Film Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Also known as: Fast Times (working title, informal title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Based on: Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe
Music by: various pop bands
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston, Amanda Wyss, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli, Lana Clarkson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, Taylor Negron

Refugee Films, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Why don’t you get a job, Spicoli?” – Brad Hamilton, “What for?” – Jeff Spicoli, “You need money.” – Brad Hamilton, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli

Teen sex comedies were all the rage in the early 1980s. However, unlike all the others, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was much more than just a teen sex comedy. It was a film with purpose, heart and characters that you actually cared for and felt connected to. It had high drama, human emotion but it was still true to the spirit of the genre it was actually better than.

There were several factors that contributed to this movie being better than one would expect at first glance.

First, the story came from a book written by Cameron Crowe, who spent some time undercover in high school to capture the real lives of the teenagers around him. The book was full of true stories, which got adapted into this fictional movie tale. Crowe’s work gave this film a sense of realism and human emotion that other films like it were lacking.

Also, this was directed by Amy Heckerling and even though it was her first feature film, she was young, hip and connected to a lot of cool people at the time. She gave this picture a sort of life and energy that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. She also pulls off similar magic with 1995’s beloved teen comedy Clueless.

Additionally, this film benefits from having an incredible cast for its time. It has Sean Penn, just before he became a superstar, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the best actresses of her generation. The shy kind of nerdy character was played by Brian Backer, who had already won a Tony Award the year before for his leading role in Woody Allen’s The Floating Light Bulb on Broadway. You’ve also got quintessential ’80s cool guy Judge Reinhold, the always lovable Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Amanda Wyss, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, as well as veterans Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli. How many other ’80s teen sex comedies can boast a lineup that impressive? And this didn’t even have a single person from the Brat Pack in it.

The film is well balanced between all of its main characters. It also doesn’t showcase the token stoner as just a token stoner. The chemistry between Penn’s Spicoli and Walston’s Mr. Hand is fabulous and makes for some of the best moments in the film. Seeing Walston go that extra step for a student that most teachers would just roll their eyes at is both sweet and refreshing. I could’ve watched a spinoff movie of just Spicoli and Mr. Hand and been happy, even if it had a lackluster script.

I also loved the chemistry between best buds Mark Ratner (Backer) and Mike Damone (Romanus). The shy Ratner needs Damone’s help in getting with the ladies and their exchanges are hilarious and entertaining. Life throws these best buds a curveball though but it was great seeing real friendship conquer all.

There are several good stories sprinkled throughout this ensemble piece. And it is sort of timeless in that the jokes still work, the characters are amusing and even though this gets very serious at points, it is never short on laughs and keeps things generally lighthearted.

It also has one of the best soundtracks of its decade.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a perfect template on how to create a teen coming of age movie. Sure, it is sex heavy, as it was the ’80s, but it’s light-years more mature than similar films like Private School and The Last American Virgin.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Dazed and ConfusedThe Last American Virgin and Private School. Also, Gremlins, as that features both Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold. Plus, Clueless, another teen coming of age comedy directed by Heckerling.

Film Review: Mazes and Monsters (1982)

Release Date: December 28th, 1982 (TV)
Directed by: Steven Hilliard Stern
Written by: Tom Lazarus
Based on: Mazes and Monsters by Rona Jaffe
Music by: Hagood Hardy
Cast: Tom Hanks, Wendy Crewson, David Wallace, Chris Makepeace, Vera Miles, Murray Hamilton, Kevin Peter Hall

McDermott Productions, Proctor & Gamble Productions, CBS, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Jay Jay, that was really stupid, jumping into the pit without using your sonar first!” – Kate Finch

This film is categorized as drama and fantasy, officially. There really isn’t any fantasy in it and the fact that it considers itself a fantasy movie is misleading and disappointing for someone expecting to see the film come alive in that way. The only fantasy elements in the movie are the fact that the four main characters are playing a game similar to Dungeons & Dragons and that one player hallucinates and sees monsters and other wacky shit.

