Friday, 19 October 2012

Sister Act

The great thing about popcorn is that it makes you feel good... well that's what it does for me anyway! So by definition, popcorn movies should be feel-good classics, and they don't get much better than Sister Act. This movie has all the elements of a good popcorn movie... some big name stars, great support cast, a simple plot, fish-out-water comedy, the rise of the underdogs and a killer soundtrack. What more could you want?

When Sister Act was released way back in 1992, Whoopi Goldberg had a bit of an up and down movie career. After stunning the movie world in her debut performance in The Color Purple, she mixed the good (Ghost) with the pretty ordinary (Soapdish, Burglar). But Sister Act was definitely one of her finer moments and it would be possible to argue that she hasn't had the same success starring in a movie since.

As you would expect the plot is nice and easy to follow. Lounge singer Dolores (Goldberg) needs witness protection so she gets placed in a struggling convent. She takes over the choir which is sounds horrible and is in desperate need of help. Her worldly ways breathe new life into the convent and the choir, while the nuns teach her a thing or two about turning her life around. Isn't it lovely how God truly works in mysterious ways... On the surface this could have been another pretty average comedy, but the cast works brilliantly together and it is the music that really sets this popcorn movie apart from the rest of the crop.

Kathy Najimy made her debut in Sister Act and impressed as the exuberant Sister Mary Patrick. Wendy Makkena provides a nice counterpoint as Sister Mary Robert, the quiet little mouse who learns to believe in herself and become the star singer of the choir. Maggie Smith is also fantastic as the sour Reverend Mother who is eventually won over by the irrepressible Goldberg. Harvey Keitel even pops up as the mob boss who starts the whole action of the plot, which was a real win for the producers considering he was one of the biggest gangster-style actors of the time.

But as I mentioned, it is the music that is the true star of the show, with the story arc of the development of the choir really driving the movie forward. Seeing the awful rabble at the start of the movie turn into a world class group with perfect harmonies and an upbeat take on classic hymns is predictable but rewarding at the same time. If you don't feel even a little bit good after watching this movie, then you need to take a good, hard look in the mirror and stop taking yourself, and the world, a little less seriously.

Friday, 12 October 2012

A Knight's Tale

Every now and then a truly great popcorn movie will feature the rise of a truly great actor or actress. Sometimes these stars burn so brightly that they are gone too soon, as was the case with Heath Ledger. And while A Knight's Tale certainly wasn't his greatest moment as an artist, it was probably his greatest popcorn moment of all time.

Ledger was nothing more than a fledgling teen heartthrob after a star turn in 10 Things I Hate About You, but A Knight's Tale allowed him to flex his muscles a little more and offer a slight hint of greater things to come. The fact that this film is in any way memorable owes an awful lot to the star quality of Ledger who is so charismatic and likeable, that even the paper thin and predictable plot and the often naff script seem charming and fresh.

However, following the true popcorn movie tradition, A Knight's Tale is also helped along by a great support cast. Mark Addy (the fat guy from The Full Monty), Alan Tudyk (the pirate in Dodgeball) and Paul Bettany (the creepy guy from The Da Vinci Code), are Ledger's sidekicks. Each has their moment and there is a genuine feeling of camaraderie among the boys. Rufus Sewell is also delightfully despicable as the villain of the piece, Count Adhemar.

One of the real surprises comes from Shannyn Sossamon, who made her film debut in A Knight's Tale. After beating out Kate Hudson for the role of Ledger's love interest, Sossamon is a good fit for the beautiful and mildly-sassy Jocelyn. She appeared destined for a big future after this movie, but her career never really took off despite the occasional critically acclaimed role, and she certainly has never returned to the ranks of popcorn movies again (something she is probably very proud of!)

However, the biggest surprise of this movie is the way in which modern day vernacular and music is integrated into the scenes. There are so many modern day references, that rather than trying to be clever about the way they are incorporated, A Knight's Tale simply swaggers along and says 'I am not even close to being historically accurate and I couldn't care less'. This approach is entertaining, endearing and let's you just enjoy the film for what it is rather than being put off by the contradictions. I mean, who can't help but smile when We Will Rock You is the the theme song for jousting tournaments. But probably the most audacious use of modern music, and one of the best moments of the film, is when Ledger and Sossamon turn a traditional medieval dance into getting funky to David Bowie... naturally this is the popcorn movie moment of the week...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

There are plenty of bad 80s popcorn movies and there are a lot that look dated and daggy in the modern day landscape, which give them a certain nostalgic charm. However, every now and then an 80s popcorn movie comes along that is still as fresh and relevant now as it was back in the day. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, arguably the pick of the John Hughes stable, is one such movie.

