Richard speaks to “CTV News at 11:30” anchor Andria Case about movies on VOD and in theatres to watch this weekend including the animated stone age family flick “The Croods: A New Age,” the slice-of-David-Bowie’s-life movie “Stardust” on VOD and “Belushi,” the Crave doc about the rise and fall of the beloved “Saturday Night Live” comedian.
Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the animated comedy “The Croods: A New Age” (theatrical), the David Bowie biopic “Stardust” (In theatres and digital and on-demand platforms), a pair of docs, “Belushi” (Crave) and “Zappa” (Apple TV app and everywhere you rent movies), the new one from Mel Gibson “Fatman” (VOD) and a remake of “Black Beauty” (Disney+).
Richard and “CP24 Breakfast” host Pooja Handa have a look at some special streaming opportunities and television shows to watch over the weekend including the CBC Gem documentary “Fear of Dancing,” the HBO thriller “The Flight Attendant,” Disney+’s remake of “Black Beauty” and “Belushi,” the in-depth look at the life and times of comedian John Belushi.
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to theatres, VOD and streaming services including the animated comedy “The Croods: A New Age” (theatrical), the David Bowie biopic “Stardust” (In theatres and digital and on-demand platforms), a pair of docs, “Belushi” (Crave) and “Zappa” (Apple TV app and everywhere you rent movies), the new one from Mel Gibson “Fatman” (VOD) and a remake of “Black Beauty” (Disney+).
John Belushi was only famous for five years before his untimely death at age 33 but in that short time his unique comedic quality left an indelible impression that resonates almost forty years later. A new documentary, now streaming on Crave, looks at his meteoric rise and tragic fall.
Director R.J. Cutler uses the usual devices to tell the story. He mixes and matches archival material, animation, ephemera from Belushi’s life—handwritten letters, home movies etc—and news footage but his ace in the hole, the thing that gives “Belushi” its emotional wallop, are the audio interviews that tell the story.
In 2012 author Tanner Colby released a book called “Belushi: A Biography,” an oral history of the life and times of the “SNL” star. Colby did dozens of interviews with the people who knew Belushi best, Lorne Michaels, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, and friends and family, including John’s wife Judith. Those interviews form the backbone of the film, bringing with them a conversational, intimate and wistful feel.
The story beats are familiar. An uber talented rebel with a sensitive side finds enormous fame—at one point he had the number one comedy show on TV, movie in theatres and album on the charts—but is undone by personal demons. That’s the story in broad strokes. Filling in the small details is the expertly edited oral history who provide first hand details and impressions on Belushi’s life.
Most devastating of all are the handwritten letters from John to Judith that Cutler brings to life. From the playful tone of the early letters sent while they were courting to the final notes, written in desperation as drugs and depression debilitated the actor, these notes, written in a messy scrawl and often containing funny self-help lists, provide more insight into the Belushi’s mind frame that no talking head interview could ever hope.
“Belushi” has gaps. The warts and all depiction of Belushi’s drug habits is front and center but the misogyny of the early “SNL” days, for instance, is brushed over in a quick passage.
Having said that, the doc packs an emotional punch in its final moments as Belushi’s nearest and dearest express regret for allowing their friend to lapse back into heavy drug use. It is heartbreaking stuff on a personal level for them. For the rest of us, as Belushi fans, the cutting short of his potential feels like a cautionary tale of excess and a tragedy of a talent taken way too soon.
Rusty Griswold may have grown up but the humor of the movies that made him famous hasn’t. “Vacation” is a reboot of the “National Lampoon Vacation” series that featured Chevy Chase as the hapless patriarch, Beverley D’ Angelo as his wife, daughter Audrey (played in different movies by Dana Barron, Dana Hill, Juliette Lewis and Marisol Nichols) and Rusty (played variously by Anthony Michael Hall, Jason Lively, Johnny Galecki and Ethan Embry in different movies).
In the new film Ed Helms plays Rusty as a sweet-natured adult, father to James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) and husband to Debbie (Christina Applegate). The family is falling apart and on the eve of their usual summer holiday, a boring trip to a camp that everybody hates, Rusty decides to try something different to bring his family together, a recreation of a childhood road trip with his parents to Walley World.
