Heathers (1988)

Heathers (1989) movie poster

director  Michael Lehmann
viewed: 01/27/2018

This viewing of Heathers was for my teenage daughter. This was to give some context of Winona Ryder for my little millennial, who was primarily familiar with her from Netflix’s Stranger Things. We’d watched Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorshands, but that was some time back. It seemed that watching Heathers would explain a lot more about Winona Ryder than anything I could come up with.

Of course, my daughter told me that though she had never “seen” Heathers, that she was very familiar with it. After watching the 1988 movie, I was treated to  a variety of Heathers the Musical animatic YouTube videos.

Apparently the levels of meta-Heathers at which we’ve arrived is a little mind-boggling to those of us who didn’t come of age in this current century. There is a re-boot coming. There is also apparently a TV show coming?

Before you roll your eyes too hard at this inescapable modernity crisis, keep in mind that we all still have Heathers, the original and Winona Ryder, too. And that was always a wonderful thing in the first place, here 30 years out.

I also noted to my daughter that I once attended a lecture by Timothy Leary, who was Winona’s godfather, with half the goal to see if I could get her phone number.

I was also friends with the band The Wynona Riders. I wish I still had that t-shirt.

My daughter liked the movie a lot. Still really digs the animatic videos too.

The Wraith (1986)

The Wraith (1986) movie poster

director Mike Marvin
viewed: 12/16/2017

I think I’ve found the inspiration for every episode of Regular Show. Creator J. G. Quintel’s entire aesthetic is based on the 1980’s: pumpin’ hair rock numbers, supernatural or extraterrestrial intrigue, and cars. While there are doubtless many such touchpoints, 1986’s The Wraith has it all in spades.

Kicking off with an awesome opening of celestial lights zooming across the the high desert cactus-studded night, it almost seems like The Wraith is going to be good stuff. When all that culminates into a motorcycle-helmeted figure and fantasy racing car, I guess unless you’re J.G. Quintel, you’re going to wind up disappointed.

It’s got an interesting cast. Two of Hollywood’s now insane tweakers, Charlie Sheen and Randy Quaid appear, the latter a decent actor. There’s also Nick Cassavetes and Sherilyn Fenn, but the best performance is by Clint Howard’s hair.

While it’s definitely not great, I liked aspects of The Wraith. The specificity of its locations, the desert roads, the burger shop, the swimming hole, the airplane graveyard, all offer a character to the enterprise. I could imagine someone who saw this at a certain point in their life finding it to be their favorite movie (I’m looking at you, J.G. Quintel!!!)

For the rest of us? Who knows?

Rumble Fish (1983)

Rumble Fish (1983) movie poster

director Francis Ford Coppola
viewed: 04/29/2017

Francis Ford Coppola’s artsy, avant-garde approach to an S.E. Hinton novel gets the Criterion treatment. And fair enough. For the Hollywood mainstream, this was avant-garde in 1983.

A beautifully stylized aesthetic runs over every frame of Rumble Fish, which Coppola made on the heels of a more conventional take on S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (also 1983). Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and Coppola channel Orson Welles, Expressionism, and aspects of European cinema of the 1950’s and 1960’s, turning Tulsa, OK into abstracts and back again into storefronts, alleys, and dirty back roads.

This is a teen film, but so set-back and removed that it’s an aesthetic experience before anything else. And it’s gorgeous.

Mickey Rourke, right off Diner (1982), and as fresh-faced as you can imagine, is Motorcycle Boy, older brother and legend in younger brother Matt Dillon’s mind. While all Dillon can think of is fighting and becoming his own minor league legend, Rourke’s Motorcycle Boy is somehow already broken inside after a trip to California, seeing the mother that abandoned them, and winding up in a magazine. What tortures Motorcycle Boy is never really fully named, though the metaphorical colored fish that he tries to dump in the river are a clear and colorful metaphor.

I watched this with my 13 year old daughter, who found it a bit confusing, but like it.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

The Edge of Seventeen (2016) movie poster

director  Kelly Fremon Craig
viewed: 04/01/2017

My relationship with teen movies is currently in evolution. I now have two teenagers, a 13 year old and a 15 year old. We watch a lot of movies together with quite a wide range of subject matter, style, period, and appropriateness. I’d heard some decent things about The Edge of Seventeen and thought what the heck, let’s watch it.