Once it hit VHS, this was sold as a Tom Hanks movie, even though he starred in it when he was a virtual nobody. Not to knock Hanks, he’s one of the greatest actors of all-time, but this is definitely below his level of talent and being dragged into this muck even made his performance pretty terrible. Luckily he found Splash and Bachelor Party, two years later.

In all fairness, this was a “made for television” movie. It was also based on a novel that was trying to demonize the culture of the kids who played games like Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe the author was a religious nut or she had a son who was obsessed with killing make believe goblins. But the way the culture is represented in this story, is laughable. This is really a tale about mental illness and not being obsessed with D&D.

Come to think of it, maybe my mum watched this movie because she was pretty adamant that I couldn’t play Dungeons & Dragons with my cousins. My mum also believed all the religious propaganda about pop culture when I was a young lad, so I wasn’t even allowed to look at a picture of Ozzy Osbourne in a magazine because he bit heads off of bats and fornicated with demons every time he was on stage. Now my mum is all into Harry Potter, so go figure.

This film looks horrible and it hasn’t aged well but it was a bad movie to begin with, so how else would it age? The cinematography and camera work look like this is a bad soap opera. The music is equally atrocious and doesn’t, in any way, reflect what college kids in 1982 were jamming out to. It’s 1982 but this movie sounds like a television ad for tampons in 1972. They couldn’t throw some Devo in the party scene?

Mazes and Monsters has nothing going right for it. So as is customary with shitty movies, I must run this boring turd through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Nothing really. It’s an odd and pretty terrible film.

 

Film Review: Rocky III (1982)

Release Date: May 28th, 1982
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No, I don’t hate Balboa. I pity the fool, and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got!” – Clubber Lang

Rocky III is the first sequel to kind of dip in quality. Regardless, it is still an enjoyable film that is actually a bit more entertaining than the previous two pictures. It’s shorter, it’s more fun overall and both Mr. T and Hulk Hogan make the fights in this film more exciting and definitely more colorful.

This film fast forwards a bit from the events of Rocky and Rocky II. Here, Rocky Balboa has been the world champion for a little while. We get a nice vignette of him conquering a myriad of challengers along the way. Plus, the beginning of this film is greatly enhanced by its theme song “Eye of the Tiger” by Survior.

The reason why I like Rocky III so much, even though it isn’t of the same quality of the first two pictures, is that it has so much energy. Hulk Hogan plays Thunderlips, a giant wrestler that Balboa fights for charity. He is a massive brute that is overly ostentatious. Then you have the real villain of the story, Mr. T’s intimidating and jacked Clubber Lang. The guy literally looks like a killing machine in boxing gloves.

This chapter also adds some serious emotional baggage that treads new territory for Rocky. He loses his trainer, loses his title and feels like he’s hit rock bottom. Then Apollo, his greatest rival, shows him how to pick himself up and find his edge. Apollo knows that Balboa is greater than Clubber Lang and his respect for Rocky pushes him into helping the fallen fighter right the ship.

I love Rocky III. It really evolved the series into a new decade, the ’80s. And like that decade, it feels more carefree, entertaining and opulent. We enter a world of excess, where Balboa is beyond poverty but with these changes, come new challenges and life isn’t a cakewalk for the warrior.

Film Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Release Date: June 4th, 1982
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Written by: Jack B. Sowards, Harve Bennett, Nicholas Meyer (uncredited), Samuel A. Peeples (uncredited)
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: James Horner
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalbán, Merritt Butrick

Paramount Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[quoting from Melville’s Moby Dick] To the last, I will grapple with thee… from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!” – Khan Noonien Singh

This is many people’s favorite Star Trek film of all-time and for very good reason. I like The Voyage Home (Part IV) a wee bit more and The Undiscovered Country (Part VI) is also pretty damn high up on my list. However, even though this isn’t my favorite, it is pretty damn perfect if you are a Trek fan and you can suspend some disbelief and get lost in this rich universe.

