Friday, August 07, 2009

Camera Obscura: John Hughes, King of Comedy; 'Perfect Getaway'; 'Lovely Bones'; Vampire's Assistant

I was talking just this week with a friend about writer/director John Hughes, who died suddenly on Thursday at age 59. Hughes made some of the most-loved movies through the 1980s, capturing the lives and loves and comic errors of American teens (and the idiocy of adults). He didn't write schlock or pander to fearful parents. His characters became companions and icons to millions of movie fans.

In the 1990s, he walked away from Hollywood and film-making and returned to Chicago, content to avoid the press and the ever-growing cult of fans who praised his movies. At the time, he had the power to make any film he wanted, and he, apparently, decided to just take a break. I cannot blame him - by 1989 he had cranked out a massive amount of work in a single decade.

He was still working as a writer through the last few years, using the name Edmond Dantes as screenwriter on movies like "Flubber" and "Maid In Manhattan".

I first heard of Hughes through his writing for National Lampoon, where he and writer P.J. O'Rourke created the brilliant parody of a Sunday newspaper in the fictional town of Dacron, Ohio. You can still buy copies of the "Ohio Republican-Democrat", first published in 1978. His writing and skill soon led him to be the editor of National Lampoon in 1979 - they have posted a short remembrance of Hughes and promise to reprint online some of his best tales. The story he wrote in for them in 1982, called "Vacation '58" was soon turned into a hit movie, "National Lampoon's Vacation". And even back then, he had an eye and an ear for life in America which was somehow both hilarious satirical and still fond and gentle.

Hughes had a great skill for writing about American teens, and how there were some adults who had retained a vivid ability to be young in heart and mind. He knew the ways teens moved into groups of the popular and the unpopular, and through most of his movies, he urged them to forget about conformity and instead to be true to self. And he did that with such comic ease. He celebrated life, embraced it, and made all of us laugh at ourselves and each other.

Hughes had another skill which makes his movies so memorable - his use of music. The music he used covered rock and roll from the 50s through the 90s, and it always worked to build a scene or a laugh or capture a more solemn moment. He never talked down to the audience, he talked with us and sang with us, and made movies that were just fun and we have watched them over and over.

That kind of legacy has worth beyond measure.

And a clip from one of my favorite Hughes' movies - 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off" - complete with the most famous high school home room roll call ever made:


Writer/Director David Twohy has a new movie in theaters today, "Perfect Getaway", a thriller starring Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, and Timothy Olyphant about a vacation trip to Hawaii which goes from fun to fear in pure pulp style.

Twohy has been steadily making some excellent genre films for years, all of them great Grade-B suspense tales. Other movies from Twohy include "Pitch Black," "Warlock", the vastly underrated alien invasion movie "The Arrival", a haunted submarine movie called "Below" and a real gem of a time travel movie which has had several titles - "Disaster In Time" or "Timescape". It is a sci-fi film that casually draws you in to a very strange and terrifying series of events whose meaning is a real jaw-dropper.

Although he is no A-lister, I've always been greatly entertained by Twohy's movies - summer popcorn fare with plenty of adventure and plot twists.


A new preview trailer hit the web this week from the new movie by director Peter Jackson, "The Lovely Bones", based on the novel by Anne Sebold and featuring a soundtrack by Brian Eno. Check it out here at the official website. The movie is set for a December release.


The really weird this week is for a movie called "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant". It features actor John C. Reilly as a vampire in a traveling circus of the bizarre who decides to take on a young teenage vampire apprentice. I think the trailer sort of says it all --

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