"I LOVE THE 80s – PARAMOUNT CLASSICS"
by Kevin Carr
As any long-term classic movie studio will do periodically, Paramount is releasing a slew of new DVDs with favorite films from the past. In this latest barrage of 80s retro culture, we have dozens of our favorite films coming back to the small screen.
As a child of the 80s myself, this was a fun chance to relive my teenage years by having an 80s movie marathon with a select number of films. And as an added bonus, all the DVDs with the “I Love the 80s” labels also include a CD featuring music from the day courtesy of Echo & the Bunnymen, INXS, Erasure and a-ha.
Believe it or not, I never saw this film when it was first released in 1986. Maybe I was just rebelling against its too-cool feel. Or perhaps I was protesting the then-skyrocketing stardom of Tom Cruise because all the girls I was sniffing around in high school preferred him on screen than me in the flesh.
Watching “Top Gun” for the first time, more than 20 years after it was released, was a hilarious exercise. On one hand, the movie was ultra cool.... at times too cool. It shows director Tony Scott in his early years, helping Jerry Bruckheimer forge a style that would make him a household name.
The film tells the story of a young Navy pilot named Pete Mitchell (Cruise), who enters the elite Top Gun pilot school. He deals with the egos of the other pilots and the challenges he faces in training. He also falls in love with a beautiful, yet hard-nosed teacher at the school named Charlie (Kelly McGillis).
Like many films from its decade, “Top Gun” is steeped in 80s culture – from the top 40 music to the clothing styles. My wife happens to be a huge fan of the film and sat next to me on the couch, quoting the movie and discussing its finer points. And, she turned a little red when I pointed out how homo-erotic the movie was in retrospect. (After all, there’s a lot of guys hugging without their shirts on in this flick.)
Still, “Top Gun” was probably a blast to see in the theaters in the 80s. In 2009, on DVD, it’s a fun return to what I always will see as a simpler time in my life.
The DVD comes with the original trailers and TV spots as well as four vintage music videos and a commentary by the surviving filmmakers and Naval experts.
Unlike “Top Gun,” I actually watched “Flashdance” in the 1980s. I didn’t see it in the theatrical release (although my sister convinced my mom to take her in 1983, a decision which my mother quickly regretted when my sis learned how to take off her bra without taking off her shirt). Rather, I saw it on home video a year or two later, mostly in fast-forward mode as I searched the R-rated film for nude scenes.
Viewing “Flashdance” again in 2009, it’s a beautiful piece of retro culture. Like “Saturday Night Fever,” there was so much of it that was steeped in its generation – from the tattered jeans and butchered sweatshirts to the leg warmers and pop 80s music. And it had such a similar story to “Saturday Night Fever” – a young lead wants to emerge from humble roots to become a dancing sensation.
The film gives a nice and surprisingly realistic love story. It’s not a perfect relationship, and the characters struggle. And while Alex (Jennifer Beals) has some severe self-confidence issues – like when she routinely sabotages her chance to attend a dance academy – I found them acceptable because I’ve seen people blow chances like that for the same reason.
The real dazzle of “Flashdance” are the dance sequences, which rarely actually featured Beals but rather a professional dancing body double. Sure, the idea of such elaborate faire at a pseudo-strip club is totally ridiculous, but they made the movie fun to watch.
Coming off their success of “Airplane!,” the ZAZ team gave us another spoof, this time sending up spy movies and Elvis flicks. The result was “Top Secret!,” which is one of their best spoof movies to date. If I could, I would staple the current spoof kings Jason Friedberg and Aaron Setlzer to chairs and force them to watch this film to see what a real spoof movie should be.
“Top Secret!” tells the story of Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer), a ragingly popular rock star, who travels to East Berlin for a concert and uncovers a fiendish plot of the East German government. With the help of a beautiful woman searching for her scientist fathers, Rivers tries to stop the delivery of a superweapon.
This film was made back in the day when the only competition for spoof movies was Mel Brooks, and there was plenty of room in the cinemas for both his and the ZAZ team. Ripe with sight gags and slapstick, “Top Secret!” is a hilarious film. It’s plot isn’t any worse than the films it was sending up, and it manages to actually tell a story rather than string together pop culture references, which is what we see now.
I’ve loved most of what the ZAZ team has put together, going back as far as “Kentucky Fried Movie,” and this 1984 release was one of their best films to date.
DVD features include a commentary by the directors and producers, four alternate scenes, the original theatrical trailer and a storyboard gallery.
I hate to fall into the cliche ranting of a critic, but I saw very little value in “Cheech and Chong Still Smokin’.” However, I did see “Up in Smoke” while I was in college, and while it wasn’t a great movie, it did make me laugh.
By the time Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong got to make “Still Smokin’,” they had fallen into utter complacency. The story follows the comedy team as they travel to the Netherlands where they are mistaken for Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, who were supposed to be attending a film festival in their honor. The plot – if you could call it a plot – follows Cheech and Chong as they fantasize about being famous abroad and cobble together unfunny bits for their live show.
This film is nothing more than an excuse to cobble together some sketches, which range from utterly dull and stupid to mildly titillating due to some nude nubile actresses. The film ends with a sequence from their stand-up comedy show. This is the better part of the film as their live performances at least seemed a little better planned and more rehearsed.
Still, I’d go for their earlier film works, which actually showed some forethought, even it was very low-brow.
Before Eddie Murphy was impaling audiences with comedic poison like “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” and “Meet Dave,” he was still making some really great films. “Coming to America” let him end the 1980s in style (after a minor hiccup from “Best Defense”), and it put him in the spotlight as much as “Trading Places” and “Beverly Hills Cop” did. (Of course, a lot of this help came from director John Landis, who also directed Murphy in “Trading Places.”)
“Coming to America” tells the story of Prince Akeem (Murphy), who has left his kingdom in Africa to find a willing bride in New York City. It’s a standard fish-out-of-water comedy with a rather sweet love story in the background. Along for the ride is Arsenio Hall as his manservant, who makes a splash on the big screen before he made his TV show a hit.
“Coming to America” is very funny and shows Eddie Murphy in his prime. It also gave him a chance to show his acting talent by playing a variety of characters, a skill which since has been overdone with the “Nutty Professor” movies and “Norbit.” Still, with this film being the first time Murphy tried the multi-role schtick, it’s impressive and quite hilarious.
Catch “Coming to America” again on DVD, and you’ll be treated to Murphy’s last good film of the 80s, and his last hit before he revived his career in 1996 with “The Nutty Professor” which led to him becoming a family film name with “Doctor Dolittle” in 1998... but let’s save those for when the studios release their “I Love the 90s” collection in a few years.
Additional recent “I Love the 80s” titles from Paramount include:
Eddie Murphy Raw
The Golden Child
Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
An Officer and a Gentleman
Tucker: The Man and His Dream
U2: Rattle and Hum
Young Sherlock Holmes
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