Teen movies, of course, are not typically made by teens but by adults either channeling their own experience and identification with those years or attempting to capture a representative zeitgeist of the present. Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig falls into the latter category here because this is a present day world for lead teen Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) who weirdly isn’t on “the edge of seventeen” but is already seventeen in the film.

She’s a social outsider with one good friend (Krista, played by Haley Lu Richardson) who falls for her brother, hunk Darian (Blake Jenner), throwing Nadine’s world into tumult. She’s only got a friendly teacher played by Woody Harrelson to complain to.

Frankly, I didn’t think the film worked all that well. The last teen film that I saw that really impressed me, Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) kept coming to mind, which felt more authentic somehow.

My kids, though, both liked it. So, who knows?

Teenage Zombies (1960)

Teenage Zombies (1960) movie poster

director Jerry Warren
viewed: 10/27/2016

It’s not actually all that unusual when a movie poster is better than the movie it’s meant to promote.  Albert Kallis crafted a lot of classic images for Roger Corman productions that could never hope to live up to their gorgeous promotional materials.

The poster of Teenage Zombies doesn’t begin to achieve the qualities of an Albert Kallis.  Far from it, it’s almost comically crap itself, with its buxom cutie in the clutch (one-handed clutch) of a seriously fanged gorilla.  And yet, this poster is still way, way more entertaining and funny than the movie that it was crafted to promote.

“Young Pawns Thrust Into Pulsating Cages of Horror in a Sadistic Experiment!”  Do you want to parse that phrasing?  “Thrust” into “Pulsating Cages”? Wait, what? of “Horror” in a “Sadistic Experiment”  There is a lot of titillation in those words, even more than down the “Young Pawn’s” open shirt front.

The movie?  It’s 70 some odd minutes of teens falling into the figurative clutches of an evil female scientist who has developed a mind-control device to turn humanity into “zombies”.  And she tested it on a gorilla, too.

Yes, it’s very bad.  In a somewhat pleasing if also tedious and boring way.

The poster is much better.

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989) movie poster

director Michael A. Simpson
viewed: 10/14/2016

Shot on the heels of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988), Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland does what none of the other films in this series did, bring back star of the previous film in a recurring role.  Not only does Pamela Springsteen return as Angela Baker, serial killer of the series, but the film was also shot at the same location as Sleepaway Camp II.

Continuity is a thing for some film series.  For others, it doesn’t mean squat.  And for the Sleepaway Camp series, even here with the same star, writer and director, it’s given relatively short shrift.

Because by Teenage Wasteland, Angela has shed any aspect of her transgendered self.  Virtually (maybe even explicitly) nothing is said about the most notable and radical thing about the original Sleepaway Camp (1983), leaving us with crazy, cheerful Angela creatively offing all of the folks at the camp.

Even so, the film is quite a bit of an improvement on Sleepaway Camp II.  It’s silly to the nearly intentionally comedic level, but smilingly so, and it moves along at a good clip.

The opening sequence, in which Angela tracks down a camper, runs her over with a truck and then composts her body, all to take her identity, is bizarre and ridiculous.  That she’s able to pull all this off after the prior killings at the same camp only months before with no one recognizing her is about all you need to know about the film’s logic or commitment to reality.

And that’s pretty well fine.

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984)

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984) DVD/VHS cover

director David Markey
viewed: 07/18/2016

Taking DIY  from punk rock to celluloid was a bit more obscure an effort in 1984.  David Markey’s Desperate Teenage Lovedolls was virtually guaranteed cult status.  The film’s connections in the LA punk scene center around Steve and Jeff McDonald of Redd Kross, who star alongside Jennifer Schwartz, Hilary Rubens, Janet Housden, and Kim Pilkington is gloriously shabby 8mm.

It’s less punk than really gutter rock’n’roll, the lifestyles of tough street kids throwing together a band and riding LA’s tawdry tickets to fame with bouts of sexual exploitation, drugs, beer, and music.

Schwartz co-wrote the film with director David Markey and its notoriety inspired a sequel two years later, Lovedolls Supserstar which allowed for some moderate upgrades in musics, production values, and other elements.

