Vacation (1983)

Getting Away From It All

The noble all American pursuit of taking your family on vacation (or holiday as we call it in the UK); that is the ultimate aim of Clark Griswold. Chevy Chase is Clark Griswold in one of those roles which is so identified with one actor. He’s such a family man in an extreme yet subtly comic way with is repressed frustration making him a ticking time bomb. He’s a proponent of the American dream if there ever was one; an unashamedly white Anglo Saxon protestant who takes family ideals a little too far at times.

Vacation is my favourite John Hughes movie and a very American movie at that. You can’t do this in the UK; here you can hop in your car and you will be at the other end of the country in a day. It seems like the idea of a road trip was designed for the vast open country of the United States in which you drive for days on end. However, the theme of vacation (or holiday) frustration is relatable to anyone who has been on vacation. As Clark puts it “When I was a boy just about every summer we would take a vacation, and you know in 18 years, we never had fun”. Even the most out there jokes such as the car still moving while Clark has fallen asleep at the wheel or the death of the aunt still manage to feel relatable to some degree and remain grounded in reality.

Road movies give some of the best opportunity to create great amounts of character development and I feel there are few other writers in cinema history who had the ability to generate so much character development within such a short space of time than John Hughes; and like The Blues Mobile of The Blues Brothers, the car in Vacation is a character itself. As seen in many of Hughes’ film, the kids and/or young people are fully sexually aware (In Vacation Rusty’s cousin teaches him about masturbation for the first time) which I find liberating to watch as Hughes is a writer who treats young people like adults with themes which were explored further in films like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. Sigh, why wasn’t I a child of the 80’s?

Vacation is one of the most summery movies; watch it during the cold months of the year to escape the winter blues.

Superman III (1983)

Clark V Superman

I don’t deny Superman III is a flawed movie but damned if I didn’t have fun with it! Even during the opening scene I prior to the credits I already found myself relating to Richard Pryor’s character of Gus Gorman and I thought this was supposed to be a bad movie? The monotony of a Benefits office and the employees who don’t want to be there and that they probably don’t like you as evident through their body language. Then Gus complains about his experience being employed by a fast food restaurant and how “they expect you to learn that stuff in one day”. Let’s just say I’ve had some similar real-life experiences. Untimely I enjoyed his character and didn’t mind him sharing the spotlight with Superman in terms of screen time.

The opening credits do look like they were done on Windows Movie Maker (or whatever the 1980’s equivalent was) but I won’t lie if I didn’t say the slapstick comedy in the opening credits doesn’t amuse me. The slapstick is at least done a director who understands and knows how to do physical comedy but how do I justify the use of slapstick in a movie which likely didn’t need it to be used to such a degree? I could say it ties in with the fact that Clark Kent is a bumbling fool, plus the series is light-hearted and campy as a whole, so there are other movies in which the inclusion of widespread slapstick comedy could feel more out of place. Regardless, it gets a few laughs out of me. Not all of the comedy is successful in my eyes; the scene in which Gus explains Superman’s exploits in Columbia is really head scratching-ly bizarre (just an odd way of progressing the plot) plus the green man and the red man in the pedestrian traffic light was going too far but I do enjoy the gags which use Superman’s powers for comedic effect such as his altering of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the blowing out of the Olympic Torch.

The villain Ross Webster comes off as a lesser Lex Luthor. I still quite like Robert Vaughn’s charismatic performance but I wish they could have taken the villain in a different direction rather than just being another evil business mogul. Also, why does the villain’s view of Superman flying through the canyon look like a video game? It doesn’t make sense but is fun to watch. However, I will say Vera actually turning into a cyborg was going too far. The action scenes, however, are fantastic, full of creative old-school special effects; the highlight being Evil Superman vs. Clark Kent (a sequence which really shows of what a great actor Christopher Reeve was). Is it ironic in relation to today’s needlessly dark and gritty superhero movies that Evil Superman’s appearance is similar to Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, right down to the darkened colours? Forget Batman v Superman, this is where it’s really at!

Like Superman II, the element of the movie I found myself enjoying the most was the character relationships. I was surprised I liked Lana Lang almost as much as I do Lois Lane. Just look at the scene in which Clark and Lana are cleaning up the gym together and she tells him about her ambitions and how she wants to leave Smallville. At this point in the movie, I thought to myself how can people dismiss this movie as much as they do? Yes, it is flawed but when you have brilliant intimate moments like this then how can you not see it isn’t without merit.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Luke Be a Jedi Tonight!

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

It’s not easy calling Return of the Jedi your favourite Star Wars film. Were as when someone says The Empire Strikes Back is their favourite they get cheers from the crowd. Call Return of the Jedi your favourite you get boos and hisses followed by a rigorous defense of your opinion. Well, it could be worse; those who call the prequels their favourite usually get stoned or hanged by a lynch mob.

