A Look Back: The Breakfast Club



“You better find a way to study during your all-day detention, or you won’t get into the Ivy League, and I won’t love you anymore.”

“Wow, we’re starting early in establishing that all these characters have clueless, unsympathetic families….No, I mean, sure, Mom.”


“I’m a bitter ass who resents every minute I must spend with these teenagers, but whose antagonism will give the characters something to unite and rebel against, thus proving I am of some use after all….OK, kids, have fun and don’t forget to write me an essay telling me just who you think you are!  Bye now.”

“My hardened, cynical exterior masks an abused, scared, vulnerable little boy.  Fortunately, my bullying of my fellow library inmates will eventually morph into confessions of a personal nature, which will in turn, make me more attractive to the opposite sex, and help me begin to heal!  Forget professionally trained therapists.”

“I’m a poor little rich girl who, in classic teen movie tradition, needs to hook up with a juvenile delinquent, smoke some weed and learn how to chill out.  Fortunately, JUDD NELSON is trapped in this place with me.”

“I’m a jock, whose father rides him constantly and makes him feel inadequate.  It made me bully someone, hence why I’m here today, but really, I’m a nice guy.”

“I’m a brain, whose parents also pressure him constantly and make him so miserable he brought a gun to school.  OK, not a real gun, but…”

“I’m just really, really, really weird because my parents constantly ignore me.  But – major plot point alert – I clean up well.”

“Hey, being open with my peers isn’t as threatening as I thought.  Did you know, my father beats me? Look, here’s the mark to prove it.”

(Movie tone and audience mood suddenly nosedives)

“You win.  Boy, this movie got grim all of a sudden.”

“Why don’t we smoke some weed in order to chill out , and then Molly can give me a makeover, so I can win the heart of EMILIO.  Wait, why do I need a love interest?  And a makeover?   Couldn’t I just make friends with these guys, or find a way to tell my folks how much their neglect hurts me?”

“No, because Molly is going to hook up with Judd, and Anthony is going to write the required essay.  And this movie needs some romance. Plus I want the end to be ambiguous.  So there aren’t going to be any extended scenes with any of these allegedly abusive parents.”

“OK, then.”

So, over the course of a single day, the five all bond, and discover that though they are different, they are also alike!  Who knew?

Although they still won’t talk to each other come Monday morning.  Despite the vigorous rendition of the theme song, “Don’t You Forget About Me.”



National Lampoon’s European Vacation: Holiday Roles

“National Lampoon’s European Vacation” attempts in its opening scene to answer the question: Would you compete on a quiz-style game show for an all-expenses paid vacation through some of Europe’s greatest cities, if you had to dress up in a pig costume?  And, trust me, only the kid from “The Christmas Story” could look adorable in such a getup.  Not so much the Griswolds – Chevy Chase, his impossibly beautiful spouse Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and their two kids, played in this installment by Dana Hill and Jason Lively, who wind up defeating a super-genius family (you can tell because they all wear glasses!) when D’Angelo blurts out her husband’s name in a bonus round – and it turns out to be correct.  (Question in question: Who was Sacajawea’s partner? Why Clark!)  This does not sit well with the genius family, but soon the Griswolds are en board a plane to England.  Their first trip in the prequel “NL’s Vacation,” featured a cross country odessey to an amusement park, a rabid dog who meets an untimely end, and a grandmother who passes on, too.  Now they’re ready for some international high jinks.

On the plane ride, each member has a dream sequence.  The son, Rusty, who has morphed from the rather cute kid played by Anthony Michael Hall into a full-fledged perv, imagines himself getting lucky in a nightclub, while his sister, Audrey, has a nightmare about not being able to resist temptation and gaining weight.  Clark pictures himself in the Alps, singing. “The Sound of Music.”  On arrival, their first hotel turns out to be a dump with a communal bathroom with a seedy receptionist, and Ellen urges Clark to bypass the game show’s itinerary and just sightsee like normal people.  But we’re not normal, Clark points out accurately.  We’re the Griswolds!

After some high jinks involving a mistaken hotel bed, the aforementioned bathroom and bedpans, the Griswolds rent a car and attempt to see the royal palace  They are defeated by this, however, because of the odd driving habits of the British, who drive on the opposite side of the road than Americans.  Other destinations and misadventures include:

A running gag involving Eric Idle getting injured by Clark but always being very polite about the whole thing, despite Clark’s mortified apologies.  Because those Brits are just so polite, you know.

Another running gag about the daughter missing her boyfriend back home, which eventually leads to her making an outrageously expensive long distance call and Clark threatening to castrate the boyfriend.  (Honey, he’s played by William Zabka, are you really surprised that he decides to hook up with your best friend?)

Another dog meets an untimely end when it leaps off the Eiffel Tower – and guess who’s responsible?

Due to a mistaken house number, the family visits with a German couple who they take for relatives, and their hosts don’t speak enough English to clear up the situation.  The Griswolds subsequently leave with full stomachs, feeling pleased that they’ve connected with family.

A scene in a Parisian restaurant, in which the staff insults Clark (“Your wife has large tits!”) in French while they politely take their order and wind up serving them Lean Cuisine straight from the package.

A shopping montage featuring some of the most hideous outfits you will ever see in a movie.

And an adventure in Germany involving a kidnapping, a car chase, a German dance performance and the Griswolds deciding to book it back to America.  But not without a close call involving the Statue of Liberty.

This was followed by “Christmas Vacation” and “Vegas Vacation” both set in the US, and in my opinion, not quite as funny as the first two.  In keeping with the general oddness of the Griswold family, their kids’ appearances keep changing radically (but the parents don’t notice), due to them never being played by the same actors twice.  Although, by the time they head for Vegas, and Clark realizes that a “family vacation only works when you do it with your family” this makes sense, since in real life, they’d have their own kids by then.




Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Looking back as an adult at this movie, the special effects seem awfully dated, but then they seemed dated in the eighties, when it was available on video, and my sister and I rented and watched it probably a total of one million times. However, the opening credit sequence – of candy being made – is still impossible to view without my mouth watering and wanting to grab a snack, if I haven’t already.

And boy, does this movie make you want to snack. Even though it’s over an hour before anyone actually enters the fabled chocolate factory itself.

The movie itself opens with a shot of kids streaming out of the school gates. Most head directly for Mr. Candyman’s candy emporium. “Whatcha got for us today?” a cherubic cheeked youngster asks, and the owner obligingly starts tossing them candy like fish to seals. Pan to our hero, Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) with his nose literally pressed against the window glass. Now (digression) even as a kid, this bugged me. As far as I could tell, Mr. Candyman appeared to be giving out the candy for free, but was he secretly keeping tabs on who snatched what? Did Mr. Candyman have a restraining order against Charlie? This seemed a little sinister for a kids’ movie.

It turns out that Charlie is actually fond of chocolate, but he’s very poor and lives with his single mom and four grandparents, who are bedridden. As in, they share the same bed. Because of his poverty, his mom has to take in washing and serve her family cabbage soup (Dickens would have leapt to immortalize them in his work), while Charlie has an after-school paper route which allows him to bring the luxury of bread home. Charlie is also intrigued by Willy Wonka’s once fabled nearby chocolate factory, which still produces candy, but “no one ever goes in, and no one ever goes out.” However, that’s about to change.

Wonka announces a contest in which he has placed five “Golden Tickets” in chocolate bars, and the winners will all receive a tour of the factory, plus a lifetime supply of candy. Charlie doesn’t think he has a chance, but since he gets a bar of chocolate yearly for his birthday, hey, why not hope a little? The movie has fun with the possibility that even sane adults might lose their heads over the prospect of finding a ticket, while we wait to see who the lucky winners are.

The four kids picked before Charlie are, well, brats. They include:

Augustus Gloop: A rotund German lad with a robust appetite.

Veruca Salt: A spoiled brat whose parents give her everything she wants.

Violet Beauregarde: A perpetually gum-chewing snot.

Mike Teevee: A – wait for it – television addict.  Also likes guns although Dad won’t get him a “real one” quite yet.

And they will all meet grisly fates, once they actually enter the factory and start misbehaving. In brief:

Augustus: Falls into indoor chocolate river, while he’s sampling the goods, and gets sucked up a pipe which leads to the “fudge room.”

Veruca: Falls down a chute meant for “bad (candy) eggs,” after having a tantrum to get her father to buy her a golden goose.

Violet: Samples a new chewing gum, which causes her to swell up and turn bright blue.

Mike: Insists on trying out a new invention: a television that reduces him to the size of a little person (it’s meant to shrink chocolate to the size a viewer at home can sample).

Charlie also misbehaves (at least in the movie), when he and Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) sneak away to sample some “fizzy lifting drink,” and find themselves soaring heavenward, closer and closer – to the dangerous whirling fans – until they inadvertently realize they can come back down by burping. (In a parody episode of “Family Guy,” Peter and Brian get a chance to tour the “Pawtucket Pat’s'” beer factory and find they can return to their feet by farting, but unlike Charlie in the movie they are promptly thrown out as a result.)

Prior to arriving at the factory, the five kids are also approached by a sinister looking man, claiming to be “Slugworth” a rival candy maker who wants nothing but a sample of Wonka’s new “Everlasting Gobstopper,” which is ideal for kids with little pocket money. Will any of them actually do this? Wait and see!

