Can't Buy Me Love
1987, Touchstone, PG-13
Directed by Steve Rash
Written by Michael Swerdlick
The 1980s marked the resurgence of the "teen flick," and without question Can't Buy Me Love is one of the best in that genre. Everything about this film works. Steve Rash's direction is crisp --not a single scene is squandered or mishandled -- and Michael Swerdlick's screenplay never insults our intelligence. And best of all there is a moral to the story that should be taken to heart by every teenager: Don't try to be something you're not to fit into a clique, just be yourself.
That's a lesson Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) learns the hard way. When Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson), the most popular girl in school, ruins her mother's suede dress and needs $1,000 to replace it, the nerdy Ronald makes her a deal. If she'll pretend to be his girlfriend for one month he'll give her the money, which he has earned in a summer of mowing lawns. Ronald thinks this subterfuge will be his ticket into the "cools," the clique of cheerleaders and football jocks and all the other popular kids in school. Then he might have a chance with Cindy, the girl he has loved from afar. In one sense the plan works; Ronald becomes the coolest of the "cools," but in the process he becomes a changed person, and the change is not for the better. The irony of it all is that somewhere along the way Cindy falls for the real Ronald Miller. But she can't stand the new version. Will Ronald come to his senses and redeem himself? You won't know until the very end. Perhaps the best scene (in a movie filled with memorable ones) is when Ronald mistakes the "African Anteater" ritual for the latest dance craze and introduces it at a school dance; since he's Mr. Cool, everyone assumes it's the "in" thing, too, and make fools of themselves emulating him.
Patrick Dempsey gives a superb performance as Ronald, convincing in transformations from geek to "cool" to jerk to normal guy in a little over ninety minutes. You'll root for him, laugh at him, and hate him in that span of time. Seth Green stands out as Ronald's annoying little brother. (He would go on to star in the Austin Powers films and the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) And look for Gerardo Mejia as Ricky, one of the film's football jocks; he had a Billboard chart-topper in 1992 with the song "Rico Suave." Can't Buy Me Love is a funny, poignant comedy/romance with a great message, and it wouldn't hurt to make it required viewing in every school across the land.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $31.6 million
US release date: 8.14.87
"Can't Buy Me Love," The Beatles
"One Lover At A Time," Atlantic Starr
"Surfin' Safari," The Beach Boys
"Certain Things Are Likely," KTP
"One For The Mockingbird," Cutting Crew
"Living In A Box," Living in a Box
"Secret Agent Man," Kipp Lennon
"Misfit," Curiosity Killed the Cat
"Actress," Randy Hall
"As Long As I Can Lastm:" Randy Hall
"All Night Long," Randy Hall
"French Kissing," Carol Chapman
"Don't Wanna Be Your Fool," Brittan
"Burnin'," Rebel Faction
"Fallen Hero," S. Grisham & D. Evans
"Dancin' With Myself," Billy Idol
1982, RKO/Universal, Rated R
Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by DeWitt Bodeen & Alan Ormsby
This remake of Jacques Tourneur's classic 1942 horror flick seemed to have a lot going for it -- a skilled director (Paul Scrader), skilled actors (Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Ruby Dee), a skilled composer (Giorgio Moroder) and a hot property (Nastassja Kinski, the West German actress who'd recently made her well-received English-language debut in Tess.) Kinski stars as the virginal Irena, who arrives in New Orleans to live with her brother Paul (McDowell). They both happen to be of an ancient race of "cat people" and they are transformed by sexual arousal into black panthers. In fact, the only way to avoid this transformation -- which inevitably leads to tragedy for the human sexual partner -- is for Paul and Irena to engage in incest. When Paul is captured (while in his panther state) and locked up in the zoo, Irena gets a job there and falls in love with the curator, Oliver (Heard), who in turn is loved by his faithful assistant Alice (O'Toole). When Paul kills another of Oliver's assistants and escapes, Oliver slowly catches on to what's happening, and must choose between love and survival.
