National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Christmas in July Blogathon 2020

Merry Christmas in July!

The blogathon has had some fantastic guests over the past few days but it is my turn at last. I will be closing out the Christmas in July Blogathon 2020 with the review of the last film I have yet to review on my Fave Five Christmas Movies: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Without further ado, let’s get to it!


National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation movie posterSynopsis
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) invites his extended family to his home for Christmas.

Review
If you ask someone to name some of their favorite Christmas films, chances are they will have National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on that list and it’s not hard to see why. Penned by John Hughes, who also wrote the first two Vacation films, Christmas Vacation has much of the emotion and humor you would expect from the legendary writer. Filled with as many laughs to match the big heart at the center, Christmas Vacation continues to be a holiday season much-watch for me.

One of the aspects of this movie that always brings me back is how it plays on the dysfunction of the family. While all of the previous films in the series play on this too, Christmas Vacation takes it up a notch. The Griswold household is packed full with both sides of the family so there are plenty of shenanigans abound. With so many characters, every personality imaginable is present, which create some wild interactions. However, this high volume of characters also proves to be a detriment as most of the characters introduced are relegated to the background. Other than names and being told the fact that the two sides don’t get along, little information is given about them and they aren’t developed very much either.

Griswold family patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase) continues to be the lovable goofball we’ve come to expect over the course of the franchise. Hugh’s script once again highlights Chase’s sense of humor and deadpan delivery perfectly. Just as well, Beverly D’Angelo as Ellen Griswold continues to be a magnificent counterpart to Chase. The Griswold kids, Rusty and Audrey, are once again portrayed by a new set of actors in John Galecki and Juliette Lewis respectively. This duo is the weakest of the actors to play the Griswold kids in the franchise so far. Neither have many stand out moments and they end up getting lost in the sea of extra characters who aren’t Clark, Ellen, or cousin Eddie.

Speaking of cousin Eddie, I’m so glad Randy Quaid is back! His presence was sorely missed in European Vacation. He has some of the best moments of the movie, especially towards the end of it. Although he might be more of an oddball than Clark, like Clark, his heart is in the right spot, making him a lovable character.

While I do enjoy the core group of characters, what brings me back to Christmas Vacation time and time again is the film’s heart and honest, albeit exaggerated, look at family holiday gatherings. How many times have you been with your family and everybody was bickering or had that one family member who did everything they could to make everything perfect? Hughes’ script fantastically blends all of these elements together, weaving in so much heart and Christmas spirit that you can’t help but enjoy it.

I thought National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was GREAT πŸ˜€ As a Vacation movie, it has all the comedy and emotional heart you have come to expect from the franchise. But as a Christmas movie is where this film is strongest. Riffing on the craziness and unpredictable nature of family gatherings through Clark Griswolds signature antics, Christmas Vacation remains one of the funniest Christmas movies today.

Favorite Scene

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jermiah Chechik – Director
John Hughes – Writer
Angelo Badalamenti – Composer

Chevy Chase – Clark Griswold
Beverly D’Angelo – Ellen Griswold
Juliette Lewis – Audrey Griswold
John Galecki – Rusty Griswold
John Randolph – Clark, Sr.
Diane Ladd – Nora
EG Marshall – Art
Doris Roberts – Francis
Randy Quaid – Cousin Eddie Johnson
Miriam Flynn – Cousin Catherine Johnson
Cody Burger – Rocky
Ellen Latzen – Ruby Sue
William Hickey – Lewis
Mae Questel – Bethany
Sam McMurray – Bill
Nicholas Guest – Todd Chester
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Margo Chester
Brian Doyle Murphy – Frank Shirley
Natalija Nogulich – Mrs. Shirley


You might not know the name of my guest to the holiday party but you might recognize her. My guest is Milana Vayntrub, aka Lily the AT&T girl.

Milana Vayntrub

Milana has been on my guest shortlist for a while now but never quite made the cut. Appropriate that she is at the top of my list this year, given that she has recently returned to the role of Lily. Outside of the AT&T commercials, she has done some smaller roles and is currently the voice of Squirrel Girl in the animated television show New Warriors. Milana has also done some wonderful humanitarian work as well. Truly the complete package.

And that was the final entry for the seventh annual Christmas in July Blogathon! The wrap up post will be posted tomorrow, where you can find a list of all the entries from this year, as well as the entire guest list to our holiday party. See you there!

Until next time, cheers!

Lightning Review: When Harry Met Sally…

When Harry Met Sally... movie posterSynopsis
Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) have known each other for years and are very close friends. They want to move their relationship forward but fear that sex would ruin their friendship.

