequences, you get a very original and now classic comedy and a film that is still, in my opinion, one of both Burton’s and Keaton’s best. A delight even close to 30 years later. Also features cameos by Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett.