The Screening Room
i love the 80s
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment has gone into the vaults and produced a series of DVDs under the “I Love the 80s” banner.

These movies are now available on DVD and most (if not all) appear to be the same film to video transfers on prior DVD releases. The difference is that select titles include a CD sampler of 1980s music by Echo & the Bunnymen, Erasure, INXS and a-ha. Oddly, some of the DVDs contain the same exact CD. It would’ve been a better deal had the DVDs contained different CD samplers, but it’s not a deal breaker if you already enjoy the movies.

Most of these titles have been popular video releases for Paramount. Though not all could be deemed as classic movies, some are perennial favorites in my home and perhaps yours.


This is the one that launched the producing team of Simpson/Bruckheimer on the world. It also caused millions of young women to cut up their sweatshirts and wear leg warmers over pants. And it’s the film that put Irene Cara’s song “What A Feelin’” all over the radio. Believe me children, spring 1983 wasn’t for the faint of heart.

The Jennifer Beals welder-by-day, sexy club dancer-by-night movie, based on a script by Joel Eszterhas & Thomas Hedley, Jr., was a sensation. Essentially taking the idea of a dreamer living in the real rough world, and taking her to the top, is the same plot as Paramount’s other hit, “Saturday Night Fever” (1977).

Director Adrian Lyne, who would direct the far more superior “Fatal Attraction,” is more in tune with directing a visual style than directing a good movie. He favored zoom lenses on many of the scenes and roving camerawork, lending the movie a distant feeling. The acting is okay and fits in with the shallow script. I know a lot of girls in my junior high school loved this movie, and many probably asked their parents for the VHS copy of it.

The movie was totally meant for the early MTV generation with flashy camerawork, minimal storyline, smoky atmospheres, and quick editing (for the era). There were some complaints from old time dancers like Gene Kelly who didn’t care for the performer’s dance routine. Looking back on “Flashdance,” it’s a little hard seeing what Kelly saw. In many of his movies, most dance routines were done in full shot and done by the actor’s themselves. The takes were usually longer to allow the audience to see the dancing.  Much of Jennifer Beals’s dances were clearly done by a body double. Just look at that wig! The editing cuts between her real face, possibly her feet, and the body double’s dance moves. It’s movie trickery which had been around since Gene Kelly’s day. Yet I can see what Mr. Kelly was upset about. It was better and more authentic to see real actors dance, and see how they were dancing. 

The movie is really mostly flash and dance with very little substance. A couple of the songs still hold up reasonably well. Michael Sembelo’s “Maniac” and “What A Feeling” by Irene Cara are guilty pleasures. As a whole, “Flashdance” is only mediocre.


Cheech & Chong certainly appealed to the 13 year-old in me growing up. One of my favorite albums was “Cheech & Chong’s Greatest Hit.” I got a lot of laughs out of that. I’m not sure they quite appeal to the adult in me, even though I now understand the drug and adult references.

“Still Smokin” is steeped in the late-70s, even though it was released in 1983. The plot takes Cheech & Chong to Amsterdam where they partake in that city’s loose drug and sex laws. The film is entirely bawdy and sometimes offensive, and that’s not a bad thing. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the movie all that funny. Many of the jokes fall flat and occasionally drag.

Both Cheech and Chong were great comedians, but this film doesn’t quite live up to their best material. There’s not much of a plot and most of the movie is based on skits, or their stand-up routine filmed in front of a live audience.

TOP SECRET! (1984)

When “Top Secret!” came out in 1984, it was greeted with indifference by audiences and critics. Coming from the creators of “Airplane!” and the too quickly cancelled “Police Squad!” it seemed like this spoof on spy movies would clean up at the box office. Instead, it flopped and crawled onto home video. Which is a stinkin’ shame! This has been one of my all-time guilty pleasure movies, and it deserves to be on the shelf next to the other classic comedies.

The film, I think, failed with audiences because its plot is purposely all over the map. It combines Elvis movies, surf movies, bumbling neo-Nazis, James Bond, westerns, “The Great Escape,” a Pinto car, butchering of the French language, East German women, jokes about small horses, and cows who wear boots into one movie. How can that not be funny? David & Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams were brilliant comic writers and directors and they knew how to make jokes work. It’s too bad the film was lost on audiences.

I’m not sure how the film has done on video since the 1980s, but Paramount has consistently re-released it. I imagine it’s got a following. I know I still laugh pretty hard when the opening sequence starts with the music, “Skeet Surfing.”

