“Secret Admirer”- Possibly one of the Oddest Teen movies of the 80’s?

Greetings and salutations, everyone! My apologies for my prolonged absence from this blog. I hope to remedy this problem with my next selection of reviews in the foreseeable future, so please stay tuned for more 80’s content!

I have seen my far share of corny movies in my time. Some can be charming in their ridiculousness.However, some can seem to  have all the makings of a typical 80’s teen romp, yet attempt to do do more than its material knows what to do with. This brings us to today’s subject: “Secret Admirer” (1985). The plot synopsis appears to be rather straightforward at first glance, but as the movie progresses, you’ll find that it’s anything but simple!

The Plot in a Nutshell: Michael Ryan (C. Thomas Howell) is your standard 80’s high school student who is infatuated with the blonde, seemingly unattainable Deborah Anne Fimple (Kelly Preston), while his brunette platonic friend Toni (Lori Loughlin) harbors a covert crush on him from afar. When Michael receives an anonymous letter in his locker, his buddy Roger (Casey Siemaszko) convinces Michael that Deborah Anne is the sender, despite her already having a college boyfriend in Steve (Scott McGinnis). He decides to reciprocate by sending Debbie a letter of his own. However, he proves to be less than a skilled writer, so Toni secretly doctors it before delivering it to Debbie, who instantly becomes smitten with Michael.

At this point, you’d think you know what to expect from a movie in this genre, right? Well, not so with this one! You see, the love letter ends up in a bag belonging to Michael’s father, George (Cliff DeYoung), who is taking a night school business class from Debbie’s mother Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor Young ). Naturally, George mistakenly thinks that the letter is from Elizabeth, and they engage in one of those comedic tropes I’ve always loathed, in which two characters talk about two completely different things, but somehow think that they’re discussing the same subject, which is typically laden with a string of sexual innuendos. It would be easier if they could just figure out the misunderstanding and sort it out, but then we wouldn’t have “hysterical” shenanigans!

Meanwhile, Debbie and Michael start to date and hit it off, much to Toni’s jealousy. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Debbie’s tough police officer father, Lou (Fred Ward) uncovers the letter in his wife’s purse, where Debbie had previously hidden it, and suspecting the worst, seeks out the help of George’s wife Connie (Dee Wallace Stone) in order to catch out their offending partners in the act. How’s this one going to pan out?

Actor/Character Observations: Lori Loughlin, as Toni, delivers possibly one of the more rounded performances in this picture, and is likable enough that you want to see her get the guy. C. Thomas Howell is credible enough in this movie, although wooden in places, and Kelly Preston is convincing enough for the most part as the stereotypical blonde popular girl. The adult actors do try to make the material they have to work with plausible, but it comes off as being preposterous.

My Favourite Scene(s) in “Secret Admirer”: Although many scenes in this movie are way too outlandish and over the top to take seriously, especially those between the adults, there are a few genuine, tender moments between the teenagers, especially the conversations between Michael and Toni, which compensates slightly for the more hammy and forced hiumours involving the adults. The actors have just the right amount of chemistry together which makes it seem believable that they could be close friends.

My Least Favourite Scene(s) in “Secret Admirer”: One scene which made me cringe, in addition to the aforementioned “double meaning conversation scene”,  was a confrontation between the parents late in the movie, where a tense meeting during a card game gradually segues into a full scale brawl between Lou and George,  culminating in tables being overturned and food splattering everywhere, which is obviously designed to be funny, but mostly comes off as being awkward and try hard. In general, many of the parent’s scenes feels as though it belongs in a separate  movie involving cheating spouses and adultery, and not as a side plot to a light-hearted teen comedy.

Actors Before They were Famous: A few years after this movie, Lori Loughlin got her big break from portraying Aunt Becky in “Full House”, which incidentically had an episode play out like the plot of this movie. The late Cory Haim appears in a bit part as Michael’s bratty kid brother, Jeff, who by stealing the letter, sends most of the plot into motion. Finally, Casey Siemaszko would pop up in “Back to the Future”, which was released a month after “Secret Admirer”, as one of Biff’s cronies.

