Friday, April 12, 2013

Howard The Duck

Original Movie Poster

Welcome back trusty movie followers! I thought I would take a break from my girly childhood movies and talk about something a little different. See I may be a girl who played with Barbies, My Little Ponies and Care Bears but I also had many male cousins, an older brother and of course my dad so I was subjected to non-female oriented movies and animated shows as well. So besides watching Jem I was also watching Voltron and besides pretending to be a princess I had to be April O'Neill when my cousins or the neighborhood boys played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In fact I believe I was with my cousin Dustin at my aunt and uncle's house being baby-sat when I first saw...Howard The Duck.

Okay for those of you who have never heard of this movie before I discuss the plot you should know that Howard The Duck is considered to be one of the worst movies ever made so bad that George Lucas (yes Star Wars messiah himself) who produced it disowns this movie! Also when I saw this film I believe I was five because I remember watching it on Cinemax so it had been out of theaters for a while and well kids and talking ducks just go hand in hand (remember DuckTales anyone?)

Howard would be Scrooge's disinherited nephew

So...What Is The Plot?
Of course, Howard is a duck but not just any kind of duck...a duck from space! Well actually a planet in another dimension where instead of humans there are walking, talking ducks and they smoke, drink and watch TV... you get the point right? One night an earthquake seems to strike the planet and Howard is ripped out of his apartment by a beam of energy that ends up bringing him to Earth and dumping him in the middle of Cleveland, Ohio (and not the most pleasant part of it either). The first person Howard meets is Beverly Switzler, a young woman who is a member of a female rock band called Cherry Bomb, whom he saves from being attacked by some thugs. She doesn't seem at all freaked out by a talking duck and she helps Howard out by letting him stay at her place telling him she'll find a way to help him get home. Her "help" ends up being lab assistant Phil Blumburtt who isn't much help at all which makes Howard angry since it seems he's stuck on our planet for good.

Tim Robbins as Phil - would you really go to this guy for help?

He tells Beverly off and sets out on his own but Howard soon realizes that if he is going to be here on Earth he may just need at least one friend to turn to and finds Beverly and her band mates playing at some awful bar under the management of the sleazy and disgusting Ritchie. Howard decides to help the girls out which means beating the crap out of Ritchie and becoming the girls' new manager to the amazement of Beverly's friends, one of whom is dating Phil. So our nerdy professor comes back into the picture along with Dr. Walter Jenning who is actually more help because he knows exactly what brought Howard to Earth. Jenning and his colleagues have been working on a dimensional-jumping laser that malfunctioned hence Howard's arrival (Hello Cleveland indeed!) but he believes he send Howard back with one more use. Unfortunately, something else takes Howard's one-way ticket home and descends to Earth taking control of Dr. Jenning and leading, Howard, Beverly and Phil into a whole new world of trouble and wacky hijinks. Will Howard ever get back home or will the new world he calls home be at its end?

The people images were captured from a rumored screening

Believe it or not the plot of the movie doesn't sound that bad if you ask me so I'm not really sure why a lot of people hate this movie or think it's incredibly stupid. Howard The Duck originally was a comic book character that appeared in Marvel (yes those Marvel superheroes shared the limelight with a duck!) Comics and it was a little more mature and political than the movie. I can't really blame the script writers for the adaptation because they did write American Graffiti which is a classic film but trying to make a movie about a talking duck probably isn't easy so I can see where a snag most have come up somewhere...just not sure where exactly...

Jeffrey Jones as Dr. Walter Jenning

Could it be the acting? Well, Jeffrey Jones (famous as Ed Rooney, horrible principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as Dr. Jenning isn't too bad when he is serious but once he (oh hell spoiler!) becomes possessed by our intergalactic villain he does go a little over the top but that's what is great about being the villain- you always get the most ham and cheese on your role (see like a dinner roll?...never mind) to work with and have fun. A young, pre-dating Susan Sarandon Tim Robbins who plays Phil is adorable and hilarious which I enjoy and his career hasn't seemed to suffer for acting jobs since making this movie. The actors who portrayed Howard (yes actors...six of them) had to work in a huge costume that probably got very hot and difficult so you can't blame them and actor Chip Zien who does Howard's voice was cast after shooting to provide voice-over work so he was just reading what had already been written. The only other actor of note in the film is Lea Thompson who plays Beverly and well we all know that she can't be the reason Howard The Duck bombed! Most people today know her as Kathryn Kennish on ABC Family's Switched At Birth which is a good dramatic show or they know her as Marty McFly's mother Lorraine in the Back To The Future films and of course she was awesome in those!

