Four Frames – National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally recognised website that shows film in a wider context. Throughout July, The Big Picture is running a series of articles on ‘journeys’. This piece is part of the Four Frames section, wherein the importance of four significant shots are discussed, in this case from the Chevy Chase-starring road trip comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Many of us will no doubt recall the times we spent as a kid sat in the back of a hot car watching our parents squabble over which way to go on the way to a summer family holiday.

We can therefore recognise, at least in part, the pain and suffering endured by the Griswolds in the name of ‘fun’ as they hit the road for a 2,408-mile trip from Chicago to the hallowed Walley World in California.

The cross-country road trip taken by the manic Clark (Chevy Chase), his long-suffering wife Ellen (Beverley D’Angelo) and teenage children Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) takes on a Sisyphean struggle as they haplessly veer towards one self-destructive set piece after another.

A screwball comedy it may be, but director Harold Ramis and writer John Hughes also inject a little subversiveness into proceedings. With Lindsey Buckingham’s relentlessly upbeat Holiday Road ringing in our ears, the opening credits are a flip book of picture postcards showing off every corner of the U.S. It paints the sort of all-American summer vacation sold by people like Clark, an advertising executive who has drunk the Kool-Aid and can’t wait to witness first hand such unforgettable sights as the “second largest ball of twine on the face of the Earth” with his family.

The laughably awful station wagon (a vehicle created specifically for the movie) that ferries the Griswolds to hell and back puts the lampoon into National Lampoon. In addition, the wildly over-the-top illustrated poster of a buffed-up Chase draped by a scantily clad D’Angelo and Sports Illustrated cover girl Christie Brinkley (who plays a Ferrari-driving temptress) not only amps up the film’s shameless ridiculousness, but also merrily sends up Reagan-era patriotism.

Chase was among the first of the Saturday Night Live cast members who, along with Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi (until his premature death in 1982) broke out of the NBC sketch show and became one of the biggest stars in the ’80s.

Essentially a bunch of sketches tied to the narrative thread of the road trip to end all road trips (until they all did it again in National Lampoon’s European Vacation two years later), Vacation provided Chase with the perfect comedy vehicle.

Almost 35 years on, some of the jokes are best left in the past; in particular a cringeworthy sequence set in the seedy streets of St Louis where Clark and co are lost and ask a group of black pimps and vandals for directions back to the expressway – losing their hub caps in the process (Rusty wonders “if these guys know The Commodores” just to ratchet up the racial stereotyping).

Others remain darkly hilarious, including the moment when Clark realises the dog they’ve been looking is no longer tied to the back of the car and the scene in which the family tie the recently deceased Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) to the roof wrapped in tarpaulin.

However, the highlight remains Clark’s meltdown in front of his family in which he excoriates them for being “f**ked in the head” at wanting to go home after all they’ve been through, adding: “This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. You’re gonna have fun, and I’m gonna have fun… We’re all gonna have so much f**king fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of your assholes!”

Hughes has a penchant for memorable expletive-laden monologues (the can of whoopass opened up by Steve Martin towards a car rental employee in 1987’s Planes, Trains And Automobiles is equally great) and Chase savours every moment, saving the best for last as the wild-eyed Clark warns his son “Don’t touch!”

The fates have one last kick in the shins for the Griswolds when they finally make it to Walley World, pushing Clark off the deep end and leading to a finale that’s as uplifting as it is unnerving and unlikely.

The less said about the increasingly painful and derivative sequels the better, but National Lampoon’s Vacation remains a laugh-out-loud skewering of the middle class American dream.

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Review – Churchill

Thought Winston Churchill was behind the greatest gamble of the Second World War? Think again, according to this latest film centred on the iconic British leader.

Much like Shakespeare’s King Lear, the role of Churchill is a coveted one among thesps of a certain age and has been attempted more than a few times over the years on big and small screen alke.

Churchill PosterGary Oldman will be the latest to give the ‘victory’ sign when he stars in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour later this year, but getting there first is Brian Cox, who gained considerable weight and shaved his head to achieve the physical embodiment of the former British Prime Minister. However, it is the way he humanises a man still regarded as one of the United Kingdom’s greatest figures that has won him particular acclaim.

Cox has spoken of the Shakespearean element to playing Churchill, and this is no more personified than in the Bard’s Lear, the great leader who is gradually sidelined whilst howling against a storm he no longer has control over.