Legend has it that Hughes wrote the script for Ferris Bueller's Day Off in 10 days back in 1985. By June 1986 it was one of the top grossing movies of the year and it is still being discovered by teenagers almost three decades later.

I recently had a day off work, which inspired me to write about this movie. While lying on the couch feeling sorry for myself and frantically googling remedies for a sore throat, I had more than one fleeting thought about how much more fun a day off would be if I wasn't really sick and instead I was cruising around Chicago in a 1961 Ferrari.

Matthew Broderick is at his absolute best as Ferris Bueller. It's so hard to imagine anyone else playing this role, and his perfect blend of boyish looks, annoying charm, self-confidence and tongue-in-cheek delivery is what makes this film. This is a wonderful example of a writer tailoring a script to a specific actor and a perfect performance being the result.

Like all good popcorn movies, the plot is very simple and just revolves around Ferris taking the day off school with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and neurotic best buddy Cameron (a 29-year old Alan Ruck). While Sara disappeared into the popcorn movie ether, Ruck went on to a moderate career playing bit parts in the odd movie (I Love You Beth Cooper, Cheaper By The Dozen, Twister and Speed) and is best known as Stewart in Spin City. Jeffrey Jones also puts in a fine turn as the decidedly deranged Dean of Students Edward Rooney who will go to any lengths to catch Ferris in the act of truancy.

Also notable in supporting roles are Jennifer Grey (before her nose job and Dirty Dancing) as Ferris' annoying sister and Charlie Sheen makes a cameo as 'drug addict in police station' (who says life never imitates art?)

This is a movie with plenty of soul and spirit and memorable set pieces that will stay with you long after the final credits roll. From moments of teen angst to fantastical whimsy, slapstick comedy to social commentary, and everything in between, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is worth watching every few years just to freshen your perspective on life and have a good laugh. As Ferris himself says... 'Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!' 

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


The mid 1980s were a funny time and for anyone who grew up during that period, you would remember the film Gremlins very well. There was a lot of hype surrounding this movie and I have very strong memories of gathering in the hall of my primary school to watch the movie with entire school. The only other time I can remember this happening was when Return of the Jedi was released.

The fact that our teachers unwittingly unleashed this black comedy/horror on a group of impressionable young kids showed just how clever the marketing surrounding this movie was. After all, how could anything produced by Steven Spielberg, written by Chris Columbus and starring an adorable furry little puppet named Gizmo be scary?

From the outset, Gremlins has a dark undercurrent that was popular with other films of the time. Ghostbusters was a classic example of combining comedy with horror elements and raking in box-office dollars, so it was no surprise that other studios followed this formula.

The legend of Gremlins was part of the public consciousness well before I saw the movie. Don't expose them to bright light, don't let them get wet and never, ever, no matter how much they beg, feed them after midnight. Naturally all these things happen to Gizmo who is a last minute Christmas present for the geeky but loveable hero of the story Billy Peltzer played by Zach Galligan (remember him? probably not since his biggest hit after Gremlins was Cyborg 3: The Recycler!)

The effects of breaking the rules of the Mogwai has very entertaining after effects as the Gremlins make their long-awaited appearance. Once Spike and his gang of fun loving goons start to run rampant, the movie really starts to take off.

The fact that the death and destruction caused by the Gremlins takes place on Christmas Eve makes the black comedy even more macabre and this really is a movie of contrasts. Funny moments are followed by sombre stories of childhood tragedy (I'm still scarred by Phoebe Cates describing how her father died while pretending to be Santa). Cute sequences are followed by graphic, but not realistic, violence. Yet somehow, the combinations make for a truly memorable and entertaining movie.

Despite the cute packaging and the fact that I don't think it had too much of an effect on me, I don't think this is one for the young kids, but it is a great popcorn movie for people my age who want to relive their childhood. And let's face it, among the endless wave of CGI that abounds in films these days, there's something reassuring and wonderful about watching puppets in action... even if they are exploding in the microwave.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Wedding Singer

The Wedding Singer is a movie that has a really special place in my heart. For starters it is one of my favourite movies and includes some fantastic 80s songs, but I also directed the stage version of it in 2008. It is still the show I enjoyed directing and performing in the most, and I met my beautiful wife during the show... so it was pretty good all round!

Enough about me though... this is all about popcorn movies. The Wedding Singer is a movie that is perfect for popcorn because the plot is thin and predictable and the characters are complete stereotypes, but the director and actors are completely unashamed of this... in fact, they revel in the cheesiness and it makes the movie all the better for it. 

Adam Sandler is one of those actors that annoys me and makes me laugh in equal measure. However, his portrayal of the Mr Nice Guy, looking-for-love, ageing wedding singer Robbie Hart is probably the best of his movie roles. The role of Robbie allows him to show his sensitive side, his warped aggression and musical ability which is really quite impressive.