Our main actor and his rockin' leading lady!

If you couldn't guess Lea Thompson is another actress I kinda have idol worship of and why wouldn't I? She's not just a pretty face she truly is talented and when I first saw Howard The Duck I was five in a generation when MTV ruled so playing a rocker almost reminiscent of my number one, true idols Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart was bound to win me over. Thompson has said having her hair styled and crimped like that everyday which took two hours was bad enough to make her wish she had worn a wig but to an impressionable child such as myself I thought she looked so cool! Besides that, Lea Thompson use to dance ballet (something I could and can never do), was acting at age 21 in movies before Howard The Duck and did I mention she can sing? Yes, the soundtrack to Howard The Duck that has songs credited to the fictional band Cherry Bomb...that's Lea on lead vocals? One word: Talented!

Now that I look back I have to take Lea's side on the hair...

Another thing that makes me enjoy Howard The Duck is of course, the music (again I am a late 80s MTV baby so I do enjoy music of this era). While scoring is done by legendary composer John Barry (check out the name on Google and see how many films pop up!) original songs credited to the fictional band "Cherry Bomb" were written and produced by Thomas Dolby. For those of you younger than me did you ever hear the song "She Blinded Me With Science" on like an 80s music channel or oriented radio station? If so, then that's Thomas Dolby and if you haven't, you really should it's quite a good song! As I stated, Lea Thompson's real vocals are on the songs as well as those of the actresses portraying her band mates in the film and the song "Don't Turn Away" is by far my favorite! Thomas Dolby performs his own rendition of the song on the soundtrack too and the harmonica you hear on it? That's Stevie Wonder. Another reason most of us should love (or maybe even hate) Thomas Dolby is he did music for another film that I may discuss in the future...which one? Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (so much childhood nostalgia is just overwhelming my brain with that one!)

Drew Struzan poster art...awesome!!

So is Howard The Duck really the goose egg of a film that people make it out to be? To me the answer is no but it is just my opinion after all. I enjoy the music, Lea Thompson does good with what she is given, Tim Robbins is hilarious, Jeffrey Jones makes a great villain in the fact that he creeped me out as a kid and makes me chuckle as an adult and at times, I find Howard adorable. Now if you have ever seen it, your opinion might be a little more harsh and if you have never had a chance to view Howard The Duck, I'd give it a shot. A little fair warning it is rated PG so it's not really a movie for little kids but how my cousin and I got away with watching it I'll never know...

NEXT TIME: Not really from my childhood but a good family film regardless. We take our first look into the beautiful world of Japanese animation with...Kiki's Delivery Service

Friday, April 5, 2013

Teen Witch

Hello followers back again with another blog post pertaining to my childhood favorites! Now some of the movies released when I was a child I didn't discover until I was a teenager but that doesn't mean I don't love them any less now that I'm an adult. Today's film I discovered when I was a freshman in high school when it use to show on The Disney Channel (remember when the Disney Channel was less teeny-bopper than it is now?) but I discovered it on an obscure time slot on my local cable channels. Of course it was edited but now I can say that I own the un-edited version of Teen Witch. Most people I can hear you groaning about how can I possibly love this piece of 80s cheese but this film has a little bit of sentimental value to me. You see a dear friend of mine that I lost nine years ago in a car accident...we both loved this film dearly and it always reminds me of my friend Sara when I watch it. Sentimental reasons aside, I love the dated soundtrack because it does remind me of my actual childhood and I find it somewhat relateable because...well let's just look at the plot for those of you not familiar with this film.

So What's What?

