The Breakfast Club (1985)


The Breakfast Club PosterDirector: John Hughes

Release Date: February 15th, 1985 (US); June 7th, 1985 (UK)

Genre: Comedy; Drama

Starring: Emilio Estevez, Michael Anthony Hall, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy

Society, redrawn as high school in The Breakfast Club, understands its five student detainees in the simplest, most convenient terms: Brain, Princess, Criminal, Athlete, Basket Case. To this lot, Saturday detention is the worst possible way they could spend their premier day of week. But it becomes the best possible endeavour soon enough — during this time, they figure out life. The Breakfast Club sees writer-director John Hughes at his very best, thriving atop apparently mundane ground and creating a parable of conscience and conscientiousness that utterly soars.

Watching the group uphold perceived convention is hilarious: Bender (the criminal, played by Judd Nelson) and Brian (the brain, Michael Anthony Hall) simultaneously begin to remove their jackets before catching eyes, at which point the latter gives in to the former’s steely glare and halts immediately. Brian passes his subsequent non-removal off as a swift re-evaluation of the room temperate — suddenly it is too cold to be without a coat. There’s the assumption that Andy (the athlete, Emilio Estevez) and Claire (the princess, Molly Ringwald) are dating, or at least that they ought to be. Meanwhile, Allison (the basket case, Ally Sheedy) spends at least half an hour chewing her nails.

Lunch adheres to the same stereotypical premise: one eats sushi with a wooden placemat; one unloads a full refrigerator of food; one swaps a ham filling for a sugar and crisp concoction; one scoffs on crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; one has nothing at all. It’s all on purpose of course. The narrative necessitates this establishment of falseness, and Hughes obliges purely so he can tear said falseness apart as the film unfolds. It isn’t a straightforward ride into the land of truth — the students annoy each other incessantly and chip away at their various flaws before there is any substantial breakthrough. The breakthrough, when it does finally arrive, takes the form of a totally gripping 20-minute centrepiece discussion played beautifully by all five actors (they excel throughout).

As assistant head teacher Richard Vernon, Paul Gleason evokes a self-absorbed Ben Horne vibe. Just like said Twin Peaks character, Vernon is the ultimate corporate villain, a bully. He engages in name-calling and literally pushes the group around in an attempt to assert his authority. Gleason’s performance is exaggerated, but the point remains: the school principal is just as bad, if not worse, than his younger acquaintances yet for some reason society dictates otherwise. Parents receive it in the neck too. No adult is safe because no adult ‘gets it’, with the exception of school janitor Carl (John Kapelos), who commands a reprieve as his job suggests he isn’t one of the corporate rule-makers.

The five teens cannot help but stick up for one another during unfair inquisitions; they collectively concoct an alibi defending Bender after he sneaks out of a locked room and tumbles through the ceiling, causing a ruckus. Though their egos haven’t wholly meshed by this point, they each know who the real enemy is. Bender gets most of the flack, especially from Vernon who has clearly given up on his student. Even though the troublemaker isn’t all that likeable, we sympathise with him because at this point nobody else has, not at home nor in school, and that is why he acts out.

It wouldn’t be a John Hughes film without effective comedy. Pinpoint visual gags accompany those of the vocal variety: “Who has to go to the lavatory?” asks Vernon, and five hands shoot up instantaneously. Vernon actually rattles off a whole host of brilliant lines, including the delightfully playful, “Grab some wood there, bub” (again aimed at Bender). The film jaunts along with unruly energy, matching the 80s teenage bombast evoked in movies such as Risky Business — Andy even shows off some classic Cruisian dance moves.

The Breakfast Club is right up there alongside Richard Linklater’s School of Rock as one of the very best classroom flicks. And just like School of Rock, a very real case of stickittothemaneosis meaningfully pulses through its veins. Rebellion is the on the curriculum and these kids pass with flying colours. For further details, refer to the film’s finale: one of the most empowering final sequences in movie history fittingly serenaded by Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. We won’t.

The Breakfast Club - Cast

Images credit: IMP Awards, Variety

Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures

Back to the Future (1985)


Back to the Future PosterDirector: Robert Zemeckis

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985 (US); December 4th, 1985 (UK)

Genre: Adventure; Comedy; Science fiction

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd

From the moment Dean Cundy trails his camera around Emmett “Doc” Brown’s (Christopher Lloyd) cantankerous home, clickety-tickety gadgets clicking and ticking in all directions, you just know Back to the Future is going to be a film that values wacky invention and rich characterisation. The plethora of loud clocks, the iffy tin openers, the monster amps, they all reflect Doc’s personality: budding, buzzing, and entirely unpredictable. And we haven’t even met him yet.

It’s Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) whom we first encounter, tripping over Doc’s seemingly infinite housebound bits and bobs, somehow looking both uncomfortably out of place and at ease with his bonkers surroundings. We know then that the pair share an uncommon bond and that, for the remaining two hours, its lack of plausibility doesn’t matter. These opening 10 minutes, penned by director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Bob Gale, are brilliant. Those that follow are pretty good too.

