Category Archives: Movies Based on Songs

Valley Girl (1983)

valley girl

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Like totally, for sure.

Julie (Deborah Foreman) is a popular teen who is attracted to Randy (Nicholas Cage) who is not a part of her snotty clique. Stacey (Heidi Holicker) and Suzi (Michelle Meyrink) are her friends who want her to go back to dating the two-timing Tommy (Michael Bowen) even though she gets along with Randy far better. Her hippie parents (Frederic Forrest, Colleen Camp) aren’t sure what advice to give her, so she’s forced to choose between her friends and true-love while being threatened with ostracism if she goes out with the ‘wrong guy’.

The film was inspired by the Frank Zappa song, which is far funnier than anything that goes on here. The song had Zappa’s 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit putting on a fake southern California accent and speaking in a valley-speak lingo, which was right on-target. Here though we don’t get any of that. The girls only do the valley-speak thing at the very beginning and then it’s dropped and becomes just a pedestrian story of ordinary teens doing very ordinary teen-like things.

To me a valley girl represented a rich, plastic, entitled teen insulated from real-world issues who charged their Daddy’s credit card like it was a hobby and felt they were ‘too cool’ to work and more concerned with the latest teen fashions than anything else and yet the lead character here doesn’t represent any of this and in fact is the complete opposite.

The cast is also way too old for their roles. Foreman was already 21 and Bowen was 30! In fact none of the lead cast is of the right age range for their characters and making it look much more like college students or even young adults than high school. The party scenes are lame with the kids dancing like zombies moving their bodies in a robotic fashion with no sense or feel to the music or beat. The whole thing lacks hipness and comes off like a mild, sanitized concoction created by middle-aged adults far removed from the teen scene and unable to recreate it in any effective type of way.

Forrest and Camp are mildly amusing as the parents, but aging hippies running some backwoods type health food store probably wouldn’t be able to afford living in the valley let alone getting along with their more elitist neighbors. I was also disappointed that the Lee Purcell character just disappears without any denouncement. She plays Suzie’s very hot-looking mother, and with the possible exception of Foreman is quite easily the best looking member of the cast, who comes-on to one of her daughter’s guy friends (David Ensor) only to later catch the two in bed together, but what should’ve been a funny and lively confrontation and aftermath never gets addressed, which is a letdown.

On a purely romantic level the film could be considered ‘cute’ and the soundtrack has some cool tunes, but the story lacks oomph and fails to take advantage of the true valley girl persona ending up seeming more like just a mild ‘80s update of Gidget instead.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martha Coolidge

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)

cant buy me love

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Geek dates hot cheerleader.

As a small tribute to Amanda Peterson who unfortunately died recently at the young age of 43 after many years of battling with drug addiction and even spending some time behind bars, I decided to review this film. Even though she was in 5 movies during the 80’s and starred in two TV-series including the short-lived, but critically acclaimed ‘A Year in the Life’ her part her as Cindy Mancini has become her signature role.

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The plot revolves around Ronald (Patrick Dempsey) a high school nerd who secretly has a crush on class beauty Cindy, but realizes that she is way out of his league. Then one day while attempting to buy a telescope that he has saved up for by spending the summer mowing lawns he comes into contact with her at a mall as she is attempting to replace a dress that she borrowed from her mother (Sharon Farrell) without her permission and then accidently ruined. She doesn’t have the money to buy a new one, so Ronald offers to use his telescope money to buy it, but under the condition that she pretends to be in a relationship with him and act as his girlfriend for one month. Cindy reluctantly agrees, but finds to her surprise that she starts to grow fond of him, but when the month is over and their pseudo-relationship ends Ronald uses his new found popularity to jettison to the top of the social scene while becoming quite obnoxious in the process. Cindy tries to rekindle the romance, but Ronald has found new conquests and has no time for her, which gets her angry enough that she eventually tells everyone about their secret deal.

This movie, which was filmed on-location at the Tucson High School in Tucson, Arizona, is a gem especially for an 80’s teen comedy and making it one of the better ones from that decade and quite easily one of the best teen romances of all time. Part of the charm is that it lives out the dream of every geek young and old who has ever fantasized about going out with the hottest girl in school, but then takes this wish fulfillment fantasy and puts it inside a realistic scenario. It also makes a good comment as to just how fickle and shallow the high school popularity game really is. The characters are much more multi-dimensional than in most teen comedies especially Cindy’s and I also liked the way the film keeps things real, but still manages to maintain the innocence of that age without ever seeming overly sanitized.

