Film Review: Doctor Detroit (1983)

Also known as: Dr. Detroit (alternative spelling)
Release Date: May 6th, 1983
Directed by: Michael Pressman
Written by: Bruce Jay Friedman, Carl Gottlieb, Robert Boris
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Howard Hesseman, George Furth, James Brown, T. K. Carter, Donna Dixon, Fran Drescher, Lydia Lei, Lynn Whitfield, Kate Murtagh, Peter Aykroyd, Glenne Headly

Black Rhino Productions, Brillstein Company, Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Mom, I am going to rip off your head and shit down your neck.” – Doctor Detroit

This is a Dan Aykroyd movie that, for whatever reason, eluded me until I was much older. I probably would’ve loved it, as a kid, but maybe it was just buried down deep in the video stores I visited and thus, I never came across it until I worked in one as a teenager in the ’90s.

I like this movie and it has a pretty good cast. However, it is kind of sloppily thrown together and the humor is crude, even for the ’80s. That’s more of a reason why I would’ve liked it back then. But because I don’t have those fond childhood memories of watching this, I don’t have much nostalgia for it and I think that allows me to be more objective.

Aykroyd is good in this, as are most of the core people, but I can see why this went down the memory hole for most fans of ’80s comedies and why it was never a hit when it came out, despite Aykroyd’s popularity from the early days of Saturday Night Live.

The plot is goofy and you have to suspend disbelief quite a bit. The Doctor Detroit persona that Aykroyd creates is way over the top and so bizarre that it’s hard to believe that anyone would’ve taken him seriously, even in an ’80s screwball comedy. That’s not to say that the character isn’t funny and entertaining, he is.

The story is pretty wonky and poorly crafted and you kind of just have to enjoy the segments as they happen and not think too deeply about the movie. During the era in which this was made, though, this sort of stuff was the norm.

Audiences coming out of decades of civil and political strife in America just needed to breathe and enjoy life again. Many ’80s comedies are products of this societal feeling. And honestly, I think that’s why so many are still beloved today and still matter to so many people, as modern times aren’t all that great.

Doctor Detroit just isn’t one of those that can be considered a classic like Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, the Vacation movies or all those John Hughes teen dramadies. This isn’t even Revenge of the Nerds quality, it’s more like Revenge of the Nerds II or Caddyshack II.

However, like Revenge of the Nerds II and Caddyshack II, I enjoy this movie where I’d assume most people probably wouldn’t. And maybe this is actually a bit better than those, as I don’t have the nostalgia factor as part of its equation.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Rumble Fish (1983)

Release Date: October 7th, 1983 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: S. E. Hinton, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane, Diana Scarwid, Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne, Tom Waits, Sofia Coppola, S. E. Hinton (cameo)

Zoetrope Studios, Hotweather Films, Universal Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“No, your mother… is not crazy. And neither, contrary to popular belief, is your brother crazy. He’s merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river… With the ability to be able to do anything that he wants to do and… findin’ nothin’ that he wants to do. I mean nothing.” – Father

Rumble Fish truly is the spiritual sequel to The Outsiders and was even released in the same year.

Francis Ford Coppola wrote this alongside S. E. Hinton, based off of her novel of the same name. She also wrote the young adult novel that Coppola adapted into The Outsiders.

This was thrown together pretty quickly and was worked on and developed while The Outsiders was still filming and while this was made much cheaper, shot in black and white and released through a different studio, the spirit of what made The Outsiders a truly special movie, also exists in this picture.

In some ways, due to the presentation and look of this picture, Rumble Fish is more majestic and magical. It also feels like it’s a story that takes place in the late ’50s or early ’60s but it features modern cars and other inventions that wouldn’t have been around in the same era as The Outsiders. It’s hard to peg exactly when this takes place but that just adds to the otherworldliness of it.

That being said, I love the use of black and white and the overall cinematography of this picture. It’s pretty high contrast and stylish and it reminds me of classic film-noir but sort of has the energy of one of those Japanese neo-noir pictures by Seijun Suzuki. And no, I wouldn’t consider this a neo-noir but it just shares a very similar visual presentation.

Coppola also brought back some of the actors from The Outsiders, primarily Matt Dillon and Diane Lane. However, the additions to the cast like Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn and Laurence Fishburne were all great. The cast is pretty packed with talent ala The Outsiders but I’m glad that it shuffled the deck somewhat and brought in some fresh faces, allowing this to stand on its own.