We initially find ourselves slap-bang in the mid-1980s, Huey Lewis and the News’ “Power of Love” beefing up the Zeitgeist with pop rock verve. The special effects are goofy but in charming sort of manner, electric lights fizzing and squawking. When we shift to the 1950s soon after, the visual palette takes on a post-war retro tint: glass bottles of Coca-Cola, tall chocolate milkshakes, unabashedly shiny vehicles. Doc and Marty are to blame for said shift, the former having transformed his DeLorean into a time travelling machine and the latter having taken the time-sensitive plunge.

Marty is a bit cocky, a bit arrogant. He’s a rebel with a cause: to change history. Zemeckis and Gale set up the various pay-offs early on — Biff (Thomas F. Wilson), the adult bully who needs some comeuppance; the Hill Valley Preservation Society’s attempts to save the town clock tower that, coincidentally, was struck by lightning 30 years ago. We know how story facets such as these will play out, but other rules are established only to be rewritten. In 1955, Marty takes his father George’s (Crispin Glover) place in a car accident, blacking out and subsequently awaking in his mother’s teenage bedroom. She, unaware Marty is her son, tries to seduce him.

The aforementioned notion would provoke cringe in many other outings, but Back to the Future gets away with it because the air is so madcap. Michael J. Fox’s nervous energy around his young mum Lorraine (Lea Thompson) is both hilarious and touching: “You shouldn’t drink because… you might regret it later in life,” he informs his mother, a future alcoholic. Crossover traits from the 50s and 80s afford Marty a freshness in both settings — traits such as booming teenage culture, motor car appreciation, and the imminent popularity of rock music. The film even paints Marty as the brainchild behind Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”, and you can’t help but admire its odd legitimacy.

On the other hand, Doc is introduced under an air of mystery. We hear his voice, eccentric and agitated, over the phone long before we meet him in person. The barmy inventor reverses noisily on-screen, smoke pillowing wherever there is space, his frazzled hair and radioactive suit vindicating our original preconceptions. Christopher Lloyd unveils an intense stare that promotes excitement rather than intimidation. His character is like an affable Count Olaf, if Count Olaf was a mad scientist and affable. You accept Doc and Marty’s offbeat camaraderie as standard practice because the two actors have natural, unkempt chemistry. They drive the film with as much intent and enthusiasm as they drive the DeLorean.

Elsewhere, Back to the Future spends time taking potshots at 1950s culture and politics because doing anything else would be against time travel law. In a not-so-solid burst of intuition, Marty decides the only way to convince past Doc (there are a few incarnations of one or two characters which can be a tad confusing) that he has arrived from the future is by reeling off 1980s characteristics, and subsequently names Ronald Reagan as the current US President. “Ronald Reagan, the actor? Ha!” Doc shoots back, a response that probably would have held weight back then, when Reagan was more likely to be found on a Hollywood movie set than inside the Oval Office.

It is practically impossible not to enjoy this film. With almost as many quotable lines as Casablanca, it’s essentially Grease on physics-defying  wheels. Zemeckis creates a heightened ambience that encourages nothing but authentic, irreverent chaos. Suburban madness was a movie-making norm in the 1980s, and Back to the Future is as wonderfully mad as it gets.

Back to the Future - Doc & Marty 2

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)


Mad Max The Road Warrior PosterDirector: George Miller

Release Date: January 19th, 1982 (UK); May 21st, 1982 (US)

Genre: Action; Adventure; Science fiction

Starring: Mel Gibson

When it comes to writing, you get the sense George Miller (and co-writers Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant) can’t wait to put pen to paper. It is an eagerness that translates across the whole Mad Max franchise, one that permeates each film from the word go. The Road Warrior begins in much the same vein as its predecessor, with lots of revving and car acrobatics and dodging and crashing.

Only this time Max (Mel Gibson) is the hunted and not the hunter. Nightrider has nothing on Max’s new curtain-jerking nemesis — a sign of crazier things to come. The red-Mohicaned Wez (Vernon Wells) and Max race to a stalemate (there’s that western influence again), which sees the former pull an arrow from his injured arm and evoke an unmoved screech.

This local impasse is indicative of a much grander one to which the film builds. The world has emerged from its process of environmental, political and economic degradation and is now in a state of total desolation. Max, alone following the tragic events that went before, must decide whether or not to assist a similarly cut off community in their fight against an oil-hungry motorcycle cult.

The former patrol officer runs into another drifter after his aforementioned interaction. The drifter, therein known as the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), exclaims: “You’re quick, very quick! Never seen a man beat a snake.” That’s where Max is now, instinct fully developed, greatly skilled in the art of survival. He is the road warrior. Max’s only companion is a scruffy dog, who amusingly entrusts with the Gyro Captain’s life — a scene involving an errant rabbit is absurdly hilarious.

As opposed to phones or wallets, people carry around spoons in the hope that they will find some leftover food rotting away in a tin can. The enforced partnership between Max and the Gyro Captain — the latter’s existence in exchange for direction — offers a bout of light relief from this demoralising and harsh landscape. Spence’s character is a sort of Ragetti figure (or perhaps Ragetti is more of a Gyro Captain), which is a welcome contrast to Max’s more sombre, uptight self.

