Tag Archives: John Candy

Cool Runnings (1993) Movie Retro Review By John Walsh

Cool Runnings

Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writers: Lynn Siefert (story), Michael Ritchie (story)
Stars: John Candy, Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba

I’m in the midst of a 90s nostalgia fest at the moment. It was a decade that produced some of my all-time favourites, spanning a variety of genres and so my mind was cast back to 1993, when I was but a small child of just four years old. Cool Runnings, wouldn’t be one of those films that I’d class as an all-time favourite, but it holds a special place in my heart. It was one of the first times I became acquainted with the late, great John Candy and it never fails to whisk me back to my carefree youth of playing on an Amiga and scoffing my grandads fairy cakes. 

It’s follows the well trodden (even then) sports genre, redemption story, that was nailed in the original Rocky, leading to ever diminishing returns as that franchise progressed. It’s apparently based on the real life events of the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled team that captivated the world, but as I’ll get into shortly, that’s not quite correct. 

Derice (Leon Robinson), is a sprinter and an elite one at that, who faces early heartache, failing to make the 1988 Olympic team after a disastrous time trial. Devastated about missing out on his dream, he pins his hopes on putting together a bobsled team and hitting the Winter Olympics. Why? Well, because quick sprinters are a significant part of that sporting disciplines success. He already has a driver in his wacky friend, Sanka (Doug E. Doug), a champion pushcart driver on the island. All he needs is two more athletes and a coach. 

Which brings a certain Mr. John Candy into the proceedings. He plays Irving ‘Irv’ Blitzer, a multiple gold medal winner and disgraced US bobsled coach that’s retreated to the Caribbean to escape his ignominious past. An old friend of Derice’s dad, both him and Sanka hammer him into submission, pleading for him to return to his old life and coach them. That just leaves a recruitment drive for the final two members and the turnout is initially high, that is until the dangers of the sport are highlighted in a film reel, leaving the room deserted. A funny moment that needs to be seen to be appreciated. 

There’s just two men left standing when the dust settles and they share a painful connection with Derice. Junior (Rawle D. Lewis) and Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba), both elite level sprinters in their own right, where involved in the same Olympic trial, with the formers trip ending the dream for all three. 

Now, if that doesn’t give the premise behind the entire story away then nothing will really. The films primary message, outside the multiple redemption arcs, is all about using the disappointments in life to fuel your determination to succeed and improve. They all come together, bonding through the journey, despite their initial differences, bickering and infighting to appear at the 1988 winter games. There’s many an obstacle put in their way, from a ramshackle sled, racial intolerance to a corrupt governing body doing its best to ban the interlopers for having the audacity to besmirch their sport. 

Which brings me onto my next point quite nicely. The events in this film are highly fictional. Like to the point where there’s no discernible connection to reality in any way whatsoever. For instance, the real Jamaicans were pushcart racers, but they weren’t elite level sprinters by any means. They had multiple coaches, none of which were ever banned for cheating. Nor did they use a ramshackle sled, in fact, the USA actually gave them one so they could qualify and there was no hint of intolerance or racism from the East German team like we see in the film. 

Does any of that actually bother me? Nope. It wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable a film, a redemption story or emotional rollercoaster if it was a faithful depiction. We wouldn’t have got the “I see pride, I see power. I see a badass mother that don’t take no crap off nobody” bathroom scene and the subsequent bar brawl that erupted afterwards. We wouldn’t have had the tension surrounding their reinstatement, the team bonding over the sled painting or the brilliant character of Irv. That would’ve been a travesty and it would’ve  made for an infinitely less enjoyable experience. 

The characters make Cool Runnings the film that it is. With all due respect to the real guys, I doubt they were as ragtag a group of a strange bedfellows as Derice, Sanka, Yul Brenner and Junior. I’m going to call it a leading quartet of actors that excel in bringing these likeable personalities to the screen. They’re all different too and yet together they help each other, slotting together like a game of Tetris. Derice is intelligent, driven and reserved; Sanka is zany, extroverted and loud; Yul is sullen, aloof but has a big heart and is a good guy; finally, Junior is lacking confidence and desperate to find his freedom. He also rich, which proves useful.

