#1037 School Daze (1988)

Spike Lee’s School Daze makes a successful and interesting late 80s look on African-American college life that’s very convincingly portrayed from inside out.

Being quite far away from its frame of reference as a pale skinned European I probably missed a lot of the references and subtleties of the movie, but on the other hand many of the themes here are still universal enough for me to relate to, especially the way the young and somewhat misguided adults having to choose their side to belong, be it jigaboos, wannabes or fraternities. We’ve all been there.

I also love how many of the clashes on the movie are built around petty issues of the middle-class college students and thus feel like actual, interesting conflicts.

Lee makes admittedly many uniquely interesting insights about the interracial conflicts, principles, having to choose one’s side, fraternities and the petty power that corrupts. But if the movie was out there to make a clear statement, it’s lost in translation for me.

80s-o-meter: 87%

Total: 72%

#1004 Grease 2 (1982)

Grease 2, the sequel for the original 1978 runaway musical hit starring John Travolta was a critical and a box office failure. Oh boy, I thought as I pressed the play on my remote, assured I was facing a torture even worse than having to watch through the original.

Pessimism be blessed, as the experience didn’t turn out to be nearly as bad as I’d anticipated. The movie is inept – that’s given – but it all seems to have been done in a good humour with a fair amount of tongue in cheek. Grease 2 does a remarkably bad work at establishing the early 60s setting and the movie never seizes to feel like 80s kids doing a cosplay of the former era.

Personally I count this only as a definitely plus for the movie.

80s-o-meter: 41%

Total: 48%

#889 Vicious Lips (1986)

Vicious Lips is what happens when you gather a bunch of young models and promise them they’ll get to star in the talking pictures — and them at some point you have no choice but to have that movie made, with ideas on not.

Very little in this movie makes any sense, and it all feels like it’s been made up as they go along. There’s something about a crashed spaceship, topless women running around in a desert and an intergalactic girls band trying to find some venue while being harassed by something kind of resembling a monster.

If any of that managed to sound funny, I can assure you it’s not.

The only somewhat passable thing here are the musical numbers scattered around the movie, but honestly I really couldn’t be bothered by them either.

80s-o-meter: 80%

Total: 12%

#866 Fame (1980)

After the first 15 minutes to the Fame I’d made up my mind what I going to say about it: Yet another pretentious and theatrical musical about the young performance artist suffering melodramatically while trying to make it to the top. While my initial impression still partly holds, I have to admit Fame wasn’t really all that bad.

Yes, there’s a lot of melodramaticism going on here, but also a lot of undeniable warmth to the way that the characters are written and presented in the movie, and it was that love for the characters that won me over eventually. The movie is noticeably lengthy at 134 minutes and would’ve gained from a bit more rapid pacing at times.

Young Irene Cara provides great vocals to the key songs and would go on to an even greater musical triumph with Flashdance three years later.

80s-o-meter: 78%

Total: 73%

#851 Voyage of the Rock Aliens (1984)

Voyage of the Rock Aliens is made to spoof the swinging beach movies of the 60s with an element of extra terrestrial synth pop band traveling to study earth.

Wanting to be one of those crazy comedies, Voyage of the Rock Aliens makes an endless number of desperate attempts for humor. The most amount of wittiness you will see though is a convict attacking a cop with an electric can opener, and the cop then defending himself with a can of tomatoes, or a robot transformed to a fire hydrant then getting peed on by a dog. And both of these gags sound funnier in writing than they come out in the movie.

Much of the humor is built upon the fish out of water aspect of it all that grows stale already during the first minutes into the movie. There are also a lot of lengthy pop songs along the way, all of which have a strong vibe of if the soviet union had produced some music videos, and tried to pass them as the real thing.

Voyage of the Rock Aliens is one of those movies that is shoddy by design, and approach which sometimes works, but here the end result is just one cringeworthy mess.

80s-o-meter: 80%

Total: 3%

#846 The Cotton Club (1984)

Directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola and made with the top talent of the era and a budget the size of the GDP of a small nation, I should’ve liked The Cotton Club. But, this wasn’t a movie for me.

