Christmas Vacation (12/13/12)

Christmas VacationMovie Two Hundred Seventy Nine

The Griswold family is back and hosting a Christmas Vacation.

The Griswolds, led by misguided patriarch, Clark (Chevy Chase), wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), daughter Audrey (Juliette Lewis), and son Rusty (Johnny Galecki), set out to get a Christmas tree. Clark has decided he wants to host this year and has invited both sets of parents. When his cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) shows up with his family, the house gets a little more full and nearly everything that can go wrong does.

The great thing about Christmas Vacation, or any Vacation movie for that matter, is that the mishaps are relatable to most of us. One of the best lines from the film comes from Ellen when she says “I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.” It’s not that Christmas means misery for us it’s that the stress of the situation and bending over backwards to accommodate family tends to be a bit miserable. While I don’t think anyone has really had a Christmas disaster like the Griswolds, the situations are least well-guided and we see that. All the Vacation movies are just about a family man trying his best but with a cloud of accidents and follies following him and Christmas Vacation is no different.

There are so many great, memorable scenes from Christmas Vacation that make it the holiday classic it is, but my favorite that cracks me up every single time is the cat chewing the tree lights under the recliner. Clark shopping for lingerie is a close second. It’s so hard to choose, though! So much great dialogue, so much great physical comedy, and the perfect storm of Griswold-y goodness. It wouldn’t be Christmas without some Christmas Vacation.

I give it 4 Christmas tree squirrels out of 5.

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles (11/18/12 & 12/28/12)

Planes, Trains & AutomobilesMovie Two Hundred Sixty Five and Two Hundred Ninety Nine

An ad executive desperately tries to get home to Chicago from New York in time for Thanksgiving in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Two days before Thanksgiving, Neal Page (Steve Martin),an ad executive, is in New York on a business meeting trying to catch his plane back to Chicago to be with his family. While trying to snatch a cab from a sleazy lawyer, someone else gets in and Neal chases after it, startling the passenger. At the airport, Neal arrives at the gate just in time but the flight is delayed. While waiting, he sees the man that stole his cab and finds out his name is Del Griffith (John Candy), a shower ring salesman. Neal is annoyed by Del but after a string of bad luck and misfortunes, the two stick together trying to get back to Chicago.

I skipped ahead to make sure this one got published in time for Thanksgiving. I hate summarizing comedies because it’s impossible to make a movie sound funny in a paragraph talking about the plot. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a film that is funny regardless of the season, but there aren’t a ton of Thanksgiving movies out there so why not watch it around this time of year? The ‘everything that can go wrong, will go wrong’ series of events always has me in stitches and individually, Martin and Candy are two of my favorite comedic actors, so naturally, together they are a riot.

There are scenes in Planes, Trains and Automobiles that make me laugh uncontrollably every single time I see it. It’s not that the moments are a surprise, they are just completely hilarious to me. The series of events that befall Neal and Del is always a bit of a surprise to me since I never quite remember the exact order of everything, which helps keep Planes, Trains and Automobiles fresh regardless of how many times I’ve seen it. As with most other John Hughes movies, Planes, Trains and Automobiles has a heart to it between all the comedy and if you’ve never seen the film before, the ending may surprise you.

A while back, I wrote about another Hughes/Candy film, Uncle Buck, where I state that it’s my second favorite Candy film after this one and watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles again solidifies that point for me. Hughes had such a talent for writing and directing and he and Candy worked amazingly well together. Not only is Planes, Trains and Automobiles one of the finest films of both their careers, it’s one of my favorite comedies ever.

I give it 5 “those aren’t pillows!” out of 5.

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS – It kills me to write out the title of the film with an Oxford comma

[Update] I was lucky enough to get to see Planes, Trains and Automobiles at a midnight showing in a theater and it was better than I imagined. The owner of the theater even got dressed up as Del Griffith (check out my Facebook page for a picture). While my eyelids started getting heavy after their car burns, the whole movie was a joy to see in the theater. Candy and Martin’s expressions and movements were somehow exaggerated and I thought the film was even funnier than normal. We had a great time.

