Spaceballs

  • Title:  Spaceballs
  • Director:  Mel Brooks
  • Date:  1987
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Mel Brooks, Dick Van Patten,  George Wyner, Joan Rivers
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You idiots!  These are not them!  You’ve captured their stunt doubles!” — Spaceball Officer

“Preparing ship for Metamorphosis, sir.”  — Col. Sanders
“Good, get on with it.”  — President Skroob
“Ready, Kafka.” — Dark Helmet

Spaceballs is a bit disappointing for a Mel Brooks film.  The best moments are the tiny references to other classic films, and most of the Star Wars references don’t quite work. There’s also a lot of juvenile humor in the film.  One of the more successful things in the film is the use of music, for example when the extremely long Spaceballs ship is first seen at the beginning of the film, the Jaws theme is heard. Later, when Lone Star and company crash land in the desert, the theme to Lawrence of Arabia is heard.

The film opens with the Spaceballs plotting to steal the air from the peaceful planet of Druidia. Over population, huge city complexes, and the complete destruction of nature and industrialization of the planet have used up all the air on Planet Spaceball.  Meanwhile, on Druidia, Princess Vespa is to be married to Prince Valium, who is as boring as his name suggests.  Vespa, wisely runs away from her own wedding.

Vespa is caught by the Spaceballs, and King Roland, her father, offers to pay one million Spacebucks to Lone Star.  Lone Star needs the money to pay off Pizza the Hutt, a notorious gangster.  Pizza the Hutt is a disgusting character.  Lone Star flies through space in his Winnebago, with his best friend, Barf, a “Mog”, half-man/half-dog character played by John Candy.

Lone Star succeeds in rescuing the princess and escaping the Spaceballs, but runs out of gas and crash lands on a desert planet.  They are rescued by “Dinks” who appear to the Seven Dwarfs music from Snow White. The dinks bring Lone Star, Dot Matrix (the princess’s personal droid), Princess Vespa, and Barf to a secret temple, where they meet Yogurt, practitioner of The Swartz.  The scene where the four approach the huge statute of Yogurt, terrified, is reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz.

The transformed Spaceballs ship, which had turned into a gigantic maid, starts to remove the air from Druidia, but Lone Star uses the power of the Swartz to reverse the air flow, then he flies into the ship, finds the self-destruct and destroys it.  The head and arm land on another planet, where two apes on horses are disgusted by the Spaceballs claiming out of it’s nose.  Yes, it’s a reference to the original Planet of The Apes.

Soon, Lone Star takes Vespa and Dot back to planet Druidia.  Once again, Vespa is ready to be married. She, however, has doubts when she’s told by her father than Lone Star turned down the one million spacebucks.  At the last minute, Lone Star arrives and he and Vespa are married.

A constant joke throughout the film pokes fun at Star Wars merchandise, as nearly everything is “Spaceballs the _____ blank”, where blank is the actual item, such as “Spaceballs the towel”, etc.  This joke gets old quickly and is over used.  Another slightly funnier joke, that’s still used a lot, is not only is there a “Mr. Coffee” but also a “Mr. RADAR”, etc.  And several characters, especially among the Spaceballs, talk to the audience and break the fourth wall.

Overall, not the best of  Brooks’ films by a long shot, but it still has some very funny moments.  If  the leads had been Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn the film may have been much more funny, but that wasn’t possible.

Recommendation:  Eh, see or not, doesn’t much matter
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Spider-man

The Sound of Music

  • Title: The Sound of  Music
  • Director:  Robert Wise
  • Date:  1965
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Cast:  Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Angela Cartwright
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (70mm film)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Fraulein, were you this much trouble at the abbey?”  – Capt Georg von Trapp
“Oh, much more, sir.” — Maria

“Activity suggests a life filled with purpose.” – Capt. von Trapp

“Maybe the flag with the black spider makes people nervous.” – Greta

The Sound of  Music is a big showy musical film, which appears to be shot at least partially on location rather than being studio-bound, like most MGM musicals.  However, it is also long, at least three hours. When the intermission card came up, I was ready for the film to be over.  Yet, despite it’s length, The Sound of Music is a good film, and one that many consider a classic.