Louise Miller is almost completely invisible in high school despite being cute, smart and kind. Her mother still treats her like a little girl, her brother Richie terrorizes her, the popular girls in her school ignore her and Mr. Weaver, the teacher in her Advanced English class which she takes alongside senior classmates, takes every opportunity to embarrass her. Louise's only saving graces are her equally un-cool friend Polly, drama teacher Mrs. Malloy and her understanding dad but the only thing Louise wants is the love of her crush, senior Brad Power. One night after a disastrous and embarrassing encounter with Brad and his girlfriend Randa, Louise happens upon the palm reading house of Madame Serena, who takes pity on the girl with a free reading and discovers that on Louise's sixteenth birthday the girl is going to become a powerful witch just like herself.

Robyn Lively as Louise Miller pre-Witchy Woman

Of course, Louise ignores this at first but soon after her sweet sixteen does arrive, it seems that Brad is starting to notice her a little more, she finds an antique amulet that seems to be drawn to her and also she makes a grabby nerd disappear and turns her brother into a dog (but only for a few minutes). Louise goes back to Madame Serena and the older woman starts to teach Louise how to use her magic to help her get what she wants and of course in high school all a teen girl wants is revenge on her tormentors and the love of that secret crush. In teen film fashion, Louise achieves everything she's ever dreamed of when she becomes the most popular girl in school but it doesn't seem to make her happy. Will Louise be able to have everything she truly wants without using her magic to get it or will she learn to be happy with her own kind of magic?

Yes I know not a lot of plot and still a little schmaltzy at that but you know I always want you to discover the films I talk about for yourselves. Besides, you may have already seen Teen Witch and even if you haven't, this is the 21st Century and you can probably find spoilers on the Internet somewhere for this film since it has been around for quite a long time.

Things We Can Discuss

Now I said that I can relate to Teen Witch and yes mostly it is because I am a girl but also because in high school I was Louise Miller in a sense. I mean I wasn't popular but I was nice and smart yet tormented by others and embarrassed on occasion. I had crushes on older boys that were unrequited, I was stood up a couple of times as jokes and dances were horrible torture for wallflowers like me. So you can see how a film like Teen Witch makes an impression on me and since I discovered it when I was in high school, I have always clung to this movie as something I wish I had seen when it first came out to prepare me for just how horrible life would be after the rose tint of childhood washed away.

Moving on from the maudlin aspect of why I love Teen Witch, let's talk about the characters/cast. I truly love Robyn Lively (older half-sister of Blake Lively for those who didn't know) who plays Louise. She has such a cute and bubbly charm to her, can be sarcastic and snarky but is generally kind and honest and also the fact that she is a teen in this film (she was 17 when it was made) which makes it easier for us to relate to actual teenage problems. Besides this film, Robyn has been in plenty of movies before and after Teen Witch not to mention many television roles that are a blend of comedy and drama (she was nominated for many Young Artist Awards and even a Daytime Emmy when she was 19 for a performance in an ABC Afterschool Special).

Magic is actually 80s Aqua Net

Another reason I love Teen Witch is all due to Zelda Rubinstein as Madame Serena...I loved her so much!! If you have ever seen Poltergeist, then you know Zelda famously as psychic Tangina Barrons with the squeaky unmistakeable voice and her short but undaunted stature. My friend Sara that I mentioned who loved this film right along with me? She always reminded me of Zelda and vice-versa because they both had the same body type and voice and even the same quirky sense of humor. Another reason I have always loved her is because she just looked like such a nice lady that would bake you cookies and give you hugs when you had a bad day like a grandma but would probably beat up the kids who tormented you with her purse if given the chance. Anyway, Zelda as Madame Serena provides comedy relief but also a role as a mentor for Louise in not just magic but in human life that helps her discover just how special she is. Sadly, Zelda Rubinstein died in 2010 at the age of 76 but she has a legacy of film and television roles left behind as well as a career of activism for little people and HIV/AIDS research.

