Category Archives: Movies Based on Songs

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)

taking off 1

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)