Dempsey is great and he manages to get you to empathize with his sad, geeky quandary without ever making it seem too pathetic.  The part where he stays up late one night and counts up all the days he had to go through before finally seeing a naked female breast is the funniest part in the movie. However, by-and-large this is Peterson’s vehicle and she is splendid. I loved how her character starts out as being just another superficial teen girl, but slowly evolves into becoming much deeper and introspective and exposing a lot of class along the way.

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Normally I hate bratty little brother characters, but a young Seth Green makes the one here quite enjoyable. I also liked how the parents are not portrayed as being overly authoritative relics of bygone era, but human beings as well and Cindy’s relationship with her mother where half time she seems more like the mature one is fun.

Of course the film does suffer from a few shortcomings. Ronald’s impassioned ‘why can’t we all just get along’ speech that he gives near the end may have merit, but comes off as too melodramatic and corny.  I also thought these kids who were all supposedly seniors behaved too much like they were still in middle school where the teen social caste system is much more rigidly followed, but becomes less important and more phased out as they enter the senior high. It is also inconceivable how anyone even an out-of-it geek like Ronald could ever mistake a PBS show dealing with Africa tribal dances with ‘American Bandstand’.

Despite being an 80’s movie it doesn’t seem all that dated and I think teens today could still relate to it. Sure the characters don’t have smartphones or the other technological gadgets of today, but the foundation of teen life is still there and the movie does a great job of speaking to them on their level without ever seeming like their talking down to them.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 14, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Steve Rash

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Middle Age Crazy (1980)

middle age crazy

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not Ready for 40.

Bobby Lee (Bruce Dern) is a Texas businessman who builds taco stands for a living. Although he is genuinely happy with his life he finds his job boring and dealing with the demanding clients to be frustrating. He loves his wife Sue Ann (Ann-Margret), but her constant smothering him with love makes him feel suffocated. Turning 40 becomes a major milestone and one he wishes would go away. To compensate he starts to act erratically by buying himself an expensive sports car, telling off his obnoxious clients and even having an affair with a much younger woman, but it all makes him feel empty and just as lost and confused.

Having turned the wrong side of 40 myself now several years back I can vouch for what this character is feeling and some of the points it makes are certainly relatable to anyone the same age especially males. The first half of the movie is the best as it has several dream-like segments where the character fantasizes about seeing himself in different situations. The one where he sees himself presiding over his own funeral is amusing, but the best one is where he imagines having sex with his college-aged son’s girlfriend in the backseat of a car while the tune ‘Good Girls Don’t’ by the Knack plays on the radio.

The dialogue is equally funny with some politically incorrect lines that really hit-the-mark with the strongest one coming during a commencement speech that he imagines giving to a graduating class of high school seniors. It was so good I felt obligated to print a slightly condensed version of it here:

“Every year thousands of you kids put on these silly, fucking hats to hear some other kid in a silly, fucking hat tell you that you are the future, but there is not enough future to go around. If you want to know your real future look at your folks in the stands. Fat butts and sagging tits that’s your future. If you had any sense you would give back your diplomas and silly hats and stay 18 the rest of your lives. You don’t want the future because the future sucks!”

The acting is a real grab bag. Graham Jarvis a balding actor best known for playing uptight characters scores here as Bobby’s foul mouthed over-sexed friend J.D. Dern who is almost always engaging especially in bad guy roles seems too restrained and even boring. Ann-Margret is much too clingy as the wife and would probably drive any man away and Michael Kane’s caricature of an obnoxious Texas businessman is irritatingly clichéd.

The film veers into heavy-handed drama during the second half and ultimately limps along to a flat finale. Had the film stayed with the lighthearted, quirky tone that it had at the beginning it might have worked, but instead comes off as rather amateurish and disjointed.

The film is based on a Jerry Lee Lewis song and has a hard time taking a basic idea, which is what a song really is and trying to turn it into feature length material. It is also interesting to note that despite being filmed on-location in Texas the movie was financed by a Canadian production company, which technically makes it a foreign film.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 25, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Trent

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)

jumpin jack flashBy Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Whoopi plays spy game.

Due to Whoopi Goldberg turning 58 on November 13th and because whenever I watch a clip of ‘The View’ on YouTube she tends to be my favorite panelist I have decided to review each of the films she starred in during the 80’s for the next 7 Mondays. Critically her films in that decade did not fare well and she has even disowned a few, but since this is a 80’s movie blog I feel it is my professional duty to review them anyways whether some of them are torturous to sit through or not.