Miller incessantly plays up his anti-hero’s transformation. Later in the film, Michael Preston’s settlement leader Pappagallo laments Max’s lone wolf status: “You think you’re the only one who’s suffered? We’re still human beings with dignity. You? You’re out there with the garbage. You’re nothing.” While his words ring with truth, we still feel compelled to sympathise with Max given his unfortunate past. The character’s evolution, or devolution, from a wholesome upholder of law to a lawless, fractured outcast is believable not only in accordance with society’s lack of structure, but more so because both Gibson and Miller consistently afford the character thoughtful consideration.

Marauding car sequences come with extra bite. At one point we see Max and the Gyro Captain peer through a telescope at a grisly runaway attempt. We become part of their distance spying, which adds a sense of realism to an otherwise unrecognisable world. The telescopic view carries the same rawness as modern amateur news reporting. In a way there is more at stake now that the landscape is completely barren; everyone is out for themselves, there is no more justice via the Main Force Patrol and instead barbarity is fought with barbarity. This shift towards more brutal action is a lot like shift in tone from The Terminator to Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Classic genre tropes are at large, including a classic Mexican standoff that sees an invading army attack the resource-rich town where Max ends up stranded. When guns are unavailable, blunt arrows and skull-cracking headbutts take centre stage, emphasising civilisation’s retreat back towards more archaic times. A finger-slicing boomerang finds its way into a brilliant scene, compounding the unadulterated madness of Miller’s film which, despite his no-nonsense approach, is thankfully still around.

Lord Humungus (obviously) is Max’s new nemesis. He dons a Jason-esque hockey mask and exudes the soothing pitch of an experience cult leader. “There has been too much violence, too much pain… just walk away and there will be an end to the horror,” Humungus decrees to the people defending their refinery. Kjell Nilsson is great to watch, sounding like an enigmatic overseer who has all the answers and looking like a monster who could do serious damage. He adopts Hugh Keays-Byrne’s intellectual Toecutter vibe but matches that with brute strength and sense of imminent physical threat.

One of The Road Warrior’s more abstract moments is a distorted scene which resembles something out of a Cecil B. DeMille horror flick: a loud brassy score with shots overlapping one another as enemy characters wail and gesture violently. There are aesthetic echoes of Charlton Heston’s Moses presenting the stone tablet to his followers in The Ten Commandments, oddly. Here, Humungus appears to take on the mantra of Hades, vehemently spouting threats as he stands before what appears to be the fiery pits of hell. It’s a bizarre scene, but the film’s genuine self-awareness justifies its inclusion.

Since release, The Road Warrior’s many admirers have catapulted the film into cult status. It is more aloof and less predictable than Mad Max. But it also favours simplicity in the right areas, affording more time for the development of its central character who is now a very different person. Just as Max has changed through circumstance, the world has changed with him. The symmetry is admirable, if expected. The execution is expectedly excellent.

Mad Max The Road Warrior - Max

Images credit: IMP Awards

Images copyright (©): Warner Bros.

Friday the 13th (1980)


Friday the 13th PosterDirector: Sean S. Cunningham

Release Date: May 9th, 1980 (US)

Genre: Horror

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Adrienne King, Peter Brouwer

It would go on to spawn nine awkwardly named sequels, a cash driven remake and horror’s first modern crossover but Friday the 13th’s greatest influence has always been contained within the lore of the genre itself. Part of a thriving gore group with strands etched through the seventies and early eighties, Sean S. Cunningham’s outing is fairly camp by today’s standards (no pun intended) but also an entirely palatable effort. Should we be thanking the director for his contribution to an occasionally riveting genre, or cursing him for his ‘how to’ guide on making a easy buck? Probably a bit of both in truth, but we definitely shouldn’t be ignorant.

You probably all know the story by now. In 1957, a young boy drowned in Crystal Lake. In 1958, two camp residents were brutally murdered. Twenty one years have passed and the summer retreat location is re-opening, its renovation being undertaken by owner Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) and a bunch of other counsellors. Of course, a blade-wielding killer has decided to pitch up for the night too.

Clichés are abound in Friday the 13th, but given the film was made so long ago a degree of slack-cutting ought to be implemented. It’s true that we can namecheck all of the hackneyed genre norms even before the end of the prologue, a trend that remains throughout and — looking back many years later via eyes worn out by forest chases, old creaky barns and loved up teens — is ultimately a bit disengaging. Then again, who’s watching a thirty-four year old slasher romp with a view to criticise when the local loony shows up? We’ve seen it all before, yes, but there is still stupidity fuelled fun to be had.

Such is the general nature of the slasher brand, the film isn’t all that frightening. The formula on display dictates what winds up being a fairly kooky tone; having settled on the joke-making, characters find themselves separated from the group — either through lust, sheer idiocy, or both — and are picked off innocuously. That’s not to say creepy moments are completely benched. On the off chance we do get see some post-death imagery that is quite unsettling, though by and large the kill scenes themselves are silly. (And, to be fair, quite admirably executed given the tiny budget).

The same plot would see the light of day a few years later, this time under of the guise of Sleepaway Camp, and Friday the 13th could have made use of that film’s shocking conclusion. At ninety minutes long, Victor Miller’s screenplay really does begin to feel the weight of repetition, particularly as it approaches its final act. More time should be filled with scary suspense, and absolutely would be in a more serious affair. The comedic underbelly (one that has no doubt felt the effects of age) taints any tension and, despite serving up the occasional moment of light relief, sticks the knife anything attempting to divert away from light froth — a silly interaction with a snake effectively sums up this quandary, especially as the pay-off gag is funny.