Anyone who remembers the original 1983 film knows the 2500-mile trip turned into a vacation from hell. It seems Rusty learned nothing from his father’s ill-fated journey. “From the moment we left nothing has gone right,” says Debbie. “Can’t you just admit this was a mistake?” From an angry GPS and a menacing trucker to an inappropriately well-endowed brother-in-law and an open sewer, the trip is fraught with problems.
If not for certain brand of anatomical humour “Vacation” would be about 12 minutes long. Remove the swearing and jokes about sexual acts—Wait! Don’t forget the bodily functions!—there wouldn’t be much going on here. Not that I’m a prude. Far from it. Some of it is genuinely funny. It hits many of the same notes as the original—the father’s verbal break down the extremely unseemly relatives (Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth)—but doesn’t have the same good-natured feel. It tries hard to inject some heart into the story in the last half hour but up until then is rough around the edges. Need convincing? Check out the fate of the pretty motorist in the sports car.
Co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have a tendency to give away the jokes too soon, but Helms and cast sell the jokes, no matter how raunchy. Particularly good are Gisondo as the sensitive son James and Hemsworth who displays an until now unseen sense of comic timing.
Ultimately “Vacation” is about bringing the Griswold family back together, but it’s not a family movie.
Reel Guys, Metro Canada by Richard Crouse and Mark Breslin
Synopsis: “Well, it’s Christmas time, pretty baby” … and the Reel Guys are watching films… With our apologies to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote those lyrics to Elvis Presley’s Santa Claus is Back in Town — that song pretty much sums up what the holiday season means for us. Next week we’ll be back to reviewing the big releases of the year, but before we get to that we thought we’d have a look at movies to get us in the Christmas spirit. They may not all be on Santa’s nice list.
Richard: James Stewart stars in one of the movies that always puts me in the mood for Christmas, but its not the one you think. Sure, It’s A Wonderful Life is a classic and yuletastic, but I also enjoy The Shop Around The Corner. It’s a Christmassy romance that sees shop co-workers Stewart and Margaret Sullivan at one another’s throats at work, unaware that they are also anonymously courting one another as pen pals. All becomes clear on Christmas Eve and they unwrap a big ol’ gift basket of love. It’s almost as heartwarming as a giant mug of hot chocolate. Mark: Richard, as I’m Jewish, the Christmas holiday doesn’t have quite the emotional pull on me that it might have on you. So, come Christmas Eve our family gathers around the TV, where we watch Bad Santa until we fall asleep from convulsive laughter. The story of an alcoholic, womanizing, foul-mouthed Santa is a delightful antidote to all that icky cheer I’m supposed to feel. Then, when the novelty dies down, I get with the program and watch Elf. But I wear my Grinch mask just in case a tear is shed.
RC: That green synthetic fur is great for soaking up tears! But an antidote to the icky cheer you describe are two films set during the holidays without an ounce of tinsel treacle between them. In The Long Kiss Goodnight an amnesiac played by Geena Davis is outed as a former hired killer when she is recognized playing Mrs. Claus in a Christmas parade. The title A Christmas Tale sounds traditional enough, but the story focuses on the bitter rather than the sweet. The English title of this Catherine Deneuve dramedy could easily have been Cancer for Christmas, but despite the downer topic it’s complex, funny and touching.
MB: I’ve never seen A Christmas Tale, Richard, thanks for the tip. But if it’s holiday downers we’re looking for, consider Black Christmas, a 1974 slasher flick starring Olivia Hussey. I guess you could double-bill this one with the 2006 remake, but that might be, ahem, overkill.
RC: Many years ago, on the first Christmas the PMC — my Preferred Movie Companion — and I spent together, I screened Black Christmas for her, which almost stopped the relationship before it had a chance to really get going. I love the slaying slasher story. Her, not so much. I quickly rebounded with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which made the yuletide bright once again. Thanks, Chevy Chase, for saving Christmas and my relationship!
MB: Well, for a Jewish guy like me, I’ll just have to be content with Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah animation classic, Eight Crazy Nights, and a glass of Manischewitz!