But what gives Desperate Teenage Lovedolls its value is its pure DIY nature and attitude.

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976) movie poster

director Brian De Palma
viewed: 06/12/2016

This movie is pretty amazing.  Brian De Palma’s best?

Sissy Spacek is fantastic as the shrinking violet outcast turned avenging angel.  The whole cast is great really and what a cast: Piper Laurie of course, Nancy Allen, Travolta, Amy Irving, William Katt, P.J. Soles,…and Edie McClurg!  Edie McClurg as a teenager!

Say what you will about De Palma’s derivative aesthetics but Jesus, it’s a beautiful movie, from the tracking shots, the split screen, that spinning dance number, the gloriously colorful prom pre-destruction, it’s tremendously gorgeous.  And the loose and pre-P.C. portrayal of the nastiness of high schoolers.

At 40, it’s as good as ever.

I watched it this time with my daughter, who watched part of the 2013 re-make and was interested.  Talking about the differences, explaining how long ago this version was made, she commented how nobody had cellphones.


Bring It On (2000)

Bring It On (2000) movie poster

director Peyton Reed
viewed: 06/04/2016

My 12 year old daughter and I have developed a new measurement of her interest in a movie that we watch together on television: how many times she asks how much longer the film has to go.  The ultimate sign of interest is when she doesn’t ask at all.

So, when I asked her how she enjoyed the 2000 cheerleading competition teen flick Bring It On, she referenced that scale and noted that she not once inquired into the “are we there yet?” of movie-watching.

Director Peyton Reed’s theatrical debut was a bit of a surprise back in 2000 for me, too.  A friend of mine, known for off-the-wall but reliable recommendations, said it was great, and against my instincts, I watched it, enjoyed it, and was duly impressed.  Sports movies aren’t really a genre I enjoy overly, and really Bring It On is a sports movie, a comedy about competition, even if that competition is a so typically derided form as in cheerleading.

Kirsten Dunst is the star and brings it, and co-stars Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, and Gabrielle Union all bring it as well.  And Peyton Reed keeps it peppy and fresh, clipping along, boosted by the cheer scenes and dance performances, both mocking and respectful, a coy tone of irony and self-awareness but keeping enough earnest heart that the story stays true.

The twist of having the largely white lead team guilty of pilfering cheers and numbers from a largely African-American inner city squad was innovative, a referential nod at all the times that white culture has appropriated black culture.  The film plays with aspects of progressiveness though deeper critiques are probably dubious.  It would have been nice to see more of the East Compton crew on screen.

I’d say this holds up “okay”.  I remember thinking it was pretty fun back in the day.  I guess it’s still “pretty fun”. But I qualify that more than before.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Sixteen Candles (1984) movie poster

director John Hughes
viewed: 05/13/2016

Sixteen Candles may be the same movie that I saw in 1984 and which I long thought to be the funniest of John Hughes’s films, but it’s also a very different movie than it was when it came out.  The upshot, I suppose, is that the movie itself is still the same, but the world has changed and I personally have changed, so that this teen comedy has shifted dramatically in my estimation.

I kind of knew this was coming.  Though I fondly remembered the movie from the Eighties as the funnier and more fun sibling of Hughes’s The Breakfast Club (1985), I had read some modern responses to the film’s glaring racial stereotype of Long Duk Dong (played by Gedde Watanabe) and creepy “date rape” jokes.  Watanabe’s portrayal is considered one of the most heinous Asian stereotypes ever imprinted on film, and his character has a good deal of screentime.

I warned my kids about this before we watched the movie.  I’d actually thought it was one that they would like and have had it on the back burner for a number of years.

The fact is that the film has a lot of cringe-worthy elements.  I found myself cringing far more than laughing.

On the positive side, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall in particular, are terrific.  Hall is hilarious as the spastic prince of the nerds, Farmer Ted.  He’s by far the best thing about the movie.  And Ringwald, she really was an archetype of the times, a little prissy, but sympathetic and charming.

Hughes these days equates to a nostalgia of the 1980’s.  His name is synonymous with the teen films of that time and stands out in that crowd for his particular brand of pop Americana.  I guess it’s not too ironic that these films also belie themselves in their problematic representations, depicting a culture and attitudes that reveal some very unlikable truths.