Unfortunately, director Schrader was distracted by his reportedly torrid affair with star Kinski, and squanders all the talent at his disposal -- and a moviegoing public made receptive to this sort of film by 1981's An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. Cat People becomes a meandering showcase for Schrader's lover, with plenty of gratuitous nudity to go along with the gore. McDowell, Heard, O'Toole and the rest of the cast are left stranded with the melodramatic mush of Alan Ormsby's script. A number of critics dwelled on the lack of chemistry between Kinski and Heard, but considering the director's claim on the leading lady, perhaps that isn't surprising. (The affair ended about when filming did, and Kinski apparently failed in her efforts to have the studio to cut out some of the nude scenes, sensing that Cat People would be a step backward for her film career.) Ironically, as character Oliver struggles to make a choice between love and life, Schrader is caught on the horns of dilemma -- and makes the wrong choice. Except for moviegoers as obsessed with Kinski's body as the director was at the time, this one is immensely disappointing.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $7 million
US release date: 4.2.82
"Putting Out The Fire," David Bowie
"Faraway Places," Perry Como
""Why Not Tonight?" Jimmy Hughes
Catch Me If You Can
1989, MCEG, Rated PG
Written & Directed by Stephen Sommers
Stephen Sommers studied in Spain, managed rock groups in Europe, attended the USC School of Cinema-Television, and wrote and directed an award-winning short film before scraping up $800,000 to make this, his first feature-length film, shot entirely in Sommers' hometown of St. Cloud, Minnesota. It's the story of Cathedral High School's student president, Melissa (Loryn Locklin), who is trying to raise $200,000 to keep the school from closing. She doesn't get any help from the rest of the student body, with the exception of drag racer Dylan (Matt Lattanzi), who devises a scheme whereby Melissa uses funds from the school treasury to finance races against the drivers employed by a club owner known as Fatman (M. Emmet Walsh). All he asks is ten percent of the take -- Dylan lives on the wrong side of the tracks and is trying to save up enough money for college tuition. At first things go very well. Dylan wins race after race and Melissa rakes in half of the money she needs. But then they lose everything in a crooked race. Dylan puts his future on the line in one final wager; he'll either win all the money back or wind up working for Fatman, whose goons have been instructed to make sure Dylan loses.
Perhaps best known for writing the screenplays for The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, Sommers showed flashes of genius. He had to, in order to create a fairly enjoyable -- if lightweight -- movie from a plot so cliche-ridden and contrived. The cast is of great assistance; Walsh and Geoffrey Lewis (who defies the stereotype by playing his school president as a rather hip and caring oldster) are accomplished character actors who almost always give something to the films in which they appear. In her film debut, Loryn Locklin lights up the screen; one wonders why her career never took off. And Matt Lattanza, who had appeared previously in My Tutor (1983) and a couple of Olivia Newton-John videos, and who would go on to become Olivia's husband (for a time), does a credible job as the rebel with a heart of gold. Catch Me If You Can is very average material -- your typical '80s teen flick -- but there's a lot of talent on the screen and behind the cameras, so it's not a waste of time.
Eighties Club rating: **
US release date: 10.14.89
1983, Orion, Rated R
Directed by Lewis John Carlino
Jim Kouf & David Greenwalt
This film is worth noting for one reason alone -- the presence of four young male actors who would become stars in the '80s. Andrew McCarthy establishes a pleasant screen persona in this, his big-screen debut, a persona he would maintain, more or less intact, throughout the decade in much better films (St. Elmo's Fire, Less Than Zero, Pretty in Pink). And this was one in a set of three films -- the other two being The Outsiders and The Hotel New Hampshire -- in which he demonstrated that if you could see past his movie-star looks you'd see someone with talent. And, finally, this film introduced us to John Cusack and Alan Ruck (who will forever be remembered as Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Throw in Cliff Robertson and Jacqueline Bisset and you had a talented cast working from a script written by the same collaborators who would, two years later, bring us the excellently written Secret Admirer. In spite of all this, Class is a smarmy and at times sleazy disappointment. McCarthy plays naive country boy Jonathan, off to an Ivy League prep school where he finds himself rooming with Skip Burroughs (Lowe), the charming and handsome scion of a wealthy family. At Skip's prodding, Jonathan goes to the big city to lose his virginity, which he does -- in the arms of Skip's mother. When he learns the identity of his lover, Jonathan is torn between his infatuation with her and his friendship with Skip. And when Skip finds out, he has the opportunity to get back at Jonathan by bringing to light the fact that his roommate cheated on the SAT, a revelation that would ruin Jonathan's hopes of going to Harvard. The moral of the story is...who knows? Class is a schizophrenic film that tries to be both comedy and drama and falls short in both departments, due largely to dismal editing and uninspired direction; it ends abruptly, as though the editor wearied of trying to patch the scenes together in some coherent fashion. It's been said that much of the dramatic content was edited out at the last minute. Apparently, half the film's title was edited out, as well -- it would have been more accurate to call it No Class. We can be thankful that it did not bring the careers of its four young stars-to-be to abrupt ends. (Look for another future star, Virginia Madsen, in a small part as one of the two girls Skip and Jonathan meet on the sly.)