The cast, comprised of good looking kids you might see in a Pepsi commercial, are nothing more than genre pawns resistant to backstories and peeled straight off the slasher victim conveyor belt. These days they’d most certainly be chopped to pieces by the force of modern critical consumption. (Rich coming from a film blogger, admittedly). There is no central character, nobody who is distinguished outwith the cloak of ‘last person standing’, and it is therefore difficult to care. A youthful Kevin Bacon shows up looking peculiar in his iffy speedos, though he’s not the worst offender. Peter Brouwer plays camp owner Steve Christy, a guy I’d have been scared away by upon arrival at Crystal Lake — topless, moustached, prone to face stroking… he is the definition of a dodgy customer. A wary truck driver sums the characters up rather efficiently: “Dumb kids, heads full of rocks”.

Having said all that, the film should be acknowledged for its role in inspiring an often lively genre and it is here through which the franchise as a whole thrives. Part of the Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street crop, Friday the 13th is a significant contributor to a pack that would go on to influence a new form of popular mainstream cinema, a whole new genre in essence. Director Sean S. Cunningham shifts from a conventional shooting framework to one with flavours of today’s abundantly utilised found footage style. It works too: we collaborate with the killer’s point of view, adding a more primal dimension.

Other moments usher in previous genres knowledges, such as Hitchcockian shadows, Janet Leigh-esque screeches and Carrie-like drenched gowns, suggesting a semblance of directorial nous. The piece is also an introduction to one of cinemas most recognisable baddies in Jason Voorhees, though here his form is somewhat diminished. Moral issues such as revenge are timidly hinted at but not worth their inclusion.

Indeed, Friday the 13th couldn’t be cornier if it was on a cob. Characterisation — or the lack thereof — is at an unfathomable premium and the horror outing isn’t really all that spooky. But it’s not really horror. Three decades ago the picture was one of the first in a less weighty, more dainty subgenre whose cleaver would end up spurring on the likes of Scream, one of the 90s’ best and a favourite of mine.

For my money, that’s pretty good going.

Friday the 13th - Cast

Images credit: IMP Awards

Images copyright (©): Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

The King of Comedy (1983)


The King of Comedy PosterDirector: Martin Scorsese

Release Date: February 18th, 1983 (US limited)

Genre: Comedy; Drama

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis

From the moment Robert De Niro’s eccentric autograph-hunter Rupert Pupkin hops his way inside the limousine of talk show host Jerry Langford, The King of Comedy sizzles with motor mouth-induced panache. This isn’t the cynical nor the blunt outing that we have come to expect from Martin Scorsese. Instead, it is a light entry into comedy hall of fame, one that flaunts a relevant satirical backbone and a truly impervious performance from the director’s right-hand man De Niro. Proceedings are aided by a snappy screenplay, energetic direction and brisk editing, but this is absolutely a one-man show. Elements of subtle psychosis are explored through the pitfalls of rejection but, at heart, The King of Comedy is simply journey of hilarious wit, De Niro its perfect driver.

Rupert Pupkin’s (Robert De Niro) dream is to become a successful comedian plying his trade on a personal talk show. He spends many a day persistently practising routines and his evenings glued to the rear entrance of stage-doors, impatiently awaiting the signature of a celebrity (you get the sense anyone will do). Upon receiving a bout of half-hearted vindication from Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and a less than half-hearted promise that Langford will consider his talents, Rupert believes he has finally achieved the break he has been after. Only, the aspirer’s ambition far outweighs his common sense.

Robert De Niro has never been funnier. Rupert exists on the opposite end of the mentalist spectrum from Travis Bickle, though De Niro portrays each persona with equal amounts of verve and precision. Just like Travis, Rupert demands our utmost attention and more, though this time it’s as a direct result of an incessant need to talk his way into and out of every situation. De Niro effortlessly channels a man who always appears to be precariously teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown, yet someone who still retains a peculiar air of discipline. His mannerisms are exceptional, displaying the actor’s decisive comedic timing. Interactions with Jerry’s receptionist are particularly sterling, not to mention an awkward card reading scene that encapsulates Rupert’s mantra: purposeful without structure. The film is less interesting when De Niro is absent from the screen, not because the remaining elements are poor, but because De Niro’s presence is simply that enticing.

Paul D. Zimmerman’s screenplay scorches with immensely delivered dialogue. It throws up a satirical funny bone that harbours the on-going effects of celebrity obsession, on both the obsessive and those being obsessed over. Rupert is an in-over-his-head autograph collector (“The more scribbled the name, the bigger the fame”), but his problem is a far greater one: he’s a frenetic attention-seeker. If it’s not a woman, it’s a talk show host, or even a wall covered in painted figures resembling an applauding audience — the latter is one of the film’s most disconcerting and telling moments, echoing the infallible pitfalls of rejection. Though admirably gag-full, The King of Comedy also ushers in an eerie strand that strikes an even greater nerve as we learn more about our wannabe comedian. For a split second, the culture of mania becomes humane.