In this one she plays Terry Doolittle a bank employee who does a lot of transactions and communications through her computer. One day she gets a message from someone using the code name Jumpin’ Jack Flash who asks for her help supposedly to save his life. This sets into motion wild adventures in which she puts her life at risk and gets involved with everything from the CIA to foreign government powers.

Whoopi is the best thing about this otherwise silly and contrived plot. Director Penny Marshall nicely allows Whoopi room to flex her comic muscles while also taking advantage of her sassy and streetwise humor. The part where she tries to decipher the lyrics of the ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ song by the Rolling Stones is full of all sorts of Goldbergisms and it’s great. Her impressions of Ray Charles and Diana Ross are on target as well, but my favorite part is when she is drugged with truth serum and then goes into a beauty salon and tells everyone there exactly what she thinks. My only complaint to her performance is her unnecessary use of the F-bomb, which turns this otherwise kid friendly story into an R-rated movie.

It is also fun to watch a lot of up-and-coming comic stars in small roles including Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, James Belushi, Tracy Ullman and Annie Potts. There is even a surprise appearance by Jonathan Pryce at the very end, but my favorite is when Penny casts her older brother Gary as a detective who has a humorously confrontational exchange with Whoopi inside a police station.

Marshall’s directorial debut is limp. I liked all the movie posters that line Whoopi’s apartment, but otherwise the visuals are dull. Her workplace environment and conversations that Whoopi has with her co-workers seems realistic, but not particularly interesting or amusing. The opening segment limps along while barely being engaging. The part where Whoopi gets her dress caught in a shredder has up-tempo cartoon-like music played over it, which puts the thing too much at a kiddie level.

The story itself is convoluted and confusing with little that is plausible. The shootout inside the office gets particularly ridiculous, but the biggest problem I had with the script is the way the Terry character gets herself involved in the mess in the first place. If she knew the person asking for her assistance to this dangerous mission I might understand it, but she doesn’t. After she is shot at and nearly killed, gets her apartment ransacked and is verbally threatened she decides to immerse herself even more into the precarious situation even when she is given the opportunity to get out of it, which most normal people would’ve.  The viewer starts to lose empathy for a protagonist when they act irrationally, which this one does. The idea that she is doing it because she has ‘feelings’ for this other person even though she has never met him, knows nothing about him and doesn’t even know what he looks like is just plain stupid.

Although the Rolling Stones song from which the movie is named after does get briefly played later on I felt it should have been used over the opening credits. I still prefer the Stones version, but Aretha Franklin’s rendition that is used during the closing credits isn’t bad.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Penny Marshall

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video

Alice’s Restaurant (1969)

alices resturaunt 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nobody likes the draft.

Attempt at making a movie out of Arlo Guthrie’s famous 18-minute song, which in itself was based on actual events succeeds for the most part although it seems to be biting off little more than it can chew. Pat Quinn plays Alice a middle-aged woman who along with her husband Ray (James Broderick) buys a church and turns it into a hippie retreat as well as a restaurant. Arlo plays himself and a friend of the couple who helps them in their endeavor. Things go well for a while, but then infighting, the draft, the death of some of the members, and basic overall disorganization do it all in.

Although Guthrie’s song has a bouncy, upbeat, and humorous quality to it the movie works in an opposite fashion. There are a lot of long dramatic takes with a tone that is overall downbeat and depressing. To some extent it succeeds at giving the viewer a vivid look at the late 60’s experience, but compared to the song it seems to be a bit of a letdown. However, there are still some great moments that will connect with you on a purely emotional level. One of them is seeing legendary folk singer Pete Seeger and Arlo playing a song for Arlo’s bedridden father Woody (Joseph Boley) and another includes the sights and sounds of an outdoor wintry funeral for one of their troubled friends.

There are some good comedic moments, but they all come pretty much in the second half making the film seem a bit disjointed and almost like two films rolled into one. The best moments in this area include Arlo’s attempts at dumping out garbage, which features a lot of good quick edits as well as the actual Officer William Obanhein mentioned in the song. Arlo’s army physical is also quite funny especially his experiences in the ‘Group W’ room, which also has an early appearance by character actor M. Emmet Walsh who talks so fast that he becomes incoherent.

The idea of casting Arlo in the lead works to some extent. Obviously the presence in his own story makes it more authentic, but he also seems too detached and shows little if any emotional range. He also looks incredibly young almost like he is only 14.