So while this shares similar themes to the other movie I keep mentioning, this has its own unique story that I found to be really interesting. It has different beats, moves at a more rapid pace and ultimately, has a very different but still tragic ending.

I’m kind of surprised that long-time fans of The Outsiders haven’t heard of or seen this movie. It’s a perfect companion piece to it and it hits you in a very similar way while not being a complete rehash of what you’ve already seen before.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Strange Brew (1983)

Also known as: The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew (complete title)
Release Date: August 19th, 1983 (Canada)
Directed by: Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas
Written by: Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Steve De Jarnatt
Based on: Bob and Doug McKenzie by Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas
Music by: Charles Fox
Cast: Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Paul Dooley, Max von Sydow, Lynne Griffin, Angus MacInnes, Mel Blanc (voice)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 90 Minutes

Review:

“The power of the force has stopped you, you hosers.” – Doug McKenzie

I used to love the SCTV skits of Bob and Doug McKenzie when I’d see them replayed as a kid, primarily during the earliest days of Comedy Central. I had only seen this movie once, around early high school age but it’s eluded me ever since, despite its cult following.

So while I didn’t go into this fully blind, I had forgotten enough about the film’s plot and details to see it with fairly fresh eyes.

It’s still a funny picture and it really gives Bob and Doug more room to breathe and more time to pull off some elaborate and hilarious gags.

I’ve always liked the camaraderie between Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas and frankly, this is really the peak of their history together. However, I wish this had spawned sequels as it was titled in a way that seemed like they wanted to do more. And while there was almost a sequel in the late ’90s, we never really got to see these characters again.

Beyond the starring duo, this movie somehow landed legendary actor Max von Sydow, as its villain. I really enjoyed him in this, as he’s also pretty good at comedy and I got to see this iconic actor really ham it up with two of Canada’s finest comedians ever.

The plot is zany but ultimately it’s just about two drunk losers trying to save a brewery for a cute heiress whose uncle wants it for nefarious reasons.

Strange Brew is a strange, goofy and amusing picture starring two guys that everyone should love. I don’t consider it to be a classic on the level of some of the other films Moranis would work in but it’s still cool seeing his earliest work along with his and Dave Thomas’ writing and directing being on full display.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Rock & Rule (1983)

Also known as: Ring of Power, Drats (working titles), Fantasia de Rock (Brazil)
Release Date: April 15th, 1983 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Clive A. Smith
Written by: John Halfpenny, Peter Sauder, Patrick Loubert
Music by: Patricia Cullen, various
Cast: Don Francks, Susan Roman, Paul Le Mat, Catherine O’Hara, Debbie Harry (singing voice), Lou Reed (singing voice)

Nelvana, Anaguel Films, Canada Trust, Famous Players, United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 77 Minutes

Review:

“She can sing, or she can scream. But she still pissed me off.” – Mok

While I’d get my mum to rent me adult animated features all the time when I was a kid because she thought they were just cartoons, this is one that I never got to see.

I’m not sure what I would’ve thought about it, as a kid, but seeing it for the first time, as an adult, it’s kind of drab.

Granted, I really liked the music. The bands and musicians that the movie featured were cool and the general concept was interesting too but the story was slow and drab and I just never felt all that invested in it.

Additionally, I liked the character design but the animation came off a bit clunky in places.

I also don’t like leaving reviews that are incredibly short but I don’t know what else to say about this film. It’s not terrible but it’s also not terribly engaging and falls flat in just about every way.

I still can’t call this a bad animated film but I also can’t consider it a good one, either.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other adult animated features of the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: Sledgehammer (1983)

Also known as: Sledge Hammer (alternative spelling)
Release Date: 1983
Directed by: David A. Prior
Written by: David A. Prior
Music by: Ted Prior, Marc Adams, Philip G. Slate
Cast: Ted Prior, Tim Aguilar, Linda McGill, Sandy Brooke, John Eastman, Janine Scheer, Stephen Wright

I & I Productions, World Video Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

Sledgehammer came to me via Joe Bob Briggs’ show The Last Drive-In. It was paired with arguably the worst film ever made, Things.

Since this movie was shown first, it did leave a bad taste in my mouth but seeing Things directly after Sledgehammer, made me appreciate Sledgehammer for not being a steaming pile of crap covered in ghost pepper sauce and forced down my gullet.

This was actually David A. Prior’s directorial debut and it’s also the first slasher film shot on video, as opposed to traditional film.