Julie Andrews is Maria, a young noviate at a convent — it’s clear to the Mother Superior and other nuns, that, while she is likable, Maria is not quite nun material, so the Mother Superior suggests she at least attempt to make her way in the world before returning to the abbey to take her vows.  Not quite ready to put the young woman out on the street with nothing but the clothes on her back, the Mother Superior sends her to Capt. von Trapp to become governess to his seven children.

A widower, Capt. von Trapp has become increasingly cold and withdrawn since the death of his wife. This is shown with the scene where he introduces the seven children to Maria by blowing their call signs on a whistle.  Maria finds this ridiculous.  The Captain then criticizes Maria’s clothes.  When she tells him she doesn’t have any others, she gave hers away when she went into the convent, he buys her fabrics to make new dresses.  He also has new drapes put in her room in his villa (it’s a small castle).  She takes the old fabric and makes play clothes for the children.

Soon Maria becomes the best governess the children have ever had, taking them on field trips and teaching them to sing.  At first, stern Capt. von Trapp is appalled at Maria’s light-hearted way, but eventually she draws him in too.  However, he’s seeing Baroness Elsa, a cold-hearted widow.  At first, it seems like the Captain and the Baroness are a perfect couple, but eventually it’s clear that he belongs with Maria.

Eventually, Elsa breaks off her engagement with Capt von Trapp, as she realizes she’s just not capable of being a mother of seven.  Capt. von Trapp then immediately proposes to Maria, they marry and leave for their month-long honeymoon, leaving the children in the care of “Uncle Max”.  The Captain and Maria return to discover that the Captain’s beloved Austria has been annexed by Germany.  Not only that, but he is ordered to report to a naval base and become an officer in the German Navy.  Capt. von Trapp would literally rather die, and he and Maria plot their escape.

Here, Max comes to the rescue — the von Trapp Family Singers will sing in the Salzburg Folk Festival, something the Captain had been against, and their escape will be arranged after the performance.  The plot eventually works, they escape, hide in the abbey, then go first by car, then by foot through the mountains and into Switzerland.

List of  Musical Numbers

  • The Sound of  Music
  • How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
  • When You’re 16, Going on 17
  • My Favorite Things
  • Doe a Deer / Do Re Mi
  • The Lonely Goatherd (during the children’s puppet show)
  • Edelweiss
  • So Long, Fare Well, Auf  Wiedersehen, Goodnight
  • The Sound of Music (reprise, slower version)
  • My Favorite Things (reprise)
  • I Must Have Done Something Good
  • How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? (reprise)
  • When You’re 16, Going on 17 (reprise)
  • Doe a Deer / Do Re Mi (at the folk concert, reprise)
  • Edelweiss (at the folk concert, reprise)
  • So Long, Fare Well, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodnight  (at the folk concert, reprise)
The good things about The Sound of  Music — the full frame (though widescreen) filming of  the singing and the few dance numbers (“When You’re 16, Going on 17” and the folk dance Maria and the Captain dance together during his grand party) is very nice, though the dances aren’t as complex as either a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical or many other MGM musicals.  The location filming is gorgeous — and it’s nice to see a musical that isn’t so studio-bound.  However, the film is overly long.  The second half (post the intermission card) does actually move faster, and I’m not sure what I’d cut if I was the editor (well, yes I do — I’d dump a lot of the montages between Maria and the children and show more concrete examples of how she reaches them).  Anyway, over three hours is really pushing it for a musical.
Recommendation:  See it, at least once, it is a classic
Rating: 3.8
Next Film:  Spaceballs

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

  • Title:  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Director:  Jon Turteltaub
  • Date:  2010
  • Studio:  Disney
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children’s Film
  • Cast:  Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve heard how people use only ten percent of their brains?  Sorcerers can manipulate matter because they’re born with the capability to use the entire power of their brains.  Which also explains how molecular physics comes so easily to you.”  – Balthazar

