Film Review: Back to School (1986)

Release Date: June 13th, 1986
Directed by: Alan Metter
Written by: Steven Kampmann, Will Porter, Peter Torokvei, Harold Ramis, Rodney Dangerfield, Greg Fields, Dennis Snee
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, Keith Gordon, Adrienne Barbeau, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Kinison, Ned Beatty, Paxton Whitehead, Terry Farrell, M. Emmet Walsh, William Zabka, Robert Picardo, Jason Hervey, Edie McClurg, Kurt Vonnegut (cameo), Oingo Boingo (cameo)

Paper Clip Productions, Orion Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.” – Thornton Melon

I guess I completely forgot how many stars were in this film because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it. I obviously remembered Rodney Dangerfield but I also recalled Keith Gordon, Robert Downey Jr., William Zabka and Sam Kinison because of that one iconic scene.

But throw in Burt Young, M. Emmet Walsh, Adrienne Barbeau, Sally Kellerman, Ned Beatty, Edie McClurg, Jason Hervey, Robert Picardo, Terry Farrell and Oingo friggin’ Boingo and you’ve got an all-star ensemble! Plus, Harold Ramis was one of the writers. Granted, this had seven writers, so one of them other than Dangerfield probably had to be a big name.

While this is a pretty dated comedy, as are most comedies of the ’80s, it’s still entertaining and in 2019 it’s refreshing, as comedy is dead due to political correct nutsos who spend every waking moment searching high and low for shit to be offended about.

Point being, you couldn’t make this movie today because every joke is (insert label here)-shaming and insensitive.

You see, we didn’t care too much about political correctness in the ’80s. Hell, we didn’t even care about it until like five years ago. And this film goes to show how talented all these people were as they weren’t bogged down by Hollywood wokeness and crybaby pussies on Twitter.

Now this isn’t a superb motion picture by any stretch of the imagination but it is really solid escapism that is amusing and charming in a way that film’s aren’t anymore. And honestly, I think that’s a big reason as to why so many people are nostalgic for ’80s and ’90s shit now. Even the slightly above mediocre stuff is cherished more than it was when it was current.

The plot of Back to School follows a sextagenerian as he goes to college, surprising his twenty-something son, the school professors and his friends. In short time, he takes over, turns the campus into one big party and even saves the day for the college diving team in a ridiculous but satisfactory way that may be goofy but works in a comedy from this era.

Back to School isn’t perfect and it isn’t even close to being the best comedy of its day. However, it’s a lot of fun if you just want to mindlessly escape into something for an hour and a half while having a laugh.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Rodney Dangerfield comedies, as well as college comedies like PCU, Old School, Animal House, Van Wilder, etc.

Film Review: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, William Finley (voice, uncredited)

Filmways Pictures, Cinema 77 Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Doctor, I am not paranoid. Bobbi was making threats over the phone. She said she’s going to hurt me. My patient was slashed to death. And now my razor is gone. Now you don’t have to be a detective to figure it out, do you?” – Doctor Robert Elliot

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this picture but if Brian De Palma’s early films are any indicator, I knew that this would be bizarre, artistic and intelligent.

And it was those three things but it was also damn compelling and honestly, damn impressive.

I loved this film and it’s a shame that I hadn’t seen it before this. It was intense, melodic, sweet, scary and most importantly, intriguing.

While this picture is very De Palma-esque, maybe the most De Palma-esque of the man’s work, it is also very Hitchcockian, as the narrative and the shot framing displays a young De Palma’s callback to Hitchcock’s style and tropes.

Still, this is very much De Palma’s composition and not a cheap attempt at trying to emulate one of the masters before him. Honestly, it comes off as a respectful homage that creates a familiar framework that De Palma could then artistically build off of.

This is also very much a noir story. It has twists, turns, mystery, secrets that evolve and a shocking reveal when all is said and done. It’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to do some of the stuff they did in the time that this was made.

What really solidifies this as a great movie, aside from the solid direction and story by De Palma, is the cast.

Nancy Allen really carries this movie once she becomes the focus. And honestly, I’ll always love Allen simply for being a huge part of RoboCop but I never really thought much of her as an actress. Not to say she’s bad, she’s perfectly fine. But in this film, she really got to do some daring things. Honestly, it has motivated me to check out De Palma’s Blow Out in the near future as it also features her under De Palma’s direction.

I was really impressed with Keith Gordon and Angie Dickinson as well.

Michael Caine also plays an very important role but it’s Michael Caine, so one should expect a damn fine performance because I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not deliver.

I’d love to go deeper into the story and analyze some of it but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone. It’s a film that needs to be seen without knowing much about the plot and a Google search will probably spoil some major details.

If you like De Palma, Hitchcock influenced cinema or neo-noir, than you’ll probably like this picture.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Brian De Palma films, especially Blow Out and Body Double.

Film Review: Christine (1983)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Christine (complete title)
Release Date: December 9th, 1983
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Phillips
Based on: Christine by Stephen King
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, William Ostrander, Stuart Charno

Delphi Premier Productions, Polar Film, Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa, whoa. You better watch what you say about my car. She’s real sensitive.” – Arnie Cunningham

I gew up in a time when John Carpenter was king. I was a big fan but somehow I always forget that this is in his oeuvre because I associate it more with the slew of Stephen King adaptations from the time.