The Cotton Club is a mobster movie with some jazz and dance thrown in. It lifts all of its imagery from the prohibition era cliché book and the end result is very movie like, and detached from reality. I would’ve kind of applauded the effect if it was restricted to the scenes inside the Cotton Club, underlining how it is a wonderful world of its own, outside the harsh day to day life.

Counting out the few nice musical numbers there are, the narrative in The Cotton Club falls flat and I found myself indifferent about the events and the people involved.

It feels like Coppola never quite knew what he wanted to accomplish with this project.

80s-o-meter: 27%

Total: 52%

#843 Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! (1989)

An idea to do a continuum for the original movie like a miscalculation at first and seems just like another unmotivated sequel that will end up devaluing both of the movies. But as the events start to evolve Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives actually makes sense and feels like a good continuum for the events left without closure in the first movie.

The thing is, I somehow like the second story better. Living true to his mantra of wanting to be remembered by the music or not at all, Eddie has gone incognito, working as a blue collar construction worker. As the events unravel he soon finds himself as an unwilling lead of a rock band headed for fame.

Like the first time around, much of the charm of the movie is built around Michael Paré’s, who mimics the songs with such credibility and intensity, one’d wish Eddie was an actual, living rock star.

80s-o-meter: 81%

Total: 82%

#842 Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)

A tale of a reporter investigating steps that lead to the tragic disappearance of the leader of an iconic 60s rock band, Eddie and the Cruisers is told through numerous flashbacks – an approach that sort of works, but does make the end result a somewhat patchy.

But, when it comes to music, the movie more than delivers. Michael Paré possesses a true rock star quality as the head of the band and mouths all the heartland rock songs with a convincing intensity. Purely as a musical the movie is among the best, void of the cringeworthiness often associated with the genre.

This poetic and enigmatic journey to unravel the mystery of a lost rock’n’roll star earned a cult status already in the 80s, and spawned a follow-up, released in 1989.

80s-o-meter: 71%

Total: 80%

#820 Pennies from Heaven (1981)

Based on the BBC serie of the same name, Pennies from Heaven is a musical that is for some reason being served as drama, although its core concept of dancing and mouthing old hits from the golden era cannot be perceived as anything but comedic and silly.

The big gimmick of the movie, escaping the grim day-to-day life to a jolly song totally detached from reality – a concept used later successfully in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark – works well for a short time, until it gets repetitive and then finally gimmicky. Actually, it’s not the musical numbers but the actual movie bits that start to feel tiresome after awhile: Pennies from Heaven is the kind of period picture that relies far too heavily on just establishing the period for a cozy feeling, and if taken to the current time, the story just wouldn’t have much going for it.

The dance numbers themselves are fabulously constructed and clearly it’s taken a lot of practise for the actors to train for them. What’s distracting though is the way the original songs are being lip-synced instead of having the actors perform them. The real treat of the movie is Christopher Walken whose brief performance is nothing short of a breathtaking.

80s-o-meter: 45%

Total: 58%

#816 Salsa (1988)

Well, this was a painful experience.

I had to check back to internet every fifteen minutes to check if Salsa’s origin of country would’ve magically changed to something else than USA, giving me an excuse to skip sitting through this atrocity. Alas, no. The director Boaz Davidson remained Israelian and the lead Robby Rosa and his sweat oozing curls remained firmly Puerto Rican.

The movie – the term has to be used very loosely here – is a collection of salsa music numbers and a thin plot that’s not able to tie them together to a comprehensible entity. Rico is an obnoxious character, often seen trying to run his baby sister’s life or twitching around in a theatrical manner filled with pain that is his life. The subplot of forbidden love between his best friend and his sister is a much more interesting story line, even if I’ve seen music videos with a stronger plot.

Salsa is without point, pretentious, melodramatic and seemingly clueless of all this – once again reminding me of everything I loathe about musicals.

80s-o-meter: 71%

Total: 1%

#810 Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

Telling the story of the country music singer Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter wasn’t too interesting concept for me, not familiar with her work, but I soon found myself Not familiar with her work, it wasn’t the country singing fame part that sucked me into the movie, but its gritty and lifelike portrayal of the small coal town in Kentucky.