Are there flaws? A few. But the positives outweigh the negatives by such a wide margin that I’m not going to nitpick about small things that don’t matter much in the grand scheme of how great and how fun this movie is.

Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh is one of the greatest villains that ever graced the silver screen. Other than Darth Vader, who really made a bigger impact in the 1980s? Sure, we could argue a few villains, maybe a handful, but Khan is the main reason why people love this picture.

Montalbán gave the performance of a lifetime and even though he played this character once before, in the Star Trek TV episode Space Seed, he upped the ante so much that he really made this his film. This is one man, overshadowing a magnificent cast who had worked together for two decades and who had unbelievable chemistry with one another. There was a certain chemistry between Khan and Kirk though, even if you never actually saw them together in the same room. Their hatred reached through the physical barriers that separated them and made everyone else in the story, a pawn in the grandest chess game ever played in the galaxy. Everything between Khan and Kirk felt so organic and so real and it was only accented by Khan’s unrelenting quest for revenge and his Shakespearean dialogue.

The film is also littered with incredible special effects, which have actually held up really well, 35 years later. The ship models are fantastic, the look of space, especially the sequence within the Mutara Nebula is breathtaking. The effects used for the birth of the Genesis Planet were impressive as well.

One thing that really brings all of this to the next level is the score by James Horner. While I loved Jerry Goldsmith’s music in the first Star Trek film, Horner made the best score in the entire film series with what he did here. This is such a musical movie but that was pretty common with big blockbuster type films back then; unlike nowadays where the music in massive summer films isn’t as memorable as the cinematic tunes of yesteryear.

Plus, you have the heart wrenching scene between Kirk and Spock at the end that still makes me weep like a little bitch every time I see it, even with the knowledge that the tragedy will be erased in the next movie.

The Wrath of Khan is spectacular in every way. Seriously, how can you not be pulled into this adventure and just sit there for two hours, grinning ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat after raiding the cupboard for Colorado edibles?

I mean sure, I could point out that Khan and his people were marooned on Ceti Alpha V for fifteen years and before that, they tried to overtake the USS Enterprise but failed miserably. And then before that, the Enterprise crew found Khan cryogenically frozen in a pod in a ship that disappeared in the 1990s. Yet they were able to steal the USS Reliant in the 2200s, a star ship that was 300 years more advanced than any technology they had ever seen. And then somehow they were able to take this ill equipped science research vessel and inflict crippling damage to the Enterprise, an explorer ship with superior defensive weaponry and a crew with two decades worth of experience. I mean, I could point all that out…

But I’m not going to nitpick because this film is literally friggin’ perfect.

Film Review: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Nancy Loomis, Jamie Lee Curtis (uncredited voice), Tommy Lee Wallace (uncredited voice)

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Debra Hill Productions, Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I do love a good joke and this is the best ever: a joke on the children.” – Conal Cochran

*written in 2015.

Prepare to be scared shitless. Okay, maybe not shitless. But prepared to feel really uncomfortable, unsettled and really creeped out by this unique and bizarre film that truly is one of a kind.

This film currently has a rating of 4.4 on IMDb. That’s some bullshit and I think that the only reason it rates so low is because it is a film with the name Halloween on it and Michael Myers is nowhere to be found. Had this been its own film with its own name, it would probably not have some weird stigma or Michael Myers fanboy backlash. Then again, had it been called something else, it might not have survived as long as it has, simply because its existence is an enigma.

So why is this a Halloween film when it doesn’t feature Michael Myers or anything related to those stories?

Well, back in the day, John Carpenter didn’t even want to do the Halloween II that we got. His original plan for the series was to have a different story each year for each new film in the series. The studio however, wanted more Michael Myers and an agreement was reached that Carpenter would give them more Michael Myers and he would be allowed to make a third film in the series any way he saw fit. What resulted was confusion. Confusion that led to a big hiatus between this film and the fourth film, which ultimately, brought Michael Myers back to the franchise and saw him go on to star in every sequel and remake thereafter. In the end, this film gets an unfair bad rap and is usually skipped over by those having a Halloween marathon or sneered at when it pops up on AMC during the MonsterFest season. In fact, AMC may be ignoring it now too, as I haven’t seen it in the TV listings this year.