That being said, it is still very Carpenter but it is also very much King. I guess it’s a pretty good marriage between two of the top horror icons of that era. And frankly, I still love this film even though I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile and forgot how much I enjoy it.

This still plays very well and is a great film in regards to how it builds up suspense.

I was also really impressed with the special effects, especially in regards to the scene where the car repairs itself in front of Keith Gordon’s Arnie. Man, that sequence is spectacular and considering that it was all done with practical effects in a time when CGI was still very primitive, makes me respect how perfectly they pulled it off behind the scenes.

Keith Gordon carries the film with his performance and he does a fantastic job transitioning from the weakling nerd that he is in the beginning to a kid driven by his obsession for his car and finally, as a character that is completely possessed by evil.

The performances by the other two leads, John Stockwell and Alexandra Paul, were also good. It’s the famous character actors that give this film a bit more seasoning though, as both Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky deliver some really good scenes in the film.

I really liked John Carpenter’s score but his music always had a certain presence that accented the frights in his films. This score is no different and his use of audible effects seemed more refined than what he did in Halloween. Not to take anything away from his audio trickery in Halloween but I think that he really found his groove with it here. And while it may go unnoticed by most people who watch this film, it’s these little flourishes that sets Carpenter apart from the pack and gives his films more of an edge.

This is a good coming of age story that doesn’t have a happy ending for everyone. It’s creepy but it’s effective. And I’ve always loved that there really isn’t an explanation in regards to the car being possessed by evil. It’s a machine that just has to kill.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King films of the ’70s and ’80s: Maximum OverdriveSalem’s LotCarrieSilver Bullet, etc.

Film Review: The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Also known as: Fair Is Fair (working title), Billie Jean (Greece video title)
Release Date: July 19th, 1985
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Helen Slater, Keith Gordon, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, Richard Bradford, Martha Gehman, Yeardley Smith, Dean Stockwell, Barry Tubb

Delphi III Productions, The Guber-Peters Company, TriStar Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“$608 dollars for the scooter your son trashed. That’s what you owe and we’re not turnin’ ourselves in til we get it. Fair is fair! We didn’t start this, we didn’t mean it to happen but we’re not givin’ up til you pay. Fair is fair!” – Billie Jean

I remember discovering this in the late ’80s on the shelf at a mom and pop video store. I thought Helen Slater looked really hot on the VHS box and it also had Christian Slater in it, who I was growing to like a lot around that time. Somehow this came and went in the theaters and my 6 year-old self in 1985 never knew of its existence. Granted, I couldn’t even get my parents to take me to Weird Science back then.

In the ’90s, I feel like this was on TV all the time. I don’t think a week went by without this broadcasting on TBS or TNT, usually on late at night or in a weekend block of ’80s movies.

The main character is named Billie Jean, probably to capitalize off of the super popular Michael Jackson song of the same name. Billie Jean and her brother Binx often times get harassed by local douchebag Hubie, who has the douchebaggiest name ever. Hubie steals Binx’s scooter and ends up beating up Binx and trashing his flashy moped. Billie Jean confronts Mr. Pyatt, Hubie’s dad, and asks for money to fix the scooter. Pyatt brings her upstairs and tries to rape her and tells her she’ll basically have to put out and get the money a little bit at a time. Things escalate, Binx accidentally shoots Pyatt and the kids go on the run, as Pyatt accuses them of robbing him. As the film rolls on, we see how the media spins the story and how Pyatt takes advantage of the situation and tries to profit off of Billie Jean becoming a cult hero by selling merchandise with her likeness on it. Ultimately, this is a film about youth not trusting their elders and about the cult of personality in a time before social media and the Internet.

The Legend of Billie Jean is a cool film and pretty underappreciated in the grand scheme of ’80s teen movies. It certainly has much more to say than the slew of teen sex comedies that were the norm. However, it didn’t do well theatrically and sort of built up its own cult following as the years passed. Sadly and frustratingly, it took a really long time before this ever got any sort of DVD release.

Helen Slater was really good in this and she carries the film. She was able to handle the tough task of her character’s evolution from sweet Texas teen girl to the leader of a generation of kids who had no one to look up to: kids who felt exploited by the adults of the world.

Truthfully, this is a sort of superhero movie, which is funny as Slater played Supergirl the year before this. But for people that said there were no female superhero movies before Wonder Woman came out last year, Helen Slater had already made two, three decades earlier.

The other kids in this: Christian Slater, Yeardley Smith, Martha Gehman and Keith Gordon all did a fine job too. Peter Coyote played the cop trying to bring the kids in but was also trying to save them from themselves. Coyote was very likable and the contrast between him and Dean Stockwell’s district attorney character was great.

The Legend of Billie Jean is a wonderful coming of age drama that is superbly enhanced by its stellar soundtrack, especially in regards to Pat Benatar’s “Invincible”, which really fit the movie to a T.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Gleaming the CubePump Up the Volume and Hiding Out.