Eighties Club rating: *
US release date: 7.6.83
"Holiday In Cambodia"
The Dead Kennedys
"Hiding From Love," Bryan Adams
"Little Drummer Boy"
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Clean and Sober
1988, Imagine/Warner, Rated R
Directed by Glenn Gordon Caron
Written byTod Carroll
Daryl Poynter (Michael Keaton), is a Philadelphia real estate salesman who thinks he has life working out just the way he wants it. He's not willing to admit to himself that he's a cocaine addict -- even when he "borrows" $92,000 from an escrow account to invest in the stock market so that he can buy more of the drug. And not even when he wakes up with a girl in his bed who's dying from a heart attack induced by -- yep, you guessed it -- cocaine. With his company wondering what happened to the $92k and the police wondering just how responsible he is for the girl's death, Daryl finds refuge in a rehabilitation center. He's not genuinely interested in kicking the habit, however, and soon runs afoul of Craig, the center's counselor, played by Morgan Freeman. He also shrugs off the proffered help of his sponsor, Richard (M. Emmet Walsh). At the center he meets Charlie (Kathy Baker), a woman struggling with her own cocaine addiction, and more -- namely, an abusive husband. Once she's out of detox, Charlie finds she can't shake either the cocaine or the husband, even though Daryl, who has fallen in love with her, offers her a way out. When his company fires him, and Charlie dies in an auto accident, Daryl finally accepts the fact that cocaine has destroyed his life -- an acceptance that is the first step to recovery.
A plethora of Eighties films dealt with the cocaine scourge, but none from the daring perspective taken by Clean and Sober. It's daring because the film's protagonist is a thoroughly unlikeable guy on the face of it. Daryl Poynter is selfish, obnoxious and deceitful. Hardly the recipe for a character that audiences will root for. Yet thanks to an incredible piece of work by Michael Keaton -- who, heretofore, had only a handful of comedies (with Mr. Mom the best of the lot) to his name -- we do find ourselves hoping that Daryl will see the error of his ways and turn his life around. Keaton rescued a career going pretty much nowhere with this star turn, which demonstrates a remarkable acting range. Other Eighties films -- Less Than Zero (reviewed below) is one that comes immediately to mind -- explore the destruction that cocaine addiction can cause. But none do so with such uncompromising focus as Clean and Sober. And, compliments of Keaton, Daryl Poynter is a character you won't soon forget.
Eighties Club rating: ***
US box office: $8.7 million
US release date: 8.10.88
National Society of Film Critics Awards
Best Actor (Michael Keaton)
1986, Orion, Rated R
Directed by Harold Ramis
Written by Brian Doyle-Murray & Harold Ramis
Directed and co-written by the talented Harold Ramis, this comedy should be filed under missed opportunity. With a good premise, intelligent joke-writing and a sterling cast -- Robin Williams, Peter O'Toole, Rick Moranis, Jimmy Cliff, Twiggy, Joanna Cassidy, Andrea Martin and Brian Doyle-Murray (many of whom were alumni from the hilarious Second City TV) -- this film had all the makings, yet somehow falls short. Williams plays a Chicago fireman who uses his disability retirement to buy into a seedy Caribbean hotel owned by Jimmy Cliff, with hopes of turning it into a money-making resort. Meanwhile, the island's corrupt prime minister, in league with a shady resort owner, stoops to threats and then violence in an attempt to force the two partners to sell. As usual, Robin Williams is a delight to watch, but even he is upstaged by O'Toole, whose performance as the droll and dissipated governor of the island is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. Moranis, Cassidy, Martin and others are part and parcel of the first shipment of tourists lured to the club by outrageously false advertising, and their misadventures are amusing at times -- except for the occasional sight gag that falls flat, such as when Martin wrestles with a boa constrictor while her clueless husband waxes eloquent about how macho being lost in the jungle makes him feel. Sadly, the film dissolves into an inane climax in which the prime minister sends in the troops to crush a rebellion led by reggae singer-turned freedom fighter Jimmy Cliff, only to have O'Toole set things right by riding to the rescue on a white horse clad in the scarlet uniform of a soldier in Her Majesty's service. (Hey, don't ask us!)