We begin to feel sorry for Rupert, who is ignored by all those whom he admires. When Rupert sees the walls in Jerry’s office are painted red, desperation asserts that he wears a red tie during the next visit — anything to impress. The film encourages us to get on board with a man who feels hard done by in life and who subsequently uses this as justification to overbear. Rejection manifests in similar forms to those of modern denial; “company policy” loopholes, an assistant reverberating condescending tones and emitting dissociative remarks. There’s no doubting De Niro’s impact in terms of making his character user-friendly, but credit must also go towards how Scorsese and company present the character. After all, it’s easier to engage and spend time with somebody who you like, as opposed to a person less cherished.

At its most rampant when De Niro is in view, The King of Comedy peaks by way of the humour expelled. Believing the hype — mainly his own — Rupert exclaims extraordinary fact after extraordinary fact in such a nonchalant manner that we begin to wonder whether or not they’re actually true (“That’s Woody Allen… he’s a friend of mine”). Other amusing sequences include Rupert’s uncanny resilience that sees him consistently refer to strangers by first name as if on a first-name basis — he’s a bit like the annoying drunk seemingly frozen in time and on repeat. Even his attire is so silly that it garners laughter: from the uncoordinated suit and tie to the pristine hair and questionable moustache. Listen out for De Niro’s dynamite “MAM!” too.

It’s blatantly obvious that Scorsese cares about his characters, particular his lead here whom he treats with affection and injects with more well-roundedness than is custom for such a psychotic individual. This caressing nature is reflected in the film’s overall image, one far from the brutal shades of grey seen in Goodfellas or the not so subtle shades of black and white in The Wolf of Wall Street. Typical of Scorsese, The King of Comedy does arrive in tandem with an inert pizazz, though not the glossy kind seen in the aforementioned outings, but rather an artificial glamour mirroring the inauthentic essence of show business on display. Proceedings rumble as they near the inevitable and dramatic conclusion, which sees an utterly outstanding monologue that tows the line between funny and pained. It’s the golden bow on a succinctly wrapped present.

The other performances range from very good to decent. Jerry Lewis is Jerry Langford, a man devoid of any cheer despite his lofty position in comedy. Ironically, the same spot a lively Rupert vies for. Though he plays the quintessential victim, Lewis’ pinpoint dismissive delivery assists in spinning the traditional roles. We cannot help but side with the guy who is trying his damnedest to etch some semblance of enthusiasm from his successful counterpart. Sandra Bernhard isn’t quite as effective as Rupert’s fellow maniac Masha, though her character suffers from being too one-dimensional, an issue increasingly flagged up in the presence of a well-rounded Rupert. In fairness, the pair display quite the frazzled dynamic when together.

Though it’s not as scoping as many of his other outings, The King of Comedy is definitely one of Martin Scorsese’s best and most intriguing. Spearheaded by Robert De Niro doing his best funny-man-cum-insane impression, the outing spawns diatribes of electricity and opts to stand out from the crowd of convention. “Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”

The King of Comedy - De Niro

Images credit: IMP AwardsThe Guardian

Images copyright (©): 20th Century Fox

Videodrome (1983)


Videodrome PosterDirector: David Cronenberg

Release Date: February 4th, 1983 (US); November 25th, 1983 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Science-fiction

Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits

If David Cronenberg was as good at picking lottery numbers as he is at predicting the future, then he’d absolutely be a millionaire by now. No, a billionaire. You know that modern culture of consumption to which we all find ourselves enslaved, the same one that probably has you reading this on an electronic device? (Email, Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix later, perhaps?) It’s all here, in Videodrome, only thirty years early. Cronenberg unfurls a prophetic prosecution of television that feels even more relevant in 2014 than it likely did back in the early eighties, when small-screen dominance was probably just an anxiety-wrapped possibility. Videodrome, therefore, is steeped in a philosophy of purpose and accuracy, one that is interesting to consider within our contemporary context. Unfortunately, the film itself struggles to keep up with the ideas developed. Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen it all before, but Videodrome is just a bit… boring.

Max Renn (James Woods) is the kind of guy Sigmund Freud would’ve been had Freud awoken a century later and veered closer to the sexual in psychosexual. He runs CIVIC-TV, a television station based in Toronto that relays unorthodox programming, and is on the look-out for something new to up the ante, something different. Luckily for Max — or perhaps unluckily — he stumbles across a feed airing uncoordinated brutality, called Videodrome. What appears to be sensationalist artifice quickly takes on a disconcerting meaning, and begins to invade more of Max’s existence than desired.

“Television is reality and reality is less than television,” retorts Brian O’Blivion, a professor who professes only through the televisual medium. His character is the essence of Cronenberg’s agenda: a victim of media gobbling. O’Blivion has dedicated a significant portion of his own life to the study of human obsession when it comes to television in particular, employing the visual instrument ultimately as a means not to an end, but to a forever. If O’Blivion is the essence, then his creation Videodrome is the agent of consumption. Though the exhibits on screen are morally questionable, perhaps even legally ambiguous, our leading man Max is increasingly drawn towards goings-on. And not only Max, his romantic interest Nicki too. She, having seen Videodrome, desires only to become a part of it. To be infused in a new televisual reality. Up until this point, there’s a precise and engaging ideology being explored, one that is embedded firmly in the fabric of modern times. (We’re so absorbed by television that we now watch people watching it). The domineering TV pull is a wholly engaging stance and Cronenberg deserves credit, given how accurately Videodrome mirrors today’s norms.