The director Michael Apted and the actors have managed to carve out remarkably well-rounded and realistic portrayals, making it easy to identify with and adapt to the characters. Sissy Spacek – who impressively did all the singing on her own – walked away with the academy award for best actress, and quite deservedly so. Tommy Lee Jones on the other hand makes for a memorable Oliver ’Doolittle’ Lynn, a contradictory character that in many ways culminates the essence of this movie.

Last but definitely not least Levon Helm in his feature film debut gives one the most honest and heartbreaking performances I’ve seen in a while as Lynn’s honest, hard working father. That railway station scene still gives me the chills.

Coal Miner’s Daughter is a triumph, although it does lose some of its momentum towards the end as the movie focuses on patching in the key points of her later career. The major breakdown that could’ve been build up to and surveyed with care is both presented and dealt with quite hastefully.

80s-o-meter: 33%

Total: 85%

#769 Flashdance (1983)

Plotwise there wouldn’t be much to Flashdance: A model working in a steel factory wants to attend to a dance school but is paralysed by her fear of trying and failing. She then falls in love with her boss, they have a few fights along the way and finally she conquers her fears and dances in the audition.

With the thin plot out of the way let’s move on to the music; and there’s plenty to love here! The highly energetic title song ’Flashdance.. What a feeling’ composed by Giorgio Moroder and performed by Irene Cara, became a huge hit and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Michael Sembello’s Maniac is equally lively, and became almost as big a hit with both songs reaching place #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other featuring artists include Laura Branigan, Kim Carnes and Joe Esposito, and the soundtrack album went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score and became a best seller.

The movie is professionally shot and the camera just loves Jennifer Beals who looks absolutely gorgeous on the screen. Unfortunately, although the movie is an easy watch, it’s still nothing to write to home about, and it’s clearly the soundtrack here that gives the movie additional value – and not the other way around.

80s-o-meter: 85%

Total: 62%

#717 The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

A musical comedy loosely based on real life events, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas revolves around a small town bordello run by Mona Stagley (Dolly Parton) that gets busted by Melvin, a showy TV reporter played by Dom DeLuise. The long-running bordello is part of the community heritage and protected by the city officials and its law enforcement led by the sheriff (Burt Reynolds)

My expectations for the movie were extra low, but I have to hand it to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas for surpassing them. The dance and music numbers are refreshingly original, many shots and cuts are well thought out and inventive and there’s just a good amount of good mood and thought work put into most aspects in the production.

My biggest beef with the movie is that I’m always having a hard time trying to stomach Reynolds with his facial hair, chest rug and cocky smile. There’s a lot of half-naked Burt here, but luckily also much more to warrant sitting through the film.

80s-o-meter: 72%

Total: 65%

#710 The Blues Brothers (1980)

Paradoxically, the actual music in many musicals can often be pretty lousy sometimes. Not the case with The Blues Brothers.

Not only are the songs themselves top notch, they are also performed with such a positive vibe and pure energy that pretty much cannot leave anyone cold even if blues or rock music isn’t your thing. To underline the its credibility music wise, The Blues Brothers includes cameos from legends such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.

The Blues Brothers is an iconic piece of pop culture that has continued its life outside the movie still to date. It’s a musical tailor-made for those of us that don’t actually really care for musicals.

80s-o-meter: 68%

Total: 87%

#659 Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Based on the off-Broadway musical comedy, which is based on the 1960 film of the same name, Little Shop of Horrors is a delightful little black comedy horror musical. That’s a mouthful.

Musicals, especially the movie adaptations are far more often misses than hits, but similarly to the musicals on stage, the movie adaptations really gain from having big and strong production quality to them. Little Shop of Horrors gets this part right; the pseudo 1950s American city streets build into a massive studio work well as a magical, movie-like backdrop to the scenes, and the (funny) musical numbers as composed, arranged and performed with exceptional professionalism.

The same goes for the antagonist plant. Its lifelikeness is exceptional, and it just might be the best animated puppet even seen on the silver screen.

80s-o-meter: 68%

Total: 82%