Review
When Harry Met Sally… is a widely beloved romantic comedy, and it isn’t hard to see why. Being one who doesn’t watch a lot of romance films, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this movie. A big part of that is the chemistry between the two leads, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Their conversations and their back-and-forth feels smooth and natural. It’d be easy to forget you weren’t watching a movie but two actual, long-time friends bantering. Of course, this feeling of comfortability would not be possible without the well-written script by Nora Ephron and crisp directing by Rob Reiner. Together, they have managed to make what is essentially a ninety-minute Seinfeld episode. If you think about it, this movie is about nothing. The simplicity is ingenious, which might be what I like best about it. There is no, conflict. There is no big hurdle Harry and Sally need to overcome. This is a movie about a man and a woman being platonic friends. The whole sex-ruining-the-friendship part is a driving force for the story but it is only brought up sporadically and doesn’t significantly impact it until the end.

I thought When Harry Met Sally… was GREAT πŸ˜€ The leads, the directing, and the script dovetail harmoniously to create a simple yet touching story. This truly sets a standard for romantic comedies that many films are still trying to touch today.

Trivia
The stories told by the couples during special segments throughout the film were real stories, collected by Rob Reiner for the film.Β  Harry and Sally’s segment was completely improvised by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.

Favorite Scene

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rob Reiner – Director
Nora Ephron – Writer

Billy Crystal – Harry Burns
Meg Ryan – Sally Albright
Carrie Fisher – Marie
Bruno Kirby – Jess
Steven Ford – Joe
Lisa Jane Persky – Alice
Michelle Nicastro – Amanda

Tango & Cash Review

Tango & Cash movie posterSynopsis
Raymond Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Gabriel Cash (Kurt Russell) are Los Angeles’ two top cops. When they are convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, they must work together to clear their names.

Review
Sylvester Stallone and Curt Russell are two of the biggest action stars from the 1980s. It was only a matter of time before they would team-up for their own film. Tango & Cash takes the best of cheesy 80s action flicks, mixes them together and turns it up to 11.

What is the best way to get a feel for the main characters? Put them in a chase scene of course! Both Stallone and Russell get their own individual car chase scene to start off the film. This accomplishes two things: 1) it offers an exciting note to begin the film, grabbing the audience’s attention, and 2) shows how different the characters are. The exhilarating start is needed because the next few scenes are spent setting up the movie’s conflict and it isn’t for a little while before there is another action scene. More importantly, it showed how the characters contrasted, that they have two very different styles of doing their job as a police officer.

Like any buddy cop film, Tango & Cash lives or dies from the chemistry between the two lead actors. Stallone and Russell, even in 1989, are experienced action stars and they put that experience to good use. They are so much fun together that it’s a shame they have only made one film like this together. The way they hurl one-liners off each other is nothing short of amusing. Almost every scene had me smiling at the interactions between two of them, even drawing out a good chuckle every now and then.

Music isn’t normally something I have found to be too noteworthy in a cheesy action flick such as Tango & Cash, so I was surprised when this film’s soundtrack really stood out to me. It is very noticeably 80s and really captures the sound of that era. The movie’s theme in particular had me jamming out.

As I said, this film takes some of the best parts of 80s action movies and puts them all together. There is very clear inspiration from other movies, particularly Stallone’s and Russell’s other action films. As a result, Tango & Cash doesn’t offer any kind of experience you wouldn’t find in a dozen other action films. Thankfully, the team-up of Stallone and Russell at least keeps it fun, preventing it from becoming dull or stale.

I thought Tango & Cash was GOOD πŸ™‚ It has a lot in common with Sylvester Stallone’s and Kurt Russell’s other action films from the 1980s but the duo are so entertaining on screen that you forget about that and have fun anyway. You couldn’t ask for more from a simple popcorn flick.

Favorite Quote
Officer 1: Who in the fuck do you think you are!?
Officer 2: He thinks he’s Rambo.
Tango: Rambo is a pussy.

Trivia
Tango & Cash was released in US theaters on December 22, 1989, making it the last film theatrically released in the 1980s.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Andrei Konchalovsky – Director
Randy Feldman – Writer
Harold Faltermeyer – Composer

Sylvester Stallone – Lt. Raymond Tango
Kurt Russell – Lt. Gabriel Cash
Teri Hatcher – Katherine ‘Kiki’ Tango
Jack Palance – Yves Perret
Brion James – Requin
James Alaimo – Lopez
Michael J. Pollard – Owen
Robert Z’Dar – Face
Edward Bunker – Capt. Holmes
Geoffrey Lewis – Capt. Schroeder
Michael Jeter – Skinner

If you are interested in participating in the Ultimate 90s Blogathon, hosted by Kim from Tranquil Dreams and myself, there is still time to join in. You can find all the information here.