I find Return of the Jedi to be the film in the series which satisfies me the most in this swashbuckling space adventure. I like how it combines elements from both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back from Hope’s light-hearted nature and the nostalgic return to Tatooine, to Empire’s darker nature with Luke confronting Vader and the Emperor. But when I think Return of the Jedi I think redwood forests. The forest moon of Endor is such a splendour to look at, and once again proves that Planet Earth is the greatest movie set of all.

Let’s talk about everyone’s favourite addition to the Star Wars universe, shall we? I am indeed speaking of the Ewoks. The dismissive statements towards these creatures that the empire was brought down by a bunch of teddy bears I find to be very close-minded. I completely agree with George Lucas that they showcase how it is possible for a primitive race to bring down a technologically advanced superpower such as the empire is inspired by the Viet Cong’s offense against the Americans during the Vietnam War. I like this message as it’s true that the most advanced technology isn’t always the best means; sometimes less is more. I know many say the idea of Ewoks helping bring down the Empire was highly improbable. Well, my answer to that is remember Yoda’s lesson in The Empire Strikes Back, “Judge me by my size do you?”. The cute nature of the Ewoks (along with their whimsy yet epic theme music) provides a counterbalance to the darker scenes in Return of the Jedi. Yet the Ewok’s themselves are not without their own darker side. At one point in the film, they have no remorse when they intend to burn out heroes alive and notice how they use the helmets of dead stormtroopers as musical instruments.

Likewise, Return of the Jedi has too many puppets? I’m used to hearing people complain about movies which use too much CGI but a movie using too many practical effects – that’s a new one. The creature department and their astounding levels of creativity employed for Return of the Jedi hit it out of the park with creations such as the odd-looking yet enamoring fish create that is Admiral Ackbar. It’s just a shame people look at this cynically and say they were just trying to sell toys.

Return of the Jedi does not disappoint in its reveal of Jabba the Hut. The space gangster whose name is mentioned in the previous two movies with no indication as to whether or not he was a human, an alien or something different altogether (at least in the original theatrical versions). In a masterwork of puppetry, Jabba is a wonderfully, horrendous creature design; an extreme, gluttonous version of Sydney Greenstreet. Return of the Jedi also contains the iconic bikini Leia. More than just a sex symbol (insert Tex Avery wolf here), it also gives way to the powerful image of Leia strangler Jabba, her enslaver with the very chains attached to her body.

My favourite action scene in any movie ever is a toss between the final car chase in The Blues Brothers and the escape from Jabba in Return of the Jedi (with the later speeder bike chase not being far behind). Talk about a “How are they going to get out of that?” moment; in which they do in a convincing, heart racing like crazy manner. I love how the escape is one big elaborate plan which all our heroes are in on, not to mention the introduction of Luke’s green lightsaber in a shot that couldn’t look more majestic. Also, I never understood people’s love affair with Boba Fett, so his death didn’t bother me. To the contrary I find his death to be interesting in how unconventional it is; this tough badass who doesn’t go out with a bang, but rather dies in a humiliating fashion. I was more concerned with Lando being on the cusp of death!

The second half of Return of the Jedi is one of the most intense, involving and grand cinematic experiences. Cutting between the assault on the imperial cruisers and the second death star, the assault on Endor and the powerful emotions when Luke is confronting Vader and the senile, scenery chewer that is Emperor Palpatine; it perplexes me that people can put down this movie so much. Having a second Death Star sounds like a lazy idea on paper but I fell they get away with it due to the immaculate execution. I love the incomplete appearance of Death Star II and the film’s final battle involves ships navigating through the tunnels and into the center of the battle station makes for a dogfight even more exciting than that from A New Hope. Likewise, while it’s near impossible to go into these movies for the first time fresh unless you’ve spent your whole life under a rock, but I didn’t have previous knowledge that Luke and Leia are brother and sister; which is one surprise the original Star Wars trilogy had for me.

Science fiction cinema had never seen a finer moment between the final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor. The optimism of Luke Skywalker to find the good in someone as evil as Darth Vader and bring him away from the dark side is inspiring in this powerful arch of redemption as Vader returns to the light side just at the very end of his life; a life he sacrificed in order to save Luke’s. The unmasking of Vader is enough to make grown men cry, and seeing the ghost of Anakin Skywalker played Sebastian Shaw (sorry Hayden Christensen) appear to next to the ghosts of Obi-wan and Yoda is awe inspiring. Revenge of the Sith, a Shakespearean tragedy? Pfft, please. This is proper storytelling tragedy. I couldn’t ask for a better finale to a better trilogy. Ah, Return of the Jedi, I know people give you flak but to me, you’re perfect the way you are – Ewoks and all.