“The truth is you have a very special gift, you need to see that.” – Balthazar

“OK, the first thing you need to know about me is I’m a sorcerer.” – Dave

Nine-year-old Dave is on a field trip to New York City when he’s separated from his classmates and ends up in a very bizarre magic store run by Balthazar (Nicholas Cage).  Balthazar tests Dave and realizes he’s the Prime Merlinean.  Balthazar has been searching for the Prime Merlinean for over a thousand years.  However, before he can start to train the young sorcerer, they are attacked by an evil sorcerer name Horvath.  Dave escapes the store, and both Horvath (Alfred Molina) and Balthazar are trapped in an urn for ten years.

Ten years later, shy, nerdy, Dave has almost out-grown the embarrassment of his experience at the magic store, and is now a physics student at NYU.  While making a presentation to a 101 class, he re-connects with Becky, a girl from his fourth grade class that due to the mess in the magic store he hadn’t managed to impress.

Dave also meets Balthazar again, who convinces him that he is a sorcerer and begins to train him. Meanwhile, Dave starts to date Becky.  He impresses her by fixing the electrical system of the college radio station where she works as a DJ, and later by treating her to a private Tesla coil concert in his private lab.  Dave’s Tesla coil project is very coil, and the scene where he plays music with the coils to Becky, complete with indoor lightning is awesome. I’ve been to a Tesla coil concert before — and they are awesome and very cool.  Becky becomes suitably impressed with her new boyfriend.

While Dave learns how to control his new-found powers, and starts his relationship with his new girlfriend, Horvath is not idle.  Also released at the same time as Balthazar, he begins to release evil sorcerers from the Grimholt a perpetual prison that resembles a Russian nesting doll.  With each sorcerer released, it becomes smaller and smaller, until finally only Morgana — the queen of evil sorcerers and nemesis of Merlin and, Veronica – Balthazar’s lover and fellow apprentice of Merlin who sacrificed herself  to capture Morgana – remain.  Horvath also finds one modern magical “soldier”, Drake Stone, a modern-day celebrity magician (think David Copperfield or Criss Angel).  But, as Horvath releases the evil sorcerers, he uses a parasite spell to take their powers.

Finally, Balthazar goes to stop Horvath and the newly-released Morgana from enacting a spell called, “The Rising”, which will raise evil sorcerers from the dead and destroy the world.  Dave and Becky also arrive at the final conflict.  I won’t spoil the finale.

Nicolas Cage makes for a great slightly scary, slightly nutty sorcerer.  Jay Baruchel comes off as slightly whiny, but considering he’s playing a self-professed “physics nerd”, it’s not that bad of  an acting job. Alfred Molina plays a fun, over-the-top bad guy.  Teresa Palmer is a surprisingly spunky, non-annoying girl-next-door type, who is surprised but non-plussed when confronted with “real magic”.  I liked that a somewhat “scientific” explanation was given for how magic works (matter isn’t created or destroyed, merely re-arranged; for example — an object is set on fire by rapidly vibrating the molecules in it).  The special effects consist of lots of computer morphing and “liquid object” effects.  However, practical in-camera gags were used at times at the beginning and end of a specific effect.  Also, real fire effects were used, for example, in the sorcerer’s training circles and spell circles.  (Obviously, “cool gel” was used for the fire).

Yes, as the title of the film suggests, this film is based on the Mickey Mouse “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” episode in Fantasia.  However, the film’s opening sequence and voice-over add an intriguing backstory and setting to the main characters, creating a fantasy world that seems new, before moving forward in time to modern-day New York.  Overall, this film has a “pilot episode of a TV series” feel to it, or opening film in a series, rather than an individual separate film, which is too bad.  I would like to see more in the series, but it appears to be the only film Disney made.  Also, I enjoyed this film the most the first time I saw it, it loses some of it’s spark when it’s re-watched.

Recommendation:  Pre-teens and Teenagers will probably enjoy this the best. Still, it’s watchable.
Rating:  3.5 Stars
Next Film:  The Sound of  Music