Eventually, notions of mass societal control, planted memories and geopolitical monopolies come into play as Cronenberg’s condemnation of the television culture expands — in truth, perhaps too many strands are added. The tone switches from one of warning to one driven by preachy sound waves. Instead of a cautionary tale about how an inanimate object can become empirical upon leeching itself onto humanity, Videodrome advances down a route of denunciation as it attempts to make our minds up for us. We watch and listen as characters discuss standing firm against “savage new times”; society having to be “pure, direct and strong”; and a “cesspool TV station” whose viewers are “rotting civilisation away from the inside”. The message is clear: beware any abnormal pseudo-violent tendencies in order to avoid them flowing into real life. A noble message, had it not come by way of a fictional film.

A film, incidentally, coughing up splurges of violence from beginning until end. Torsos pave way for VCR slots and hands take on the form of guns. These images are nasty and gooey, yet not as memorable as Cronenbergian bloodshed normally is. The body horror prosthetics are as slimy and grimy as ever, but don’t quite fit the reality-imbued mould proposed by the film. There’s no denying the clarity illustrating this as an inherently Cronenberg creation: grotesque bodily malfunctions, a techno-infection prerogative, the socio-political framework, some inconclusive chronologies. Yet, unlike many of the Canadian’s previous outings, Videodrome manifests without much gusto. It feels a tad worn. Though the ideas mentioned earlier are engaging, perhaps they only really draw a fresh appeal because of their prematurity. These ideas of global consumption have been tossed to-and-fro relentlessly over the last few decades; only recently Transcendence hit cinemas, a film that takes this notion a step further by physically infusing technology with a human being.

James Woods is good as the disingenuous-cum-traumatised CEO Max Renn. He’s not a very likeable chap — not many of the characters are, another issue intertwined within the film’s ever-growing list of problems — yet Woods ushers forth enough of a switch in morality to justify some form of sympathy. As Max’s love interest and radio host Nicki Brand, Deborah Harry doesn’t have an awful lot to do, nor does her character boast any redeemable qualities, instead only a flip-flopping ethical stance. (“I think we live in over-stimulated times… and I think that’s bad,” explains Nicki, before chatting up Max whilst wearing a red dress.) Sonja Smits has a cup of tea as O’Blivion’s daughter Bianca, whereas O’Blivion himself Jack Creley implores us to listen through his direct and sincere vocal delivery.

David Cronenberg encourages discussion about issues of media consumption that herald even more relevance within the context of today’s cultural and societal posture. However, as Videodrome progresses and happenings lose practical clarity, the film too squanders precision and veracity by introducing extra narrative elements that preach to us rather than alongside us. Never mind, I think I’ve got an episode of Gogglebox to catch up on.

Videodrome - James Woods

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures

Sixteen Candles (1984)


Director: John Hughes

Release Date: May 4th, 1984 (US)

Genre: Comedy; Romance

Starring: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling

John Hughes got it. The teenage ‘life, the universe and everything else is against me’ phenomena that grabs hold in those years of early adolescence. Hughes captured it, twisted it, humourised it, but never demonised it. In a society which often bemoans the pre-adult demographic, where an internet driven social media age embarks primarily on straining relationships between old and young, films such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles hold even more reverence. There’s no cynicism here, only joyfully glum appreciation. Of life lessons and abridged maturity. John Hughes reminds us that teenage years are not tepid, far from it, and that teenagers are not turbulent. Most of all, he reminds us to laugh and to cherish a generous time lived in all our lives.

Waking up on the morning of her 16th birthday, Sam (Molly Ringwald) is frustrated by the lack of overnight bodily development. Exacerbating matters, her entire family are too caught up in the hysteria of her sister’s impending wedding that Sam’s landmark day of celebration has been shunned far from the forefront of any of their minds. School treats her with the same apparent disinterest too; Sam only has eyes for senior student Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) who she believes is unaware of her own existence. Enter witty, geeky Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) and let the chaotic, humorous and well-meaning love maze commence.

Sixteen Candles was John Hughes’ first outing in the director’s chair, so it would be conceivable to forgive a sprinkling of over-eagerness on his part, or even stout rigidity. Forget that. Hughes sinks the nostalgic, adolescent lobe of his creativity-centre into the plundering paranoia of teenage high school life and comes up with a thriving, fun piece of filmmaking that doesn’t take itself too seriously — which at the end of the day is kind of the point considering his characters do take ultra-seriously a time in their lives that should be driven by inhibition. Subsequently though, importantly, it never boils over into caricature territory. You always get the feeling that these people on screen could be real people in real life, and that their self-aware predicaments are similarly scattered throughout schools all over the empirical world. In this sense, there’s an intrinsic personal attraction present, one that encapsulates the viewer because he or she knows that they have been where Sam’s emotions currently reside, or that they are even still living there.

