Michael Nazarewycz is a US-based Writer for UK-based Filmoria. He is also a contributor to LikeTotally80s and CinemaSentries, and he blogs about classic film at ScribeHard On Film. He can be reached via Twitter @ScribeHard.
BAD MOVIES I LOVE
We've all been to restaurants where the food was bad but the waitress was great. We've all had a job where the boss was a monster but the work was rewarding. We've all had a lover who was grating in public but great in … well, let's just say great in the kitchen.
Call it finding a silver lining in a cloud, or making lemonade from lemons, or Ac-Cent-Tchu-At-Ing the positive; whatever it is, it is evidence that we are inclined to find some kind of good in any mostly-negative situation. We know many things in life are bad, so we instinctively want to find anything good in a bad thing. Why should our approach to movies be any different? Why shouldn't we look at something that is, on the whole, less than optimal, and find in it something positive for us?
The answer is we should, and most of us do.
And what makes loving a bad movie for its bright spots better than loving a bad restaurant for its great waitress or a bad boss for their rewarding work or a bad lover for their delicious … omelets … is that without the bright spot, a bad movie cannot hurt us. Take away the waitress, the work, and the eggs, and all you have is pain. Take away the bright spot, and all you have is a movie. And there's never anything wrong with having a movie, no matter how bad it is.
The premise of this film is relatively straightforward. It's a gangster movie. How hard is that? Oh, except the gangsters are children. Really. In fact, everyone in this movie – from the goons to the gun molls to the flappers to the cops – is a child. No kidding. But don't worry. The McSpeakeasies sell no liquor, the cars are operated by pedal-power, and the weapons? Guns that shoot custard; kind of like throwing a pie in someone face, but instead of throwing it, they shoot it. Honest. Could it get any better than that? Of course it could! It's a musical! This is the first movie I remember watching in heavy rotation via a fledgling entertainment delivery mechanism they called "cable," on a fledgling movie-centric channel they called "HBO." Yet for as ridiculous as it is, with its pre-Happy Days Scott Baio and its pre-superstardom Jodie Foster, I loved it from the first frame and I have loved it ever since.
It's easy to look back at the Golden Age of Hollywood and romanticize that all of the movies made back then were good, because so much of what is fed to us today, whether via TCM or Blu-ray releases or rep house screenings, is only the good stuff. But don't be fooled! For every CITIZEN KANE there were dozens of clunkers that the studios churned out in an effort to satisfy the increasing demand for product. A pair of those makes my list because, while they might be bad movies, what's good about them is GREAT. Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives are two films that star Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. You read that right. The films don't just feature the band's music, the band is actually the centerpiece of both films – and they should stick to playing music, not playing pretend. As for the plots, they really don't matter because, like porn, the only purpose the plots serve is to advance us from good part to part. In this case, the good parts are when the orchestra showcases its greatest hits across the two films, and every performance is glorious. And, as an added treat, the famed Nicholas Brothers, along with Dorothy Dandridge, make delightful special appearances.
A gun for hire is … well, hired … to save his old girlfriend from the clutches of an evil no-goodnik. This film has several things wrong with it. Mainly, it tries to be a four-color comic book but it's not colorful enough for that, and it tries to be a film noir yet it's too colorful for that. Also, underachiever Michael Paré is the star; Willem Dafoe is great as the villain, but he isn't in the movie enough; Rick Moranis tries to play tough; Amy Madigan is actually tougher than Rick Moranis (and so is Elizabeth Daily, for that matter); and the final confrontation between Paré and Dafoe is a snoozer. But the film has three things that redeem it. The score is by Ry Cooder, the soundtrack features a lot of catchy numbers, including Dan Hartman's hit "I Can Dream About You," and, most importantly, it stars Diane Lane. Like most teen boys in the 1980s, I fell for a lot of pretty stars, but not as hard as I fell for Diane Lane. She plays the lead singer of Ellen Aim and the Attackers. She is also Paré's kidnapped ex who happens to be involved with Moranis (another head-scratcher). She doesn't sing her own songs, but she doesn't have to. All she has to do is throw that hair around (which she does), keep those lips painted red (which she does), and sell it to the microphone stand (which she does, and then some).
I suddenly realize there is a music-based theme to this list. Light of Day tells the tale of a small-town band fronted by siblings trying to make it to the big time while being judged by each other and their overbearing mother. Oasis: The Movie? Not quite. For starters, the band's name is The Barbusters, which already handicaps their chances of success. The siblings are played by Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox, and this turns out to be the problem with the film. While Jett can rock with the best of them, she also has to act, which she really can't do. And while Fox can act with the best of them, he also has to rock, which he really can't do. And yet. The music really does make the movie, especially the title track, which was written by some fella by the name of Bruce Springsteen. Also helping the film is the casting of Michael McKean as a member of said Barbusters. Oh, and be on the lookout for a young Trent Reznor in the band The Problems.
As a fan of films from Hollywood's Golden Age, I'm always curious when an attempt is made to modernize a classic. In the hands of a skilled screenwriter/director like Nora Ephron, a movie like You've Got Mail works incredibly well as a modern interpretation of The Shop Around the Corner. In the hands of … hmmm … "lesser" … uhhhh … "talent" like screenwriters Chuck Pfarrer and Ilene Chaiken, and director David Hogan, well, an attempt to modernize a just any old classic will come under scrutiny, but an attempt to modernize one of the greatest films ever made, Casablanca, will be impossible to pull off. I give you Exhibit A: Barb Wire. This film is more than just a modernization of the classic Humphrey Bogart film, it's a post-apocalyptic version, with Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson in the Bogie role (!), but running a strip club instead of a gin joint. The comparisons only devolve from there. And yet. Okay. I’ll say it. It's Pamela Anderson. In saucy outfits. And in a bubble-bath. Don’t judge me.
What goes great with ass-kicking? Awesome hair, that's what! One cheesy Patrick Swayze movie, coming up! In this totally pointless yet insanely quotable ("Pain don't hurt.") action-ish flick, Swayze play a Cooler, which is like the middle-management of the bouncer industry. He is hired to middle-manage bouncers into cleaning up the clientele of a dive bar that has aspirations to be not as dive-y as it currently is. He does this with the help of his bromance life-partner (before such a term even existed), the Michael Jordan of Coolers, played by Sam Elliott. Heap on healthy doses of so-called philosophy, and I cannot NOT watch, even if I stumble upon it with five minutes remaining and in its most edited, basic cable rendition.
And now it's time to bring both the music-based theme – and my list – to a close. In the 1980s, Kenny Loggins was considered the king of the movie soundtrack, charting hit records from the films Caddyshack; Footloose; Rocky IV; Top Gun; Over the Top; and Caddyshack II. But all of that work on all of those movies couldn't match the greatness of one soundtrack from one movie by one purple master, Prince. And thank God for that, because when Jerome is the best actor of your cast (and really, all he does is dance around and hold mirrors for Morris Day), you know your movie – about a musician trying to make it to the big time – is in trouble. But the music is more than irresistible; it’s undeniable, with all nine songs worthy of a greatest hits collection, let alone a single soundtrack album. From the opening blasts of "Let's Go Crazy" to the closing anthem of the title track, His Purple Badness doesn't let his art suffer at the hands of his folly.