Val Kilmer, who drifted into serious roles since then, is truly a gifted comic performer in “Top Secret!” He plays the role seriously enough, but lets his guard down often during the movie to show us he’s having a great time.

The movie is absurdly funny. Mike Myers cleaned up at the box office with his spy spoofs in “Austin Powers.” But “Top Secret!” beat it to the punch and it holds up very well today.


Most of my peers during high school and long after graduation loved Eddie Murphy. Their dads had bootleg video copies of his raunchy stand-up act, and they could recite his jokes verbatim. Always the outcast, I didn’t care much for Murphy and his act. I mean, he was all right funny, but not “ha ha” funny to me. I thought his vulgarity and over confident personality got in the way of some of his jokes. I’m sure he meant it that way. That’s not to say he wasn’t talented. He was and still is talented when he chooses a good role. His act just wasn’t my cup of tea.

After his stint on “Saturday Night Live” and starring roles in “48 Hours” and “Beverly Hills Cop,” Murphy was the toast of the movie business. He could pick any role, including one in “The Golden Child,” and still make people buy movie tickets.

By 1988, I’d been tired of the whole Eddie Murphy act, especially after seeing “Beverly Hills Cop II.” Once “Coming to America” came out, I had no desire to see it. It seemed like everyone else liked Eddie Murphy movies, that didn’t mean I had to.

I had only seen bits-and-pieces of the movie over the years. The opening of the movie in Africa is what I predicted; slow and filled with vulgar Eddie Murphy humor. Typical Murphy, I said to myself. I finally sat down and watched it all the way through, and admittedly, saw the charm in “Coming to America.”

Art Buchwald not withstanding, the plot about an African prince who desires to find a bride in America works. Both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall play multiple roles and do a credible job. Some of the jokes are a little offensive, but Murphy was very sly in the stereotypes he ridiculed.

The movie is also fairly sweet like a modern day fairy tale, only this time, it’s the prince who finds his true love. I think the movie could have worked as a PG or PG-13 movie. The vulgarity and occasional sex jokes take away from the genuine romantic plot.  

The film was directed by John Landis.


The first real date my wife and I went on when were single was to see “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” I had fond memories of the much too short-lived television series from the creators of “Airplane!” The movie, I thought, would be funny. Very, very funny.

The movie was indeed hilarious, and laughed so hard that tears came out. I looked over to my date, not thinking she’d eventually become my wife, and wondered why she wasn’t laughing. The whole audience that night was in stitches, as was I. She wasn’t batting an eyelash. No snicker. No “ha-ha.” Nothin.’ I wondered what was wrong with her.


We walked out of the theater and I asked why she didn’t laugh.

“That was stupid,” she said.

Stupid? The whole theater was busting a gut.

“I don’t understand why you didn’t like it. It was just like ‘Airplane!” I said.

“I hated ‘Airplane!”

Clearly our tastes in movies were different. Her favorite movie at that time, she told me, was a clunker called “Two Moon Junction.” Not that “The Naked Gun” was an artistic statement, but come on!

Despite my future wife’s disdain for the movie, and the fact that O.J. Simpson is in it, I love this movie. As “Top Gun!” was a spoof to all things, “The Naked Gun” focused on the absurd drama of television cop shows. Most of them took themselves much too seriously and became perfect for mockery.

Leslie Nielson, as Lt. Frank Drebin, is perfectly cast. With jokes hitting about every five seconds, Nielson handles them with such a straight face, one can imagine the cast and crew cracking up after each take. The cast goes against type with George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley and Ricardo Montaban. They make for some additional gut-wrenching laughs, as well. And who could forget Reggie Jackson as a killer? Or the fact that the California Angels play their game at Dodger Stadium?

A truly inspired classic comedy. How could anyone, including my soon-to-be wife, not laugh at a line like, “Nice beaver?” 

Bill Kallay

Special thanks to Click Communications

Photos: © Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
DVD Quick Glimpse
flashdancecc still smokintop secret
coming to americathe naked gun


Classic and mediocre movies from the 1980s

Director: Adrian Lyne ("Flashdance")
Thomas Chong ("Cheech & Chong Still Smokin'")
David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams ("Top Secret!" and "The Naked Gun")
John Landis ("Coming to America")  

Cast: Jennifer Beals, Thomas Chong, Cheech Marin, Leslie Neilson, Eddie Murphy 

Some trailers and 1980s music CD on select titles

PG, PG-13 and R

Picture: Good
Sound: Good

Fun movies from my youth and maybe yours, too

Aspect Ratio (1.85:1) and (2.39:1 on "Coming to America")

Dolby Digital 5.1

February 3, 2009
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