In the Eighties reggae, dreadlocks and Caribbean retreats were definitely "in," and Club Paradise was but one of many movies that bear witness to that. Speaking of reggae, Jimmy Cliff and his music alone make this movie worth seeing. But the comedy is sporadic, and you may come away, as we did, feeling as though the film failed to live up to its promise.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $12.3 million
US release date: 7.11.86
"Club Paradise," Jimmy Cliff
"American Plan," Jimmy Cliff
"The Lion Awakes," Jimmy Cliff
"Third World People," Jimmy Cliff
"Seven-Day Weekend," Jimmy Cliff w/ Elvis Costello & The Attractions
"Ape Man," The Kinks
"Three Little Birds," Bob Marley
"Soldier Take Over," Yellowman
"Gong Rock," Stewart Copeland
1988, Orion, Rated R
Maria Conchita Alonso
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Written by Richard Di Lello & Michael Schiffer
As we are told at the beginning of this film, there were over 70,000 gang members in the Los Angeles area in the late Eighties, and only 250 police officers and sheriff's deputies assigned to gang units. Colors is the story of two of these, young hotshot Danny McGavin (Sean Penn) and wily veteran Bob Hodges (Robert Duvall.) Penn and Duvall are both splendid actors -- so accomplished are the two that nary a false note is struck in their interaction. The chemistry between them crackles with tension, as McGavin and Hodges clash, compete and come, grudgingly, to respect one another. (For you trivia buffs, Sean Penn spent 32 days in jail in 1987 for hitting an extra on the set and for reckless driving in the streets of L.A.) But Colors is much, much more than just a cop thriller. It is the first serious attempt by Hollywood to address the gang issue that came to America's attention in the Eighties. Director Dennis Hopper utilizes everything he had learned in over twenty years of filmwork to tell a gripping, multi-layered tale of what gang life is all about, and succeeds in both entertaining and educating the moviegoer.
Apart from the conflict between McGavin and Hodges, there are several finely nuanced threads to this story: the doomed romance between McGavin and Louisa (Maria Conchita Alonso), a chicana who cannot reconcile her attraction to McGavin with the way he (and other police officers) treat her own people in the barrio; the equally-doomed attempt by Frog (Trinidad Silva) to keep his baby brother out of the 21st Street gang; and the bloody rivalry between the Bloods and the Crips. Colors works on every level, but it's greatest triumph is to acquaint those of us who do not live in the inner city as to why gangs thrive there. We are made to understand that they provide young people who often come from shattered families a sense of belonging, not to mention a sense of power in a society that closes all other doors to them. Colors doesn't take sides; it is as objective a look at urban gangs -- as well as the danger and futility of the lives of cops trying to control them -- as you are likely to find. And while critics dissed the film for its violence, many of those who live in gang-infested areas of our cities applauded it for its unflinching portrayal of their world.
Eighties Club rating: ****
US box office: $46.6 million
US release date: 4.15.88
"One Time One Night," Los Lobos
"Go Girl," Roxanne Shante
"Low Rider," War
"Such A Night," Dr. John
"Bloody Mary Morning," Willie Nelson
"Everywhere I Go (Colors)"
"Let The Rhythm Run," Salt-N-Pepa
The Color of Money
1986, Touchstone, Rated R
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by William Price from a novel by Walter Tevis
Paul Newman won a Best Actor Academy Award for his work in this film, and never was an Oscar more richly deserved. To watch Newman reprise the role of "Fast Eddie" Felson, introduced in the 1961 classic, The Hustler, is to see a master at work. Twenty-five years after his clash with the legendary Minnesota Fats in the first film, Fast Eddie is still hustling, but not pool. He's a fast-talking whiskey salesman who's drawn back into the game when he decides to mentor the brash young pool shark, Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise). He sees himself, in his younger days, reflected in Vincent, and he takes his protege on a six-week odyssey from one pool hall to the next, with the ultimate destination being a nine-ball tournament in Atlantic City. Eddie has a difficult time convincing Vincent that it's money, not pool, that's really important. The great irony is that once he succeeds in teaching Vincent this lesson, Fast Eddie realizes that he's been wrong all along -- it's not about money, but excellence. (The film analogizes Eddie's wrong-headedness in early scenes, in which he encourages bar owners to substitute the cheap whiskey he sells for quality liquor.) This epiphany transforms Fast Eddie from a slick hustler into a dedicated pool player destined for a final showdown with his former protege.
Martin Scorsese directed this tale of personal redemption with an understated flair that proves he is as masterful a director as Newman is an actor. From the opening credits Scorsese captures the smoky, slightly seedy and altogether exciting milieu of the pool hall, and his highly original vision of the game of pool itself is captivating. Enhancing the film further is a soundtrack that includes tunes like Eric Clapton's "It's In The Way That You Use It" and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" -- it does what soundtracks are supposed to do, illustrating scenes in the story rather than just offering up a collection of contemporary Top 40 hits. The supporting cast, including superb turns by the likes of John Turturro, Helen Shaver and Forest Whitaker, is another plus. The only shortcoming is the performances by Cruise and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. The latter plays Vincent's girlfriend Carmen, and while she has plenty of sex appeal, Mastrantonio isn't able to completely convince us that Carmen is as worldly wise as she was clearly intended to be -- a hustler in her own right. (Then again, she got an Oscar nomination.) As for Cruise, it's obvious he's still growing as an actor at this stage in his career; his portrayal of the cocksure Vincent is too one-dimensional. Still, The Color of Money is an example of superior filmmaking, a movie that deserves consideration as a modern classic for several reasons, the most compelling being that it is a vehicle for a truly incredible performance by one of filmdom's greatest talents.