For the movie to work, it was also imperative that he had believable chemistry with his leading lady, and he had this in spades with Drew Barrymore. They a such a perfect match for each other that it is easy to forget that their attraction to each other is merely a by-product of good acting and writing.

However, the thing that really makes this movie stand out from the crowd is the supporting cast and 80s setting. There is no particular reason for The Wedding Singer to be set in the 80s but the decade of decadence makes the perfect setting for such a fluffy film. The fashion, the hairstyles, the music, the lame references to playing records on CD players... are perfect for The Wedding Singer.

The support cast is also top notch. I have always loved Allan Covert and his cameo appearances in Sandler's movies, but he finally gets a big role in The Wedding Singer. He is fantastic as the sleazy but loveable Sammy and it makes me wonder why he doesn't get more bigger roles. Christine Taylor is also great as Holly and Matthew Glave is wonderfully horrible as Glenn Gulia.

However, there must be a tie for the title of biggest show stealer. Ellen Albertini Dow is the rapping granny does well and Steve Buschemi has some truly bizarre and hilarious moments. Alexis Arquette is both disturbing and entertaining as George and he would have been the king (or queen) of the show stealers had it not been for the appearance of Billy Idol.

Idol's acting ability seems tested despite the fact he is playing himself. However, his acting skills are nothing compared to the girl pictured above who has to pretend to find him attractive. Despite this, the final scene with Billy is a gem and still one of my favourites ever. So naturally, this is the clip I'm going to show for my latest Popcorn Movie Night selection.


Girls Just Want To Have Fun

If you ever watched Sex in the City and wondered who you need to blame for inflicting the world with Sarah Jessica Parker, then the casting agents of the 1985 popcorn movie Girls Just Want To Have Fun must shoulder some of the responsibility. After a supporting role as Rusty in Footloose, the pint-sized actress was 20 years old when she scored her first leading role in this dance-athon which was inspired by the Cyndi Lauper song.

As you might expect for a film based on a pop song, the plot is paper thin but good clean fun. Parker's fiesty leading lady Janey wants nothing more than to be a dancer on the highly originally named Dance TV. But can you believe it? Her strict Catholic father doesn't want to her throw her life away on something so lame. She probably should have listened to her Dad...

At the same time, resident bad (but pretty) boy Jeff, played by Lee Montgomery, who was at the tail-end of his child acting career and soon faded into obscurity, has a bizarre passion for dancing but his tough-nut Dad wants him to go to trade school instead. Helen Hunt also pops up as Janey's wacky best friend Lynne, whose velcro sleeved school shirt shows just how cool (or should I say radical?) she is.

Funnily enough Janey and Jeff get paired up at Dance TV auditions, wow the judges with some moderately well executed 80s dance steps (and much more impressive hair styles and fashion sense) and despite initally hating each other, end up romantically entwined while preparing for the big dance off at the end of the movie.

This movie is actually pretty fun to watch if you're an 80s child like myself. The presence of some big name stars strutting their stuff early in their careers is entertaining, as are the dance sequences which are propped up by some funny choreography but suffer from some very ordinary music. In its day, Girls Just Want To Have Fun obviously wasn't rated highly by the entertainment industry and as a result could not pick up any big name songs in its soundtrack. Even Cyndi Lauper's title song could only be included in the final credits.

A killer 80s soundtrack would have really tipped this movie into the must-see 80s classic zone occupied by Footloose, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Dirty Dancing. However, as it stands, this is a worthy addition to the Popcorn Movie Night ranks.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

My Best Friend's Wedding

With one of my best friends getting married today, I thought this was a pretty good movie to include as a great Popcorn Movie Night suggestion. It's weird to think this was released 15 years ago because it stands up pretty well. Julia Roberts was in dire need of a hit movie after a number of pretty ordinary efforts and this movie signalled a return to form for the Pretty Woman. She plays the rather neurotic Jules who just happens to be in love with her best friend Michael (Dermott Mulroney in one of his first major roles).

However, like most romantic comedies, the stand out performances come from the support cast. In the case of this film Rupert Everett as George absolutely steals the show with one of the first roles I can remember that poked fun at gay people while also making them ultra-cool at the same time.

Cameron Diaz is also very impressive as Kimberley, the girl that Michael is going to marry. Before this role she had never done anything more than just be a pretty face, but her turn as the ditzy but loveable Kimmy was the first time we saw her comic ability.

Like most romantic comedies, this movie is highly predictable but a lot of fun, and will keep most guys happy as well. The real thing that sets this movie apart from the crowd is the inspired move to use exclusively Burt Bacharat songs on the soundtrack. And including "I Say A Little Prayer" and "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" as live performances during the movie provide to of the more memorable moments, with Cameron Diaz's karaoke effort a fantastic Popcorn Movie Moment.