And the thing is, as Sam worries over-dramatically about a missing sex quiz, or her inert awkwardness at the mercy of the love of her life Jake, it’s obvious that none of this really matters: “You know? Neither one of us is gonna die if it doesn’t happen for us.” This epitomises the opposite mentality which is prevalent throughout the film, an important one yes, but not a mentality based on set-in-stone principles. High-school life exists in a strange, disconnected bubble separated from the rest of civilisation. From when the bell rings at nine o’clock until it resounds six or seven hours later, you’re only focused on inter-class gossip or what’s on the lunch menu, far removed of the outside world. Hughes generates this introverted atmosphere exceedingly well, and mirrors it with the unimportant struggles of the teenager. It’s because Sam’s misgivings are heralded by herself and her peers as the worst problems (or best solutions) on earth that a natural hilarity ensues.

Central to many of the funny goings-on is Anthony Michael Hall, whose freshman Ted is fuelled by a bet made amongst his pals prompting a need to sleep with Sam. Ted’s youthful insecurities are often hidden under a surface sheen of semi-arrogance and energy. He’s a bit of a chancer, not least when making a second move on his target merely moments after being forgiven for the first eager attempt. Hall’s portrayal of this youngster unsure of his convictions is often witty as he snaps back many of the funniest lines. His persistence in the face of staunch rebuttals — mainly from Molly Ringwald’s Sam — is chuckle-laden, and the pair share a flourishing dynamic. Ringwald has much of the film resting on her premature shoulders as her various plots and non-successes are the basis of the amusing proceedings, and she does a tremendous job as the blissfully suffering lead. Both Hall and Ringwald would go on to work more as part of Hughes’ teenage parable series of movies, and their respective primitive deliveries here, plumb, full of comedy and wholehearted, offer only a few reasons why.

Perhaps when all is said and done there’s really not much difference between the material struggles of a teenage-existence and adulthood. Alcohol-drowned parties remain alcohol-drowned parties no matter how old you get. Relationships are still relationships until the knot has been tied. Sixteen Candles alludes to this continuity, embodied by way of the utterly chaotic preparation and execution of Sam’s sister’s wedding — a tumultuous pandemonium succeeded by no other. There’s no biased cynicism towards an age or demographic superfluous in the grand scheme of things because in the grand scheme of things, the trials of adulthood can be just as nonsensical and anarchic, yet sweet in nature (look out for a wedding commandeered by muscle-relaxant) as those teenage years.

Sixteen Candles is the first in a line of emotive comedies that paved the way for films from the Judd Apatow’s and Richard Linklater’s of this world. It’s not difficult to comprehend why John Hughes movies (his early work in particular) are so affectionately regarded these days. Relatable characters, charming mindfulness and funny screenplays are just three of the key proponents for present-day recognition, and are certainly three boastful characteristics on display here.

Airplane! (1980)


Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker

Release Date: July 2nd, 1980 (US)

Genre: Comedy

Starring: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves

These days, any utterance of the term ‘spoof movie’ would have the receptor sprinting for the closest exit. Films –  and I use that term extremely lightly –  including, and of similar ilk to, Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans are really just compilations of over-wrought, unfunny and ironic copy-cat segments that would have no place in a bargain bucket, never mind a cinema screen. However it wasn’t always that way. Released over 30 years ago, Airplane! may have unwittingly paved the way for the cackle of uncackles we are now invariably subject to. The only difference being: Airplane! is exceedingly funny, witty and actually pretty smartly written.

Unable to sufficiently maintain a job after becoming stricken by a fear of flying, former fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) now sees his relationship with girlfriend and flight attendant Elaine (Julie Hagerty) crumbling before him. In an act of desperation, Ted reluctantly dashes onto a plane ready for take-off, bidding to conquer his anxieties and secure his romance. Only, Ted’s lofty worries are the least he has to juggle aboard a plane journey where many of the passengers — and all of the pilots — are hit by a nasty bout of food poisoning. Never trust a fish, especially a dead one. Those slippery creatures.

From an introduction sprinkled with a dose of pointed aircraft tails swimming amongst the clouds à la Jaws, which certainly isn’t brooding as much as it is comical, Airplane! has you in the palm of its hands. Or the metal of its wings, even. The film is plastered with on-point, unrelenting one-liners that hit you maybe a little more than you’d like, yet somehow an inherent strength to laugh succeeds against aching cheekbones. The quick-fire jokes are a tad corny and rarely over-complicated, yet they always command the viewer’s full attention in order to be entirely understood. In this sense, it’s a bout of hats off to the writers (and directors) Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, who seem to accept and revel in the nature of the spoof-genre without committing comedy homicide — that would entail generic and tedious gags.

Even on occasions where the obvious, in-your-face type of musings refrain from divulging organic humour in themselves, it’s the deadpan delivery that breeds and then elevates the comedy (“Smoking or non-smoking?”). As a collective troupe the actors are funny; in particular Leslie Nielsen and Robert Stark bristle with pun-filled laughter by way of their impassive and controlling demeanours respectively. Patrick Kennedy does an exceptional job editing as he allows each of the jokes to soak in all their snappiness, ultimately enabling the film to find an uproarious rhythm in the process. Given the importance of speed and momentum in any laugh generation mechanism, without Kennedy’s editing efforts there’s a good chance Airplane! would enter a tailspin.