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The Great Outdoors (8/17/12)

The Great Outdoors

Movie One Hundred Ninety Two

In The Great Outdoors, a man’s perfect family vacation is ruined by his obnoxious brother-in-law.

Chet Ripley (John Candy) decides to take his family up to a rustic Wisconsin getaway and have a nice, peaceful vacation. Then Chet’s yuppie brother-in-law Roman (Dan Aykroyd) shows up with his strange family and decides to take over Chet’s vacation. Roman soon tells Chet that he has no money and has been faking the lifestyle and is looking for cash. Meanwhile, Chet’s son has a summer romance, and a giant bear is on the loose, looking for revenge, and Roman’s twin daughters go missing in an abandoned mine.

The Great Outdoors was part two of my John Candy-a-thon (part one was Uncle Buck) and while The Great Outdoors was also written by John Hughes, he chose not to direct it. While not as endearing or charming as Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors still has some memorable moments. This time around, Candy plays a subdued family man, almost a Clark Griswold (from Vacation) type. Aykroyd plays a pushy, antagonistic guy that you almost feel sorry for but mostly not. I like Dan Aykroyd, but this role always kind of gets on my nerves.

If there’s one thing that holds back The Great Outdoors is the superfluous teen romance. Not only does it break up the flow, but it changes the tone of the movie into typical 80s teenager fare. It’s almost like they didn’t feel like they had enough movie there without it and threw it in just to make the film longer than 70 or 80 minutes. It doesn’t kill the movie, but I found myself zoning out a bit during those scenes.

The most memorable thing about The Great Outdoors for me was the giant bear. When Chet is telling the story about shooting the bear but only taking the fur off its scalp, your imagination paints a picture (even more so as a kid). When the bear actually shows up bald, it gets me every time. There are a few other parts that stick out, most of them involving Candy, but on a whole it’s a fairly anemic film.

Since The Great Outdoors comes as part of the John Candy boxset (also alongside Going Berserk, which I don’t hugely care for). While it has some laughs, it is not one of John Candy’s best films. The Great Outdoors is enjoyable to watch but there are better John Candy / John Hughes films to watch.

I give it 3 water skiing scenes out of 5.

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Uncle Buck (8/17/12)

Uncle BuckMovie One Hundred Ninety One

A family crisis causes a need for a babysitter for a rebellious teenage daughter and her two younger siblings, so they call in Uncle Buck.

In the Chicago suburbs, Cindy (Elaine Bromka) and Bob Russell (Garrett M. Brown) live with their teenage daughter Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), son Miles (Macaulay Culkin), and daughter Maizy (Gaby Hoffman). When Cindy’s father has a heart attack, the parents reluctantly decide to travel to see him and leave the kids in the care of Bob’s good-hearted, but slovenly brother, Buck (John Candy). When Uncle Buck arrives, the young kids immediately take to him due to his fun nature, but Tia constantly puts up a battle that only a teenage girl could.

Uncle Buck was part one of my two part John Candy marathon alongside The Great Outdoors. As one of the numerous John Hughes films starring John Candy, Uncle Buck is one of my favorites, after Planes, Trains & Automobiles. When John Candy is playing a funny, good-natured guy that just can’t catch a break, I immediately empathize. Buck Russell is a good guy that can’t seem to get his own life in order but you can’t help but love. Toss in some cute kids to lighten the mood and it’s a recipe for success.

I grew up watching John Hughes movies and it’s funny that so many of them are similar but still seem totally original and always enjoyable. Uncle Buck is one of those movies that defines Hughes’ non high school films and will likely stand the test of time. It’s easy to compare Candy’s roles here and Planes, Trains & Automobiles, they are quite similar but have different motivations and instead of Steve Martin to riff off of, Candy has young Culkin and Hoffman and himself. The role of Buck really lets Candy shine on his own and that is what helps make Uncle Buck special.

While it may not be the laugh out loud comedy that you keep coming back to, Uncle Buck is one of those movies that just makes you feel good. The movie has a big heart and a solid sense of humor and it plays to those strengths. As part of the legacy of both John Hughes and John Candy, Uncle Buck is surely a winner.

I give it 4 “I’m a kid, that’s my job”s out of 5.

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