Eighties Club rating: ****
US box office: $52.3 million
US release date: 10.17.86
"Feel Like Going Home"
The Del Lords
"Walk On The Wild Side"
"Still A Fool," Muddy Waters
"She's Fine--She's Mine," Bo Diddley
"It's In The Way That You Use It"
"Who Owns This Place?" Don Henley
"Standing On The Edge," B.B. King
"Still The Night," Bodeans
"Werewolves Of London"
Best Actor (Paul Newman)
1985, 20th Century Fox, Rated R
Rae Dawn Chong
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Written by Steven E.de Souza, Joseph Loeb III & Matthew Weisman
A year after making Hollywood sit up and take notice in The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger took two giant steps backwards with Red Sonja and this clunker of an action flick. In Commando he stars as Colonel John Matrix, a retired one man killing machine who only wants to live quietly in his mountain home with his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano, who was twelve at the time.) Of course, that's not going to happen; an exiled dictator (Dan Hedaya) whom Matrix was responsible for removing from power, wants our hero to assassinate his successor, clearing the way for his return to the throne of a Latin American country. To make sure Matrix does his dirty work, the dictator and his henchmen, including Bennett (Vernon Wells), a mercenary with an old grudge to settle with our hero, kidnap Jenny. Now Matrix has ten hours to rescue his daughter, with the help of a reluctant accomplice, a flight attendant named Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong).
Some diehard Schwarzenegger fans insist that Commando was intended as a tongue-in-cheek send-up of action flicks -- a desperate ploy that reflects just how bad the movie really is. Had he been working forty years ago, Director Mark Lester would have been cranking out those B-flicks that Hollywood used to produce by the bushel, and all on a shoestring. Like Lester's previous film, Firestarter, this one is strictly drive-in material. In a final assault on the evil dictator's island stronghold, Matrix wipes out an entire army -- well, actually, only about 100 men, none of whom apparently, can hit the broad side of a barn, since they fire around a million rounds at the interloper and only manage to scratch him. And the climax of the film is the mano-a-mano combat between Matrix and Bennett, whose demise comes none too soon, considering Vernon Wells' embarrassing histrionics in the role. The film's sole redeeming virtue is Schwarzenegger himself, who shows he's making great progress in his evolution into one of America's most durable and popular movie heroes -- a process that, by 1987's Predator, had reached fruition.
Eighties Club rating: *
US box office: $37.8 million
US release date: 10.4.85
"We Fight For Love," Power Station
1987, Atlantic/Harris-Woods, Rated R
Lesley Ann Warren
Directed by James B. Harris
Written by James B. Harris from a novel by James Ellroy
Above-average cops-and-robbers film, though in this case the "robber" is a serial killer preying on women. Sgt. Lloyd Hopkins (James Woods) is the cop on the killer's trail. Woods is perfect for the role of Hopkins, an insensitive cad interested only in himself -- and the case he is working on. He's a lousy husband and a poor father (the only thing he can talk to his daughter about is his work), not to mention an inveterate womanizer. He has a problem with authority, antagonizing his superiors and breaking the rules at every turn. His one saving grace: he's an excellent homicide detective.
Hopkins figures out that this case revolves around feminist poet Cathleen McCarthy (Lesley Ann Warren) and the fact that she was raped in high school. The plot is somewhat convoluted and the climax, when cop meets killer in the high school gym, is contrived, but this film is really a character study, so the plot is relatively superfluous. Cop is a portrait of a man on the edge; what makes Hopkins such a relentlessly effective hunter of psychopaths is that he is very nearly as unwound and egotistical as the whackos he tracks down.
The most popular scene is probably the ending, when Hopkins blows the killer away, but then why wouldn't he? -- by killing the psycho he is keeping his own demons at bay. The best scene is not really a "scene" at all, but rather the voice-over during the opening credits, as a burglar tries to call the police to report a murder -- he found the body of one of the serial killer's victims in a house he had broken into -- and is forced to deal with an unpleasant telephone operator and then a 911 recording. Based on a novel by James Ellroy, who also wrote L.A. Confidential.
Eighties Club rating: **
US box office: $1.9 million
US release date: March 1988