Although the dreary wisecracks aren’t there, the noticeably familiar characters are on display because they simply have to be in a spoof offering. The nature of parody — and to a degree satirical output — is developing an immediately self-referential atmosphere and, in this case, flying with it. Have your caricature checklist at the ready: we’ve got the popular hostess; an ill but ultra-polite child; the troubled hero trying to win back his partner; two stuck-up kids; the African-American pair with subtitles; an un-oblivious captain; the paranoid wife abroad; an emotionless doctor; the failing basketball star trying to stay out of the limelight; an overworked agent. Sore hand yet? The list goes on, but that’s the point. We hear talkies era music during romantic endeavours, mellow tones as part of war-time recollections. It’s all recognisable and that’s absolutely a slice of the humour cake.

Airplane! is expertly constructed, squeezing a bountiful amount of jokes into a relatively short run-time without ever feeling crammed. Part of the traditional hit or miss genre, the film punctures a hole in the proverbial bullseye a great deal more often than it misses. Many an expert of funny would regularly see fit to claim that the key to comedy is perfect timing. Well, this is never late.

Looks like I picked the right week to watch a spoof movie.

Evil Dead II (1987)


Director: Sam Raimi

Release Date: March 13th, 1987 (US); June 26th, 1987 (UK)

Genre: Comedy; Horror

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie DePaiva

The second instalment of Sam Raimi’s highly regarded Evil Dead franchise, Evil Dead II (or Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn to be precise) takes a slightly different route as far as tone goes to that unearthed in Evil Dead. Here, Raimi chooses to essentially recreate the original and utilise the film as a comical nod to horror in general. With a shortage of laughs never in question and Bruce Campbell at the helm once again, Evil Dead II ticks all of the classic horror boxes in a knowing way. Unfortunately, this shift of focus to comedy shreds a great of the scare-factor away that the original provided so well, meaning the film succeeds as an amusing satire, but fails to deliver as a scary horror. Luckily, a scary horror is not what it is meant to be.

Evil Dead II begins in a similar vein to its predecessor, as Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) travels with his girlfriend Linda to an old cabin in the woods. Soon after they arrive (that is, very soon after) Ash and his girlfriend are attacked by an evil spirit resulting in the death of Linda and Ash becoming partially possessed. Meanwhile, the daughter of the cabin owners, Annie Knowby, is also on her way to the forest retreat alongside her boyfriend and father’s associate Professor Ed Getley. The duo come across southern Jake and his partner Bobby Joe, who join them on their journey to impending madness and gore.

Much of what occurs on-screen during Evil Dead II is designed almost as a parody of horror, and is in place simply to make the audience laugh. From the outset Raimi puts his characters through the everyday (or, more suitably, every-night) rigours of horror: we see a spooky cabin in a dense forest; the demise of a loved one; a suspect bridge (the destruction of which would leave those who have crossed-over in isolation); a dark cellar; Gothic books with ancient text; and all of that makes up the opening half hour. When the focus is centred on these self-acknowledging elements the film works, and works effectively.

Not only is the setting clichéd and the set-pieces part of horror lore, so too are the characters, each of whom boast individual qualities. The heroic protagonist, the charming damsel-in-distress, the goofy idiot and his self-centred partner — they are all present. Evil Dead II‘s obvious satirical drive and the fact that it does not take itself seriously are the two proponents which make the comedy aspect of the film a resounding success. Raimi knows he is pandering to an aware audience, thus, when the additional ancient passages which must be recited to disperse the evil spirits are thrown into the unwelcoming cellar, or when a hapless Bobby Joe scampers out into the demon-infested forest without so much as a moment of rationalisation, a simultaneous chuckle can be heard from both the filmmaker and the audience — communally, we all get it.

Without a doubt, Evil Dead II trumps its precursor as far as comedy goes, but it is a far cry from its predecessor in terms of actual horror. As each scenario becomes increasingly humour-filled and events display the usual scary movie elements, the film quickly loses any lingering tension which would typically be present. Unlike The Evil Dead — which survived and made its name by way of its relentless atmosphere that ranged from discreetly eerie to outright frightening — Evil Dead II struggles to strike up any semblance of an underlying chilling tone. The overarching comedy out-muscles any potential horror during scenes, generating laughter where there would normally be scares. With that being said, the film is not trying to be scary. On the odd occasion that it does reach for a proverbial jump-scare, it does so because those scares have become a staple of horror.

Bruce Campbell’s Ash is as equally at home in amongst the comical nature of Evil Dead II as he was alongside the spookiness of Evil Dead. In fact, his outlandish antics and hilarious facial expressions are even more welcome this time around as they offer more to the film and, in unison with the satire, provide genuine laughs. The duel Ash is involved in early on with his possessed hand delivers outrageous merriment, the resonance of which holds up throughout the film. The supporting cast, on the other hand, do not offer as much comedy — at least not intentionally. Much of their involvement consists of loud screeching and accentuated vowels. Ash’s antics make up the trunk of the film, while the remaining cast are simply the supporting branches. A few snapped twigs have little effect on the strength of a tree, right?

With low production values and ridiculous-looking gore, Evil Dead II sets a comical tone from the get-go as it knowingly places clichéd horror characters in a classic scary setting and through common frightful situations. The shift in focus from terror to comedy negates any usual scares and turns them into echoes of laughter. Often, when a horror film of any ilk is not at all scary, something is not quite right.

However in the case of Evil Dead II, it could not be more right.