I’ve reviewed some of Prior’s other films but this one doesn’t really live up to his other work that I’ve seen, which are also bad pictures. But he had to start somewhere and learn the ropes before making cult classics like Deadly Prey and The Final Sanction

The real problem with this movie was the cast. Prior told them to always be over-the-top and always having a blast in every scene and man, they really pushed it to an ungodly level of cringe. Nearly everyone has a can of Budweiser in their hand in just about every scene.

Don’t even get me started on the endless food fight sequence.

The plot is bonkers, as it’s about a slasher that kills with a sledgehammer, as opposed to a slashing weapon. He also appears out of thin air and is a large man with a creepy mask. However, we discover by the end that the big killer is actually the ghost of a little boy.

In the end, this is a harmless, stupid film that helped pave the way for one of the greatest schlock directors of his generation. Although, I can’t really recommend this as anything more than a cinematic curiosity.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other really, really bad ’80s movies filmed on video. Also, other films by David A. Prior.

Film Review: Krull (1983)

Also known as: Planet Krull, Dragons of Krull, Dungeons and Dragons, Krull: Invaders of the Black Fortress, The Dungeons of Krull (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 29th, 1983
Directed by: Peter Yates
Written by: Stanford Sherman
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, Trevor Martin (voice), David Battley, Bernard Bresslaw, Alun Armstrong, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane

Barclays Mercantile Industrial Finance, Columbia Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“We all risk our lives on this journey. My risk is no greater than yours.” – Ynyr

While I saw Krull a few times as a kid, as it was on either HBO, Showtime or Cinemax, I haven’t seen it since then and most of it was wiped from my memory, other than its visual aesthetic and the sequence with flaming horses that run at super speeds across the wilderness.

It’s a pretty cool film, though. I actually dug it quite a bit and while some special effects look pretty dated, it’s really top notch shit for the time. I was actually impressed by a lot of it and the general aesthetic and vibe of the movie was truly magical in that unique ’80s fantasy flick sort of way.

I also enjoyed the lead, Ken Marshall, quite a lot and wished he had gone on to be a bigger star than he was. He had charisma and conveyed a real sense of adventure that really should’ve seen him get more roles like this. Hell, even a sequel or two to this would’ve been cool.

The film also has several other talented actors, such as Freddie Jones. But what’s really neat is that it features two guys I wouldn’t have known when seeing this as a kid, as they were still pretty unknown and that’s Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane.

The movie also feels like a sort of hybrid between Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian, as it features science fiction elements mixed with sword and sorcery. It’s a nice mix that works well and I’ve always like movies that sort of cross genres this way.

There’s a lot of fun stuff in this from the villain, the villain’s teleporting fortress, the spider-lady, the cyclops ally and a lot of the creatures and big action sequences. There’s so much awesomeness in this movie that it’s easy to see why I loved it so much as a kid. Plus, the hero has a really f’n cool weapon.

The acting is on the level one should expect, as it’s not great but it’s good enough and the actors hammed it up in the right way while also being convincing as badasses fighting all sorts of threats in a sword and sorcery realm.

Krull is a cool picture if you’re into these sort of things. It seems to have been somewhat forgotten over the years but it is one of the better sci-fi and fantasy movies of its time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery or fantasy adventure films of the ’80s.

Film Review: Vacation (1983)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: July 29th, 1983
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: John Hughes
Based on: Vacation ’58 by John Hughes
Music by: Ralph Burns
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, Dana Barron, Imogene Coca, Randy Quaid, John Candy, Christie Brinkley, Brian Doyle-Murray, James Keach, Eugene Levy, Frank McRae, Jane Krakowski, John Diehl

National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t give a frog’s fat ass who went through what. We need money! Hey, Russ, wanna look through Aunt Edna’s purse?” – Clark Griswald

Full disclosure, I’ve never been a huge Chevy Chase fan. However, the Vacation movies still hold a special place in my nostalgic heart.

I think my reason for liking these films has more to do with John Hughes’ writing and just the bonkers scenarios that the family constantly fall into.

Additionally, I think that these are Chase’s best comedies but Beverly D’Angelo seems to be a perfect balance to his over-the-top shenanigans and every movie did a good job casting the kids. Why do they change every movie? I’m not sure but they’re always pretty good, regardless.