The late Zelda Rubinstein as Madame Serena

Of course another character who plays prominently in the story is Louise's crush, Brad Power, played by actor Dan Gauthier. Oh my, Dan Gauthier was so hot in this movie! I can say that I had a crush on Dan as Brad and not just because of his looks (it's true!) Okay let's start with Brad the character, yes he is what many call a shallow love interest but there are things about him that really aren't shallow. He is genuinely nice to Louise even before her witchy powers set in, he asks her for help in English because he really needs it, he is apologetic and a gentleman and he is one of the popular people who is actually a little jaded by being the big man on campus. During the middle of film you can tell that it's not just not because of Louise's magic that Brad starts to fall for her because remember all those good things I said about Louise being cute, kind and smart? yeah they are actually true. Going back to Dan Gauthier himself, being in a 80s teen film he doesn't do that bad of a job acting and just to let you know I had no idea he was 26 when he made this movie! Yes before Dawson's Creek, films and TV casting twenty-somethings as high schoolers was not uncommon I assume.

I think Brad Power is appropriately named...Stud Power!!

 So knowing what I know now, I still like the chemistry between Robyn Lively and Dan Gauthier despite the age difference. The awkwardness between them at first comes almost kind of naturally and then the charm of Lively and her character Louise seems to win out and bring forth a genuine performance from Gauthier and makes the Brad character less shallow than he was probably meant to be. One of the reasons I love Teen Witch is that chemistry which I can also relate to: the crushing on a boy older than me and as always I like the romance (Romantic fun fact: Dan Gauthier met his wife Lisa Fuller who plays Louise's cheerleader antagonist Randa and Brad's girlfriend in Teen Witch making this film and they are still together...aww!!)

Dan Gauthier and Robyn Lively make magic together

There are also other actors in this film that I enjoy their characters. Marcia Wallace plays drama teacher Miss Malloy and I love how eccentric and fun loving she is (reminds me of my own drama teacher from high school in a way) and I can see why Louise admires her in the film. Actor Dick Sargent who played the other Darrin on Bewitched plays Louise's adoring father Frank and he is so good at being comedic and loving in the role which I guess comes naturally doesn't it? The only other standout character/actor in the film to me is Ritchie, Louise's brother played by Joshua John Miller. Oh goodness if I had a little brother like Ritchie who was that annoying and disgusting in real life, I would pray to be an only child. So why do I like Ritchie then? He is actually kind of funny in his sarcastic way and as long as he wasn't my brother I'd would find him hilarious. As an actor, Joshua John Miller is talented for being 15 when Teen Witch was made, he had already been in some films that required dramatic acting (like Near Dark which I have already blogged about) and if you never saw the long form music video/short film that went with Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 album you have no idea just how good an actor he is. These days, Miller is a director as well so you can see why I wanted to mention him if I am talking Teen Witch.

Being me, I also like the soundtrack of the film. Again I'm not sure if an official soundtrack album was ever released for Teen Witch but I do know that a musical version of the film was made in 2007. Anyways, most of the soundtrack I will admit is cheesy but a couple of songs are actually very good. The film opening song "Never Gonna Be" is my absolute favorite because not only do I like that sexy 80s pop beat but it is in this part of the film where you can see the chemistry between Robyn Lively and Dan Gauthier as Louise and Brad. Another favorite of mine is "Finest Hour" which plays at the end of the film and is sung by Cindy Valentine and Larry Weir, who produced the music for this film. Most of the soundtrack has songs performed by members of the Weir family including the infamous "I Like Boys" but oddly not on the other most famous (infamous?) song from Teen Witch..."Top That". If the 80s weren't something you like to remember musically, then I would just stick with the movie because besides pop the rest of the film score is composed of sexy 80s jazz by saxophonist Richard Elliot.

So despite a few hints of normal stereotypical 80s gag factor, I think Teen Witch is a pretty good film and not as bad as most people say it is. Our main character is likeable, some of the comedy is hilarious, there is chemistry with the love interest and despite a few bits of mature content (not that mature since it is rated PG-13) it is a good movie sit down and watch with kids as a family. For people my age who are parents of young girls, this is a movie they could let their daughters watch. If you are looking for a good dose of 80's magic then Teen Witch is right for you.

NEXT TIME:  I think I may just bring some of my male followers back with this one...Howard The Duck