ChurchillSet in the final days and hours leading up to Operation Overlord, otherwise known as D-Day on 6 June 1944, the film portrays Churchill as a man haunted by the slaughter that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of men at Gallipoli almost 30 years earlier and convinced the Allied invasion of France will be equally catastrophic.

Although the serving Prime Minster and Minister of Defence, Winston finds that his protestations count for nothing in the face of the united front taken by Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower (Tony Slattery), British Army Commander Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham) and Field Marshall Alan Brooke (Danny Webb).

His reduced status as little more than a figurehead is a bitter pill to swallow for Churchill, whose tirades and self-pitying fail to impress his devoted, but increasingly frustrated wife Clemmie (Miranda Richardson), while even his trusted friend King George VI (James Purefoy) must talk him out of a misguided plan to be at the frontline of the Normandy landings.

ChurchillThere’s no doubt the angle taken by the film in chronicling the lead-up to one of the defining events of the 20th century is an interesting one, based as it is on the diaries of Brooke as well as other historical sources. It’s a shame therefore that Alex von Tunzelmann’s one-note script and Jonathan Teplitzky’s stagy direction fail to get away from the fact that Churchill would have worked better on television rather than in cinemas.

In case we hadn’t absorbed the message that the Prime Minister was against Overlord, the film, like a broken record, continuously has Churchill imploring Eisenhower, Montgomery and anyone else who’ll listen not to “make the same mistakes as before”. Cox raises his game to play a role he’s reportedly wished to portray for years, while Richardson is equally fantastic (the supporting cast do their best with limited material); however, neither are served by a script that stretches itself to breaking point to fill 90 minutes.

ChurchillThere are some nice moments here and there; in particular a beautifully played scene between Cox and Purefoy in which the King gently breaks his friend’s heart in an effort to save Churchill from himself. The crushing weight on the shoulders of Einsenhower and his senior military staff as they weigh up a decision that will ultimately decide the fate of the war is also effectively handled – lest we forget that D-Day was a leap into the unknown with potentially devastating consequences.

Excellent performances, however, cannot ultimately save Churchill from being an also ran in the long history of films involving one of history’s Great Britons.

A film blogger’s journey into indie filmmaking – writing/producing ‘Hearts Want’ short film

What can I say? Ruth is something of a hero for bringing her dream to life! Please support her project – she absolutely deserves it!

FlixChatter Film Blog

It’s been forty plus years in the making. No, no, it didn’t take me 40 years to write the script, though if I had written something as an infant I might’ve been a literary genius by now.

Some of you know my life’s been consumed by my short film project lately. Well, I had just launched the Kickstarter campaign to help fund the film, so I thought I’d share the journey of how I got here…

It feels as though I’ve been wanting to make a film for as long as I remember. Even in grade school, whenever the recurrent question ‘what do you want to be when we grow up?’ came up, I always proudly answered that I wanted to be a screenwriter. Yep, even long before I knew what a screenwriter was! For some reason, I had always had this longing to follow my late dad’s footsteps, who…

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Decades Blogathon — 12 Angry Men (1957)

Thomas J

It has been an absolute delight getting to deliver a third round of film reviews for the Decades Blogathon! On behalf of my excellent co-host Mark, of Three Rows Back, I would like to give everyone another round of applause for taking the time to write something for our little event. You guys make it possible. With any luck we’ll be back again for another, so if you found yourself missing out this year, keep those eyes peeled. Without further ado, here is my take on Sidney Lumet’s 1957 courtroom drama, 12 Angry Men


Release: Saturday, April 13, 1957 (limited)

[On Demand]

Written by: Reginald Rose

Directed by: Sidney Lumet

Something I didn’t expect to take away from Sidney Lumet’s astounding feature debut 12 Angry Men was just how much perspiration would be involved in the deliberations. An equally fitting title would have been 12 Sweaty Men. Of course…

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Decades Blogathon — Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927)

Thomas J

Here we are in the penultimate day in the 2017 edition of the Decades Blogathon. It’s been a really fun one to co-host yet again with the sterling Mark from Three Rows Back. With any luck this is a trend that will continue, it’s just so great having the contributions we’ve had three years in a row. So with that, I’d like to clear the floor for the featured reviewer of today — Charles from the wonderful blog, Cinematic. Please do check out his site if you have some time. 


Although cinema has always been continuously evolving since its inception, 1927 is perhaps the critical turning point in film. That year saw the debut of The Jazz Singer, the first major “talkie” that led to silent cinema’s decline and introduced the concept of spoken dialogue to the screen. 1927 also greeted audiences with the inceptions of F.W…

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