I also enjoy Chase’s scenes with Randy Quaid and they’re the highlight of most of these films for me. In this one, however, I also liked seeing Chase’s scenes with John Candy and Eugene Levy.

I think that this film works pretty well because of Harold Ramis’ direction, though. He got the best out of his cast and he has always had a great sense of comedic timing and how to build a comedic scene. Case in point, look at his great work as one of the creative minds behind the great SCTV sketch comedy television series.

From memory, all of these films are pretty equal and consistent. This is the one I’ve seen the most, though, and it may have the slight edge for being the first. However, I’ll probably review the others in the near future, as it’s been way too long since I’ve seen them and want to see how well they’ve held up.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation pictures, as well as other movies by National Lampoon.

Film Review: A Blade in the Dark (1983)

Also known as: House of the Dark Stairway (alternative English title)
Release Date: 1983 (Italy – Mystfest)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi, Valeria Cavalli, Giovanni Frezza, Lamberto Bava (cameo)

National Cinematografica, Nuova Dania Cinematografica, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Tennis balls?” – Bruno

This was an early film for director, Lamberto Bava. While it’s a giallo picture, it has a real grittiness to it and isn’t as stylized as other pictures of that distinctly Italian horror subgenre. In fact, it looks more like an American slasher flick than something with a strong Italian flavor.

Having his father, Mario Bava, and giallo maestro, Dario Argento, as mentors, the younger Bava was savvy enough to put together a better than decent picture, even early in his career. Sure, he had some missteps like the Jaws wannabe, Monster Shark, but he usually proved he was a capable horror director.

A Blade In the Dark is a fairly strange film that deals with a transvestite serial killer, slashing beautiful women to ribbons. By 1983, this wasn’t anything new and I think that Bava may have been directly influenced by Brian De Palma’s neo-noir serial killer thriller, Dressed to Kill. However, Bava went the hardcore horror route and turned up the gore quite a bit.

The earliest encounters with the killer had him using an old fashioned box cutter, which I thought was visually cool, as those things just have a gnarly look to them. Those old school blades break really easily though, so it was probably a poor choice for a murder instrument but the killer does graduate to more practical and bigger tools, as the film progresses.

The kills are generally pretty good and Bava did a stellar job in building suspense in these scenes. The bathroom murder around the midpoint of the movie was exceptionally well-crafted and executed.

For the most part, the characters in this are all pretty likable. Even the ones that pop in just to get killed fairly quickly.

Now I can’t say that the twist ending was unpredictable or shocking, as I figured it out almost immediately with the movie’s opening scene. Maybe it was a surprise for viewers in 1983 but frankly, it’s nothing new, even by 1983. Still, it doesn’t in anyway wreck the story or the film, overall.

This is a pretty decent film for its type and while it’s not Lamberto Bava’s best, it really displayed his talent and prowess pretty early into his directorial career.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian giallo and slasher pictures, as well as other films by Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Easy Money (1983)

Release Date: August 19th, 1983
Directed by: James Signorelli
Written by: Dennis Blair, Rodney Dangerfield, Michael Endler, P. J. O’Rourke
Music by: Laurence Rosenthal
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Pesci, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Candy Azzara, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan, Taylor Negron, Jeffrey Jones, Val Avery

Easy Money Associates, Orion Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You pollute the air with your smoking. You reek of liquor and god knows what else. You’re an ecological menace!” – Mrs. Monahan, “Yeah, well you were the inspiration for twin beds!” – Monty

This is the only Rodney Dangerfield movie I had never seen. I’ve seen a few clips over the years but the film’s plot was unknown to me until I finally gave this a watch.

Funny thing about that, is that the actual plot doesn’t even come into play until the midpoint of the movie. And then it’s such a rickety story that it doesn’t really matter that it attempted to go for some sort of narrative structure halfway through.

Easy Money plays more like a series of unrelated scenes and gags. Granted, it works, as I enjoy the humor and Dangerfield is truly one of the greats of his era, even if his films aren’t as fondly remembered as the ’80s work of Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, John Candy or Dan Aykroyd.

The main plot of the movie sees Dangerfield having to quit smoking, eating like shit, drinking and gambling. If he accomplishes this impossible task within a year, he’ll inherit a lot of money for himself and his family.

There’s also a secondary plot, which I enjoyed as much as the primary one. This sees Dangerfield’s daughter, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, getting married to her Latino boyfriend, played by the grossly underappreciated Taylor Negron. Man, Negron is f’n fabulous in this and this may be my favorite comedic role he’s played. Since I’ve always enjoyed his work, I feel like I really missed out not seeing him in this picture until now.