When Charlie finds money on the street, he winds up getting a Golden Ticket after all, and his Grandpa Joe decides out of the blue that he might as well get out of bed and accompany Charlie there, since each child is allowed to bring a parent or guardian on the tour. Which prompts Charlie’s mother to whack him with a bedpan and say, “Really? That’s all it took to get you out of bed? And I’ve been working my fingers to the bone for years, while you just laze around all day?” No, just kidding. Because she is a saint, she’s very pleased and lets the two of them go with her blessing.

Wonka himself is a very odd duck. He makes the kids sign some kind of legal agreement before they’re allowed to start the tour. When they do, and kids start self-destructing, and the parents beg Wonka to intervene, he makes only the briefest attempts. Indeed, he almost seems to be enjoying the whole thing. After the damage is done, his response is to summon the Oompa Loompas (green haired, orange complexioned little people who apparently love to dance and sing) to escort the tearful parent away. So Wonka is not only a quasi-murderer, he’s running a sweatshop, as well. But no one tries to leave early of their own volition, at least not very hard. They must really want that lifetime supply of chocolate.

The most eerie aspect for me, as a kid, was not the Oompa Loompas and their penchant for singing instructional ditties, but the fact that it becomes increasingly clear that the whole Golden Ticket set-up has been pre-arranged.  The Tim Burton remake alludes to this when it has Charlie ask Mr. Wonka politely why “Augustus’ name is already in the song,” and Wonka gives him an unconvincing reply.

In the end, Charlie, of course, passes the tests and wins the contest and even gets to bring his entire family to live in the factory. (See the Tim Burton updated version for a Wonka with serious daddy issues, who isn’t too pleased at the prospect of meeting “old people.”) But this movie’s version is more upbeat, ending with Charlie, Grandpa Joe and Wonka soaring in a glass elevator over the town. (There is a book sequel titled: “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.”)

Roald Dahl, who is the author of both, came up with the chocolate factory plot when he was remembering how Cadbury had the brilliant idea of sending its samples to his private all-boys’ school and requesting that they give each candy bar a brief description and rating in exchange.  Also there was a lot of spying apparently going on with real candymakers, too.

At the end as well, the four brats are mostly restored to their old and awful selves, but it always struck me as a little extreme because I doubted Wonka was also going to throw in a lifetime supply of therapy with the free chocolates.  But the “world of pure imagination” does have its sinister side, I guess.  At least Charllie’s mom will no longer have do any washing, and the grandparents can lounge around in the bed to their heart’s content.  (Although in the book sequel, they don’t.)


The Karate Kid: Waxing Enigmatic

Was it just my age, or did there seem to be an abundance of bullies in 80’s movies? Anyway, the Cobra Kai, headed by William Zabka, of “The Karate Kid” definitely took the prize for the most psychotic. Not only that, but they had the scariest leader – who the viewer at first believes is the WZ character, but who actually turns out to be an unhinged karate master, given to yelling things like, “Kill!” and “No mercy!” in case you had any doubts that he might not be a bad guy. At which point – not that this in any way excused them repeatedly trying to pulverize Daniel – I felt a little sorry for the Cobra Kai themselves. They were obviously suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, though I couldn’t have put it quite that way at the time.

“The Karate Kid” opens with the young and decidedly un-thrilled with the movie from Jersey to California Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) checking out the promised and much hyped by mom pool in their new apartment complex, which turns out to be a disappointment. Mom promises earnestly to get the apartment’s handyman to fix it. Unbeknownst to son and mother, the handyman, Mr. Miyagi, (Pat Morita) will wind up fixing a lot more than just the pool.

In teen movie tradition, Daniel almost immediately makes a pal who, impressed by Daniel’s burgeoning karate moves, invites him to a gathering on the beach that night, where he meets a pretty girl (Elisabeth Shue); unfortunately (also in teen movie tradition) she turns out to be spoken for, by no less an personage than Johnny (William Zabka) who really knows karate. After Daniel gets into an “altercation,” which unsurprisingly alarms his mother the next morning, he sets off for his first day of school….

…where things go from bad to worse because he insists on talking to Shue yet again. After an incident at a Halloween dance, in which he is nearly beaten into a coma/pulp by the Cobra Kai, who have a poor sense of humor and don’t take well to being pranked, Daniel is rescued by Mr. Miyagi, whose solution is to arrange with the psychotic karate teacher to have his disciples cease and desist, until the teens can face off in a few weeks at a karate tournament. Meanwhile, Mr. Miyagi begins to school his new pupil in the art of not just karate, but – wait for it – life.

Mr. Miyagi begins by giving Daniel a set of tedious and seemingly random chores, which Daniel at first assumes is meant to compensate for the fact that he can’t pay for the karate lessons. However, as it turns out, the physical motions that become engrained at this time also prove useful for say, deflecting punches. His teacher also shows him how to break a board with his bare hand. So the prospects at the upcoming tournament don’t appear entirely grim.