The thing is, this film is great. It is actually one of my favorite horror movies of all-time. I can’t come upon the Halloween season and not pop this into the DVD player. Actually, I’m sure I will catch shit for this, but I prefer this movie over all other films in the Halloween series. Yes, even more so than the 1978 classic that introduced the world to Michael Myers.

This film has the absolute best atmosphere of any film in the series. It is beyond creepy and as a kid, this terrified me much more than some guy in a mask walking around silently and slowly with a knife. There is just something more sinister to a child viewer (me) seeing another child in a film put on a Halloween mask that turns their head into a pile of bugs, worms and venomous snakes in a very painful way. Sorry, this is way more effective than another slasher film. And no, despite claims from everyone, Michael Myers was not the first slasher and the concept of Halloween was lifted from the original Black Christmas and what its director wanted to do with his plan for sequels – an anthology of films all associated with different holidays.

Tom Atkins plays the lead in Halloween III and is as great as always. He’s never a likable character really, he is just a solid actor that doesn’t try to be a hero, he is usually just a typical human male caught up in an inhuman or extraordinary situation.

Dan O’Herlihy (best known as the head of OCP in the original Robocop) is awesome as the evil Conal Cochran, the man who wants to kill the world’s children and pretty much everyone else. His tool of destruction is his best-selling Halloween masks. And although his motivations are never really made clear and his sinister plot never really explained in a way that makes much sense, you know that you are looking at pure evil and he embodies an almost satanic presence.

This film almost has a Lovecraftian vibe to it, mixed with that magic John Carpenter touch and a bit of dark science fiction. Even though Carpenter only produced this film, it promotes his visual style well and it is only enhanced by his majestic and eerie soundtrack.

4.4 on IMDb? People have no fucking taste.

Film Review: Creepshow (1982)

Release Date: May 16th, 1982 (Cannes)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: various stories by Stephen King
Music by: John Harrison
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Tom Atkins, Tom Savini, Stephen King

Laurel Entertainment, Warner Bros., 120 Minutes

Review:

“I drove out there with the remains of three human beings… well, two human beings and Wilma.” – Henry

Creepshow was one of the first modern horror films I experienced as a kid. However, I was a kid in the 80s, so this was modern then. Now it is thirty-five years old. Revisiting it now though, is still a real friggin’ treat.

I love this movie. I admit that a lot of my warm and fuzzy feelings for it can be due to the fact that I’m a total sucker for nostalgia but it is a damn good picture for its time. I’m not even a huge anthology horror fan but when these films are good, I absolutely love them.

Creepshow is one of the best horror anthology films of all-time. Each story works and George A. Romero created a true piece of cinematic magnificence outside of his Dead series. Plus, having the help of Stephen King’s pen made this a bit more unique than other films like it.

There isn’t a dull story out of the five that we get within this film. Six stories if you count the intro and ending.

The weakest story is probably the one that stars King himself, as a man that becomes possessed and overcome by some sort of alien plant life. Even that one is entertaining because King plays the role so hilariously. It is also the shortest chapter.

The best story of the bunch is The Crate, which really could have been its own film and worked really well. It is also the longest chapter and feels like a throwback to an H.P. Lovecraft tale. In this story, we see a janitor discover a strange crate under a staircase at a college. It is from an expedition, decades earlier. Inside the crate is a hungry beast that pretty much want to devour everyone. But it is the monster itself that is the star of the movie, in my eyes.

The film has a good all-star cast with two highlights. The rivalry between Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen is well orchestrated and they play off of each other like the pros they are. The other is the relationship between the quiet and sweet Hal Holbrook and his annoying as hell wife played by Adrienne Barbeau. It is such a comedic mismatch but it works too a t.