This movie also has a solid cast amongst Dangerfield’s best buds, who are played by Joe Pesci and Tom Noonan before either of them reached their peak of fame a few years later. Both are enjoyable as hell in this and I especially thought that Pesci and Dangerfield should’ve worked together again after this movie but that never happened.

In the end, Easy Money is a goofy but loveable movie starring one of the most goofy and loveable comedians of all-time.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Rodney Dangerfield comedies, as well as other loveable loser movies from the ’80s.

Film Review: Scarface (1983)

Release Date: December 1st, 1983 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Oliver Stone
Music by: Giorgio Moroder
Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Shenar, Harris Yulin, Angel Salazar, Arnaldo Santana, Pepe Serna, Michael P. Moran, Al Israel, Dennis Holahan, Mark Margolis, Michael Alldredge, Ted Beniades, Geno Silva, Richard Belzer, Charles Durning (voice, uncredited) Dennis Franz (voice, uncredited) 

Universal Pictures, 170 Minutes, 142 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“[to Sosa] I never fucked anybody over in my life didn’t have it coming to them. You got that? All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no one. Do you understand? That piece of shit up there, I never liked him, I never trusted him. For all I know he had me set up and had my friend Angel Fernandez killed. But that’s history. I’m here, he’s not. Do you wanna go on with me, you say it. You don’t, then you make a move.” – Tony Montana

After binging a bunch of my favorite Brian De Palma films over the course of a few days, I wanted to revisit Scarface, as I hadn’t seen it in ages and because it was one of my favorite movies in my teen years.

Once I hit the play button, I was immediately reminded of just how great this motion picture is. From the opening shots of Cuban refugees leaving their home country for America with the great musical score blasting through my speakers, it brought me back to where I was the first time I experienced this movie in a special theatrical showing for its tenth anniversary in 1993.

From there, the movie gets rolling and every scene is just as incredible as I remembered it. This movie didn’t disappoint and it’s greatness has held up. Actually, it made me yearn for a time when movies this superb were actually fairly common.

It should go without saying that the acting in this is stellar. Al Pacino kills it but then again, when doesn’t he? Especially back in his prime.

I also really liked Michelle Pfeiffer, who shows that she has incredible chops even as young as she was in this picture.

The real scene stealer for me though is Steven Bauer, a guy I’ve always loved because of this role and have always wondered why his career didn’t go to the moon after this. The man is super talented and to be so good that you can not just hang with Pacino in this era, but actually come across as his equal, is pretty damn impressive!

Beyond that, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is prefect and sweet and then turns it up in the end and delivers an extremely heartbreaking end to her character.

We also get solid performances from legends like Robert Loggia and F. Murray Abraham, as well as the smaller bit players like Mark Margolis, Pepe Serna, Miriam Colon, Paul Shenar and others.

Shenar is especially great as Bolivian drug kingpin Alejandro Sosa. So much so, I wish his part would’ve been expanded somewhat.

The story is just as great as the acting that brings it to life. I liked this take on the story of a crime lord’s rise to power from nothing. For the time, it was incredibly topical and looking at the time frame, it’s rather impressive that this got into theaters by 1983 when the events that kicked off the backstory happened just three years earlier.

The film’s music is also pretty incredible from the pop tunes to the grandiose and remarkable score by Giorgio Moroder. I had forgotten just how important the music in the film was in regards to setting the tonal shifts. It’s certainly a soundtrack I need to track down on vinyl.

The most important element to this picture’s greatness, however, is Brian De Palma. As one of the greatest directors of his generation (and all-time, frankly) De Palma already had a half dozen classics under his belt by this point but this was, at the time and maybe still, his magnum opus.

Beyond directing the actors, De Palma proved just how good his eye was at creating a unique, artistic composition. There are touches of Stanley Kubrick’s visual style in this but the film is still very much De Palma’s from start-to-finish. But man, the cinematography, lighting and general tone is stupendous regardless of where the scene takes place from Miami, New York City and Bolivia.

Scarface is one of the all-time great crime films. It will continue to be till the end of time. And while there have been many great films within this genre, this one will always stand out due to its unique style, story and character. It’s a film that has been emulated and homaged countless times but no one has truly come close to replicating its magic.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other crime films starring Al Pacino, as well as other Brian De Palma movies.