Disney and a Beer: The Little Mermaid

The Beer
Abita Christmas Ale – One of my Christmas gifts from my grandparents was a basket of holiday seasonal beers. The Abita Christmas Ale was my last one from the basket. This might be my favorite of the beers that were in the basket. It was heavier than other holiday brews that I have tried, almost like an amber or dark ale, and more flavorful than the others as well. According to Abita, the recipe changes every year, so I think I will try to check it again next holiday season. Verdict: Enjoyed it.

The Movie

The Little Mermaid movie posterSynopsis
Ariel (Jodi Benson (voice)), a mermaid princess, falls in love with Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes (voice)), a human. She strikes a deal with the sea-witch Ursula (Pat Carroll (voice)) and exchanges her voice for a pair of legs so she can be on land and win Eric’s heart.

Review
Given the 80s theme going on this blog lately, I decided to watch one of the last animated films to come out of the decade: The Little Mermaid. I received the blu-ray several months ago and just got around to watching it. I grabbed my little sister (the other ginger of the family) and we sat down to watched our favorite red-headed princess together. Apparently, it had been some time since we both had seen it. When it was finished she remarked, β€œthat’s just good as I remember.” I simply replied, β€œwell, yeah!”

There are two big reasons why this movie works so well: the characters and the music. The characters are charming, relatable, and simply put, so much fun. Ariel is cheerful and venturesome. She doesn’t like to stay still and is always looking for her next adventure. Flounder is the Piglet to Ariel’s Pooh Bear; he’s easily scared but will do anything for his friends. Sebastian is everyone’s favorite crustacean who acts as the buffer between Ariel’s whimsical personality and her father. King Triton is the protective father who will do anything to keep his daughters safe. Eric is the noble prince who will stop at nothing to find his perfect princess. Ursula is mystifying and magically powerful. I think most of us can find a little part of one or more of these characters we can relate to, maybe even Ursula…

Disney is well known for great musical numbers. Some of my favorite come from the era known as the Disney Renaissance and are written by the composer Alan Menken. Menken worked on many of the Renaissance-era films, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Howard Ashman was Menken’s other composing-half until Ashman’s passing in 1991. Together, they created one of Disney’s best soundtracks with instant classics like β€œPart of Your World,” β€œUnder the Sea,” and β€œKiss the Girl.” I’ve also always enjoyed β€œPoor Unfortunate Souls.” In standard Disney fashion, you will be singing the songs long after you have finished watching the movie.

The Little Mermaid introduces all the major characters within the first fifteen minutes or so. This gives us plenty of time to spend with them. It was much faster paced than I remember. That works well because it keeps the story moving. At the same time, it doesn’t move too fast. It does a great job of balancing character development and story progression.

Most of the film takes place underwater (as you would expect in a story about a mermaid). The animation perfectly captures this environment. None of the movements are stiff or unnatural, they were always smooth and flowing. The animators used live actors for references to sketch, much like Walt Disney used in his early films. It really paid off because characteristics, such as hair movement under water or body movement while swimming, looked and behaved exactly as you would expect it to in real life.

I would have liked to hear just a little bit more of Ursula’s back story. She mentions how she used to be in the palace but was banished. A quick few sentences about what she did in the palace and what happened that caused her banishment would have fleshed out her comments and her character. The deleted scenes contained some of this information but obviously those didn’t make it into the final cut. It doesn’t take away from her character or the story so I don’t think it is a huge deal.

I thought The Little Mermaid was GREAT :-D. There is very little to knock in this film. All the characters are well written, it moves quickly but never feels rushed, the music is infectious and the animation is beautiful. What a way to kick off one of Disney’s best periods of animation!

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ron Clements – Writer / Director
John Musker – Writer / Director
Alan Menken – Composer
Howard Ashman – Composer

Jodi Benson – Ariel (voice)
Christopher Daniel Barnes – Eric (voice)
Pat Carroll – Ursula (voice)
Kenneth Mars – Triton (voice)
Samuel E. Wright – Sebastian (voice)
Jason Marin – Flounder (voice)
Buddy Hackett – Scuttle (voice)
Paddi Edwards – Flotsam & Jetsam (voice)
Ben Wright – Grimsby (voice)