It is Broderick who comes off best and this is easily his best performance of his otherwise sporadic career. He seems light years away from the more conservative, fatherly figure that he played in the 70’s TV-show ‘Family’ and the fact that the character here is a middle-aged man trying to submerge himself with the youth movement while displaying obvious frailties in the process makes him fascinating to watch and help give the film an added layer.

When I first saw this film years ago I came away feeling that it was too downbeat and disjointed, but upon second viewing I have a greater appreciation for it. It seems now more prophetic and forewarning to the beginning of the end of the hippie movement and how their carefree youthful ideals simply weren’t going to survive amidst the harsh, practical realities of the world that it was in. The long, continuous shot of Alice’s sad, forlorn expression seen at the very end seems to be conveying this and thus makes this movie less of a relic and more perceptive than most people may realize.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Convoy (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The song is better.

Trucker Martin ‘Rubber Duck’ Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) battles corrupt Sheriff Lyle ‘Cottonmouth’ Wallace (Ernest Borgnine) by getting his fellow truckers to band together and form an unstoppable convoy that stretches for miles and soon creates a national media frenzy.

The film’s setup is weak and the ending even weaker. It has all the good-ole-boy/trucker clichés without adding anything new in the process and makes Smokey and the Bandit look brilliant and inspired. Kristofferson is much too laid back for a leading man role and cannot carry the picture. Borgnine’s character is portrayed awkwardly. At the start he is made to look like a real jerk of a sheriff who overacts to a minor contrivance that starts the whole thing rolling. Then at the end he turns more sympathetic and even secretly sides with Kristofferson, which doesn’t work at all. In either case Jackie Gleason is a much better actor for this type of role. The worst part about the movie though is director Sam Peckinpah’s attempts to throw in a ‘serious message’ into this silly action flick that does nothing but slow it down and bomb in the process.

The only good scene in the whole film is the fight sequence inside the truck stop restaurant. Peckinpah puts a funny spin to his trademark ‘slow motion’ violence and the result is amusing. Unfortunately he starts putting all the action into slow motion, which eventually becomes tiring. Ali McGraw as Melissa an attractive woman Martin picks up along the way is always a pleasure to look at, but unfortunately she is given very little to say or do.

If you’ve read the synopsis then you have essentially ‘seen’ the movie. The hit song by C.W. McCall that this movie is based on is pretty good and I would suggest listening to that instead and saving yourself 108 minutes of your time. This is all shockingly uninspired stuff for such an otherwise maverick director.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Taking Off (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running away from home.

This is a thoroughly entertaining gem that takes a look at the early 70’s American culture through a foreigner’s eyes in this Milos Forman’s first American feature. The comedy bounces playfully from the wry, to the absurd and even the satirical without ever losing its charm.

The film examines what happens when parents Larry and Lynn Tyne (Buck Henry, Lynn Carlin) find that their daughter Jeannie (Linnea Heacock) has run away. Instead of focusing on the teen, as most films tend to do, it instead looks at the parents. It shows that the adolescent years can be as awkward for the father and mother as it is for the teen and parenting is a journey much like growing up is. I especially liked the part of the message showing how people in their forties have a need to run away and find themselves too.

The film matches its unique perspective with offbeat humor. You get to see parents smoking pot for the first time in order for them to experience what the kids go through. Another scene has them getting together for a wild game of strip poker. There are also amusing cutaways of auditioning singers, which is where the daughter runs away too. One of the singers is a sweet young thing who sings a soft melody that is laced with the word ‘fuck’ and has to be heard to be really appreciated.

Both actors who play the parents are excellent. Balding, bespectacled Henry fits the mold as the overworked, henpecked father/husband quite well and it is fun to see him display isolated moments of unexpected rebellion. Carlin conveys a nice characterization of an overwrought mother who wants to communicate with her daughter, but has no idea how.

Jeannie is the one we learn the least about, which is actually to the film’s benefit. This isn’t just the Tyne’s daughter, it’s everybody’s daughter complete with all the trials and tribulations that every parent goes through with their teen. In fact the film’s most definitive moment is probably the freeze-frame shot of disdain on the daughter’s face as her parents try to entertain her and her boyfriend with a song from ‘their’ generation. It’s the type of look that defines the parent/teenager relationship no matter if it’s today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now, which may help to make it accessible to today’s viewers despite an overabundance of early 70’s period flavor.

Characters actors Audra Lindley, Paul Benedict, and Vincent Schiavelli are terrific in support. This also marked the film debuts of Georgia Engel and Kathy Bates. Ike and Tina Turner appear as themselves.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R (Language, Adult Theme, Brief Nudity)

Director: Milos Foreman

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2)