Ratings and Recommendations: I award “Secret Admirer” a total of 2 out of 5 stars. While it’s generally an inoffensive, harmless teen movie, some of the characters aren’t that likable or relatable, with the exception of Toni, and many scenes just feel gratuitous, as though they’re present merely to increase the movie’s running time. Even though I gave “Can’t Buy Me Love”(1987) some flack for being too formulaic when I critiqued it, at least I can give it some credit for knowing what kind of story it wanted to tell.

In my opinion, “Secret Admirer” might have been better off if it had focused solely on the teenagers and their romantic entanglements, and not so much on the parents. I may not have enjoyed this movie to the same extent as other teen movies, and while it certainly isn’t the most memorable, you’ll enjoy the sheer ridiculousness of it all if you don’t analyse it too much. Until next time!

Rio isn’t to blame for Misguided “Comedy”

Those of you who who are familiar with my blog may remember my review on the 1983 movie “Flashdance”, around this time last year. It was a mediocre movie at best, not the worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely far from being my most spectacular movie experience. As I detailed in that review, I was irritated by the characters, the plot and the whole implausibility of the premise. I was convinced that, at the time, I wouldn’t find need to review another  movie which annoyed me to the same extent as that one did.

Alas, I was sadly mistaken, as I came across one such film-  1984’s “Blame it on Rio”, starring British actor and Oscar Winner Michael Caine. I was hoping that due to Caine being a part of the cast, and with Hollywood starlet Demi Moore in her first movie role, that it would add an appeal to it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, as will be explained.

The Plot in a Nutshell: Matthew (Caine) and Victor (Joseph Bologna) are best friends and businessmen who operate multiple hotels in several areas. Each has a teenage daughter- Nikki (Moore) for Matthew, and Jennifer (newcomer Michelle Johnson) for Victor. Victor is going through a rough divorce. Matthew’s own marriage isn’t faring any better, which he isn’t aware of until his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) informs him that she intends to boycott their intended holiday to Rio de Janeiro, and take a separate vacation by herself “to think things over”. This prompts Matthew and Victor to take the journey to Brazil with Nikki and Jennifer.

While there, Jennifer seduces Matthew, and in a moment of weakness, they have sex right there on the beach. The following morning, Jennifer attempts to resume their tryst where they left off, much to Matthew’s reluctance and insistence that it was a once off situation. This doesn’t thwart Jennifer, and she goes as far as to publicly bombard him with racy Polarids of herself. In the meantime, Victor suspects that Jennifer has a new beau, and enlists Matthew’s assistance in uncovering his identity.

Actor/Character Observations: In my opinion, none of the actors appear to be comfortable in their roles. Even Michael Caine doesn’t seem to surpass the material long enough, despite the fact that he’s a very talented actor. Johnson does what she can with the material, in her first leading role, even though she was 17 at the time. This makes her romance with Caine’s character all the more icky, as he was in his 40’s. Nikki isn’t given much to do, save for a scene where she passive aggressively ignores Matthew after witnessing him kiss Jennifer, but that’s the extent of it. Joseph Bologna didn’t really convince me as his character , but he has some comic timing with Caine.

But out of all of these characters, none of them made me more angry than Karen did. Once Matthew inevitably comes clean about his fling with Jennifer, she has the gall to be livid with him, when ( as we eventually learn), she hasn’t exactly been faithful herself. And nobody, not even Matthew, points out that if she hadn’t been so aloof with him in the first place, then he might’t have been so easily tempted by a teenage girl. Yet all blame is directed at Matthew (and to a lesser extent, Jennifer), leaving Karen to escape all retribution for her actions.

Favourite Scene(s) in “Blame it on Rio”: The only time I laughed at all during this movie was during the scene where Victor is poring through Jennifer’s diary in vain to uncover her new partner’s identity. When he reads that he has “lovely blue eyes”, Matthew instantly dons a pair of sunglasses to cover up his eyes. However, my laugh was a half-hearted one, as I felt that the whole situation, despite it being largely played for laughs, was still rather creepy and inappropriate.

