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.

Advertisements

JFK (1991)

No Stone Unturned

I’m aware in modern times conspiracy theories have become detrimental in discovering the actual truth (largely thanks to the internet) but I can’t deny that I just love this sort of stuff. JFK requires your utmost attention and at a runtime of three hours, it feels like the movie leaves no stone upturned (pardon the pun) in its examination and deconstruction of the Kennedy assassination. Admittedly the first time I watched JFK I didn’t understand much of what is discussed in the film. It’s a lot to digest in a single viewing but there are more intriguing theories here than an entire season of Ancient Aliens (minus the bad haircuts and awkward line delivery); but I can happily watch JFK multiple times to further understand it and eat up every single word of dialogue. I doubt we will ever need another film made about the Kennedy assassination; what highly talented filmmaker could be more passionate about the subject matter? I also highly recommend watching the director’s cut for even more conspiracy goodness to evoke the paranoia in you.

JFK is one of those movies which makes you most appreciate the art of editing, incorporating many layers of time and reels of stock footage; no scene during the movie’s three hours is edited in a standard fashion. The editing help make the film’s exposition exciting; a character may be describing an event as the scene cuts to just that in an obscured or dreamlike manner. The Mr. X sequence with Donald Sutherland is a perfect example of how to pull of engrossing exposition; plus is there a more classic cold war, spy movie type scene than meeting a suited man in the park to receive classified information. Likewise, John Williams’ theme for JFK evokes my inner patriotic American, even if I’m not American. The militaristic and at other times conspiratorial nature of the score helps make the movie as compelling as it is. The black & white scenes such as those featuring the military feel reminiscent of Seven Days In May with shades throughout of the John Frankenheimer style. I’m sure Stone must have also taken some pointers from the first movie about the Kennedy assassination, 1973’s Executive Action.

JFK continues the tradition of films such as The Longest Day in which a large ensemble cast of familiar faces and great screen presences to help guide us through the story. It’s amazing seeing different generations of actors doing some of the best work their careers and utilizing their screen personas to full effect even if many of them are only on screen for short spaces of time. Some of the figures in the story strike me as too bizarre to have been real-life people, especially David Ferrie and Claw Shaw.

I’ve always been in defense of Kevin Costner against criticisms of being a dull actor. Granted his career did go downhill in mid 90’s and has never fully recovered but in his heyday of the late 1980’s/early 90’s he was such a hot streak of films. Casting him in the role of Jim Garrison couldn’t be more perfect as Costner is much like a modern-day classic movie actor in the vein of everymen like James Stewart, Henry Fonda or Gary Cooper. He’s been most commonly compared to Cooper (the courtroom section of the film is reminiscent of Cooper’s role in The Fountainhead) although with his southern demeanor I would compare him to being a modern-day Henry Fonda. I would defy anyone to call Costner a bad actor after watching the film’s courtroom scene. Talking almost non-stop for 40 minutes and never losing my attention while exuding a stern, emotional and towards the end of the speech, a fragile voice; with his final conclusion bringing a tear to my eye.

I find Jim Garrison’s family life interesting itself, mostly from the relationship with his wife. What does he see in her? She does not support his endeavors, despite his noble cause and unlike her husband, she is susceptible to believing what the media tells her. Here is a man who spends the movie questioning and fighting the system yet has a wife with a conformist personality. I can’t say for certain what they were like in real life but the in film I grew to dislike her character.

JFK  draws no conclusions, it doesn’t prove who assassinated Kennedy and allows the viewer to make up their own mind. Stone may be often criticized for his use of a dramatist’s license but as I say with many films based on historical events; this can make for a more compelling story. Even if there are untruths present, the film can act as a gateway to wanting to discover the real story. The movie did leave me a feeling of (good) anger and is one of the films I can credit with helping to influence the way I think.

“Dedicated to the young in whose the spirit the search for truth marches on.”

The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Ultimate Comedy

To date, The Blues Brothers remain the only instance in which after watching a movie for the first time, I watched it again the very next day. Several viewings later I’ve come to the decision that The Blues Brothers is my favourite film comedy.

The Blues Brothers is some of the most fun you’ll ever have with a motion picture. Just one incredibly fun set piece after another whether a car chase, a musical number or comedic showcase. Choosing a favourite moment? Now that’s difficult. The portion of the film which has me in the most hysterical fit is the sequence at Bob’s Country Bunker. Having a blues band with two lead singers who are as urban as it gets at a redneck bar in which everyone thinks they’re the night’s country music act has me laughing just thinking about it, not to mention quite a stab at country music. In regards to the film’s musical numbers, let’s just say I bought the two-disc movie soundtrack very soon after watching the film, which gave me a solid twelve months of continuous music listening pleasure.

Does there exist a movie which has more reverence for its location? The only other movie which instantly pops into my mind is Rocky. For the best moment in the movie which captures the grit and grime of the city of Chicago is the scene on Maxwell street with John Lee Hooker playing cut to shots of stalls selling music and other artefacts; such a beautiful sequence.

Then there’s the film’s final car chase. I haven’t seen every famous movie car chase but I would happily place a wager that there is no other car chase in the history of cinema better than this. I believe a truly great action sequence is one in which there’s a sense of danger that someone can get hurt or even killed. Here I’m not only fearing for the fictional characters but also the real-life cast and crew. The number of cars involved and carnage that ensues is unprecedented; Grand Theft Auto years before Grant Theft Auto existed. With so many action movies featuring gargantuan levels destruction which means nothing and has no impact, they should take note from The Blues Brothers on how to make action sequences in which you can actually feel the weight and heft of everything from the screech of every tire to the sirens of every police car whizzing past the screen.

The lack of logic in The Blues Brothers only adds to its enjoyment. For example, the very obvious plot hole in which The Good Ole Boys arrive hours late at the country bar with no explanation would likely downgrade most movies; here it just enhances the surreal world inhabited by the Blues Brothers. My favourite illogical moment is the Illinois Nazi’s demise on the unfinished freeway; it makes no sense in the most wonderful way. The 80’s was pretty much the decade for epic, large-scale comedies such as The Blues Brothers. Only then could a film like this even get made.