Daniel also manages to go on a date with the Elisabeth Shue character, although since he only has a learner’s permit, he has to take his mother along.  There are the inevitable teenager-in-love miscommunication high jinks, but eventually, they wind up together and attend the tournament with Mr. Miyagi.  Daniel gets to do what every eighties hero dreams of, which is kicking ass in a montage to a cool song before eventually winning.  (My question about these types of sports movie is: if winning doesn’t ultimately matter, why does the underdog always win?)

This movie spawned a sequel, in which Daniel and Mr. Miyagi travel overseas to learn the essentially same life lessons they learned in the first movie, plus a third one, in which there is more violence from unhinged karate masters back in America.  These were followed by “The Next Karate Kid,” which is not about Daniel (who must be getting pretty old by now) but another troubled teen, this time a girl!  Before she got into playing gritty heroines based on real life figures, Hilary Swank starred in this sequel of sorts, playing the new kid at a high school that closely resembled a police state/Nazi Germany.  She also gets to – symbolism alert – rescue a wounded bird.  Then there’s the Jaden Smith update which I haven’t seen, but I’m sure features plenty of timeless life lessons for a new generation to learn.

The Neverending Story: A Look Back

The Neverending Story: Bullies, Drowned Horses and Luck Dragons

There are some things you should never do if you’re a parent, and one of them is take an overly sensitive child to a movie in which an animal character dies in a tragic way. You will set the stage for future therapy bills and maybe a prescription for Prozac. The problem was that in 1984, when “The Neverending Story” was released in theaters, there was no Internet, at least not in the form it’s in now, and so my family went in unprepared for the fact that, early on, the horse drowns. And this is not just any horse, but the hero’s horse, his only companion. And then the hero (Noah Hathaway) himself almost drowns in the swamp because he’s mourning the horse. (You see, the more depressed you get, the more likely you are to die.) He only manages to struggle free with great effort.

It was safe to say that after that, I was ready to call it a night and go home. To be fair, the movie improved, and the horse is wished back to life at the very end. Still by then, I’d already mourned the horse, so it was a little disconcerting to see him galloping around again. Too little, too late, if you ask me.

Today’s kids are fortunate that if their parents are willing to do a little Googling, they can avoid exposing their offspring to such potential trauma. But it’s also true that kids are often more resilient than they get credit for (my sister wasn’t upset about the horse at all).

But sometimes not. Sometimes they need a magical journey to put their life back together.

“The Neverending Story,” begins with the preteen Bastian Balthazar Bux (Barret Oliver) having a dream that involves rainbows and clouds and a pop song by Limahl, only to wake up and have to go eat breakfast with his dad, who (in a stunning display of parental insensitivity) tells his son that he should really, already, get over the death of his mother and move on. He then sets off to school, where he’s beset upon by bullies, and takes refuge in a dusty bookshop, where he finds a book titled “The Neverending Story.” The owner of the shop refuses to sell it to him, so he steals it instead, and after discovering that there’s a math test, hides out in the school’s attic so he can read the book in peace. Since everyone, except Barret, in the movie is so unlikeable, it’s a relief for the viewer to also be whisked away to Fantasia. (Oh, and lest we think less of him for being a thief, he leaves a note saying he’ll bring the book back.)

Now we’re watching the adventures of Atreyu, (Noah Hathaway) in Fantasia,the magical kingdom of the Moon Child. Atreyu is the only one who can save the land from oblivion, and so off he goes on his shortly-to be-killed steed Artax. Fantasia is dying because so many of its inhabitants have stopped dreaming, or wishing or whatever. No one even thinks that Atreyu can save the kingdom, probably because he appears to be about eleven, and they are expecting a battle-hardened warrior to show up instead. But off he goes, and besides losing his horse, has a series of adventures that involve Rock Biters, a racing snail, a mirror in which he comes face to face with his true self, and a giant white luck dragon named Falcor. But he fails, and must return to the Moon Child who holds out a grain of dust and informs him that “this is all that is left of Fantasia.”

(And they wonder why many Generation Xer’s are so cynical. Not that exposure to movies like this in their youth had any impact, I’m sure.)

Luckily, Bastian by giving the Moon Child a new name is instantly transported into Fantasia. He then makes a lot of wishes, including for Atreyu to have his horse back, and that’s how the movie ends.  Two sequels, both subpar in my opinion, (one with Jack Black, btw) follow.

Allegedly, the author, Michael Ende, of the book was unhappy with the adaption.  The book itself is different from the movie but worth reading.  My copy has red and green ink to differentiate the two sections (Bastian’s/Atreyu’s) which makes it a bit hard to read, but is still very pretty.