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National Lampoons Vacation (1983) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Vacation

Director: Harold Ramis
Writers: John Hughes (screenplay), John Hughes (short story “Vacation ’58”)
Stars: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Brian Doyle-Murray, Eddie Bracken, Eugene Levy, Christie Brinkley, John Candy

The Griswalds take to the road on a trip across America to reach Wally World Theme Park. Seems like a pretty straight forward trip, right?

It has been 35 years since National Lampoons Vacation hit our cinema screens and I personally cannot think of better comedy for it’s time. You have Harold Ramis Directing who would go on the following year to become a household name as Dr. Egon Spengler (Ramis also co-wrote) in Ghostbusters. The amazing writing talents of John Hughes. Some might say this film was the catalyst to Hughes amazing career in film, particularly in the 1980’s and an amazing cast of Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Brian Doyle-Murray, Eddie Bracken, Eugene Levy, Christie Brinkley and an amazing cameo by the late John Candy.

With all of the Vacation films it opens with the unforgettable “Holiday Road” by former Fleetwood Mac singer Lindsey Buckingham. This is probably the first film I had seen Eugene Levy in who would go on to play Jim’s Dad in “American Pie”. Here he plays a Car Salesman trying and succeeding in getting Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) to purchase a very unfashionable sports wagon with an awful sewage green colour and walnut panelling. Seriously I wouldn’t have taken that for free. Incidentally the car was specifically made for this film, which is pretty obviously when you think about it because this car would not sell if it was released to the public.

Clark has it all planned out on where they have to be on what day and at what time. The guy’s itinerary is precise and meticulous and when asked by his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) why they couldn’t just take a flight out to the theme park, Clark explains with his work hours he feels he is missing out on spending time with his family. I totally get that and I’m glad he didn’t listen to Ellen or we wouldn’t be in for a very funny couple of hours with The Griswolds. Clark as the ever optimistic Dad, Ellen as the more realistic Mum and the Kids Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) It’s interesting to note that Rusty was to play the younger child originally but when Anthony Michael Hall took a growth spurt during production (it’s evident at the closing scenes, where he is towering over D’Angelo at this point) the film makers decided to make Rusty the older brother.

The chemistry between Chase, D’Angelo, Michael Hall and Barron is tight and very funny. They almost function like a real family convincingly and it clearly worked for Chase and D’Angelo to go on a few times more as Husband and Wife in European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation, popping up on Family Guy, Hotel Hell Vacation (Video short) and the more recent Vacation (2015) Michael Hall and Barron would go on to do other projects during this time and it’s fair to say and in particular that Michael Hall catapulted to stardom throughout the early to mid eighties thanks to his performance as Rusty Griswold. More notably in more John Hughes films.

Supporting them is an ensemble of some of the best comedy actors from the likes of Saturday Night Live and SCTV of the time in Brian Doyle-Murray, Eddie Bracken, Eugene Levy, Christie Brinkley, John Candy, Randy Quaid and Imogene Coca. I don’t think any of the supporting cast are wasted in anyway and all leave their mark to an extent and mostly have the funniest lines in the film. Interesting the original finale to the film didn’t go down to well with a test audience leaving the film in a bit of a crisis. Cue John Candy for a whopping $1 Million performing as a security guard at Wally World and you have a brilliant final scenes with a character Candy performed with on stage.

Overall, National Lampoons Vacation for me kick started the whole comedy road movie genre (well in my lifetime anyway) and it’s fair to say that not many films have surpassed this original (Dumb and Dumber is of course up there) and apart from the fashion the film hasn’t aged too badly. Chevy Chase as Clark carries the movie from start to finish and it is mostly from his perspective as there aren’t too many scenes he isn’t in. If you haven’t seen any of the National Lampoon films I would suggest starting with the original and the best. The other films, previously mentioned are hit and miss and the casting of Rusty and Audrey in the other movies didn’t quite hit the mark as Michael Hall and Barron did in this one. I recommend watching National Lampoons Vacation as I feel you will enjoy it.