The visual comic book style highlights within the film, give it an otherworldly life that really wraps the movie in that old school pulp feel.

Creepshow is so enjoyable and the funny bits are still funny. Yes, it has a real sense of terror but it is a load of fun.

Film Review: Blade Runner (1982)

Release Date: June 25th, 1982
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Vangelis
Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, James Hong

The Ladd Company, Shaw Brothers, Blade Runner Partnership, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes (original workprint), 116 Minutes (original US theatrical), 117 Minutes (international theatrical), 114 Minutes (US television broadcast), 116 Minutes (The Director’s Cut), 117 Minutes (The Final Cut)  

Review:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” – Roy Batty

Blade Runner is a classic but I think my appreciation of it is different than that of most. While I see a lot of weaknesses and flaws with it, which I’ll explain, the pros most certainly outweigh the cons by a tremendous amount.

For me, Blade Runner is an incredibly slow paced film. Not a lot really happens in it. You quickly understand the setup and the hunt that is taking place, as well as the fact that the main character, Deckard, is falling in love with the very thing he is hunting. There are a lot of layers here that could be explored in more depth but everything is just sort of presented on the surface and not explored beyond a sort of subtle emotional response to the proceedings. You never really know what Deckard is thinking but the film also works in that regard, even if I feel that it makes it hard to align your emotions with the characters’.

Blade Runner is a very topical film. What I mean by that is that there are all these beautiful and mysterious things in the forefront but the substance of what is really behind it all isn’t greatly explored or understood. You have some clues with the conversations Deckard has with Rachael and Batty but most of the characters feel as soulless as the Replicants were intended to be. I don’t blame the acting, which is superb, I blame the ambiguous way that the film was written, as it leaves you perplexed and with more questions than answers, really. And frankly, it is hard to care about those questions without the emotional investment in the characters living in this world.

Speaking of which, Ridley Scott created such a cool and stunning world that I wanted to know more about it. I truly wanted to experience and live in it, alongside these characters, but it is hard to do that when everything feels so cold, emotionless and distant. But this also begs the question, which people have been asking for decades, is Deckard also a Replicant and if so, is that what the tone of the film is very blatantly implying? I would have to say yes but I guess that question won’t truly be answered until this film’s sequel finally comes out later this year, a 35 year wait since this picture came out.

As I already pointed out, the film takes place in an incredible looking world. While it is the Los Angeles of the future, two years from now to be exact, it is a cold, dark and dreary place highlighted by flaming industrial smokestacks and neon signs. Scott made his future Los Angeles look otherworldly and menacing, tapping into the fears of where we could find ourselves in a world that further urbanizes itself, where we are all living in dark metropolises blanketed by dark smoky skies.

The music of the film, created by Vangelis, is absolutely perfect. It is one of the best scores ever produced for a film and its magnificence will be hard to top in the upcoming sequel. The end titles song of the film is one of my favorite pieces of music ever created.

The film is very loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In reality, it just shares a few concepts and ideas and Blade Runner is really its own thing, where Dick’s novel was more or less the kernel of an idea that Hampton Fancher and David Peoples turned into this tech-noir tale. Honestly, someone could do a true adaptation of the novel and no one would probably pick up on it being the same material. But Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite authors of all-time and anything inspired by his work will get my attention. But I probably wouldn’t have found his work as early as I did in life, had it not been for this movie and really, this film is what gave his work notoriety, after his death.

Blade Runner is not a film for everyone. In fact, when I have shown it to people over the years, I’ve gotten more negative or baffled responses than I have positive ones. I think it is a film that works for those who already know it or who grew up in a time when it was well-known. There was nothing like it at the time but there was a lot like it after it made its impact on pop culture. I don’t think that The Terminator would have been quite the same film had Blade Runner not come out two years before it.

It will be interesting to see where a sequel can go and what it answers and how. But we’ve got a month or so to wait for that. But it’s already been over 35 years, so what’s a month?