Least Favourite Scene(s) in “Blame it on Rio”: It’s hard to pick just one scene that I utterly despised in a movie which seemed to be crammed with unpleasant moments. But the one that takes the cake for me was when Matthew and Victor are forced to share a bed together whilst bickering. Again, it’s played to generate laughs, but the whole subject matter just didn’t seem funny to me in the slightest.

My Take on “Blame it on Rio”: In my opinion, “Blame it on Rio” had the potential to be a memorable movie, but unfortunately the plot doesn’t quite payoff as expected. None of the characters, except Matthew, garnered my sympathy at all, and the entire plot was milking a serious situation for laughs. Towards the end, I never got the impression that any of the characters had learned anything from their exploits, and that they would be likely to slip into their old habits again.

Ratings and Recommendations: I award “Blame it on Rio” with two stars out of five. It just wasn’t riveting enough to capture my attention. As always, if any of you like this movie, that’s dandy, but it just wasn’t to my taste. I wouldn’t recommend “Blame it on Rio” to anyone in particular. If you’re looking for a Michael Caine film to view, I’d redirect you to “The Italian Job” (1967) or Caine’s Oscar winning turn in “Hannah and her Sisters”, the latter which features Caine as a more sympathetic character.

 

 

 

Enter the Labyrinth this Autumn…

One movie I always make sure to watch each Autumn is “Labyrinth”. The reasons for this could be because of it being one of the movies where we can see acclaimed puppeteer Jim Henson’s creations come to life, or watch future Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly delve in an extraordinary fantasy land beyond her wildest dreams. However, I’m going to go for the reason that most of you likely saw the movie was either because of David Bowie and his… ahem, rather tight pants, as well as seeing the Starman himself in a villianous role in a kid’s movie.

The story centres around Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a creative, if self-centred teenage girl, who is furious at her dad for remarrying so soon following her parents’s collapse of marriage and subsequent divorce. Sarah bides her time by seeking refuge in her own universe of fantasy. She despises her infant half-brother, Toby (Toby Froud), whom she blames many of her current problems on . This leads to her making a wish out of spite that the goblins from her favourite story would seize Toby and carry him away.

As misfortune would have it, her prays are answered by in the worst possible way, when Toby is captured by the Goblin King, Jareth (David Bowie). Sarah is assigned thirteen hours to reclaim Toby, or else he’ll be turned into a goblin for eternity. Along the way, she meets up with the dwarfish Hoggle (Brian Henson), who is double crossing her by secretly working for Jareth, as well as magnificent beast Ludo (Ron Mueck). Will Sarah manage to use her imagination to defeat Jareth and save Toby?

“Labyrinth” is one of those flicks where the setting of the movie is stunning to look at. Even though you know that’s it’s all a lavishly designed set when watching as an adult, as a kid, it’s perhaps the most magical kingdom you’ve seen. Likewise, the puppets still have the power to affect me with awe and astonishment, even years after I initially viewed this flick.

David Bowie, surprisingly enough for a non actor, really suits the role of the hammy, evil Goblin King. Yes, his performance borders on being campy and over the top at times, but to me, it’s all part of the movie’s charm. Jennifer Connelly is a fine actress, and although she’s been accused of showing little to no emotion at times in this movie, I feel as though she pulled off a convincing enough performance, especially given that she was only 15 years old when it was released.

If this movie has a weak point, I’d say it’s towards the end of the film, where certain scenes drag on, and don’t seem to go anywhere, in particular Bowie’s song and dance number (though I admit it’s fairly catchy).

I rate “Labyrinth” a total of 4 out of 5 stars. I recommend it to kids aged eights and up, seeing how it’s a fantasy adventure filled with vivid, exquisite imagery. On the other hand, I was dissuade very young children from watching, as they may be alarmed by the various creatures and suspenseful scenes depicted in this movie. Happy viewing!

Update: Upon hearing of David Bowie’s tragic passing on January 10th, 2016, “Labyrinth” is now tinged with sadness. I’d still recommend watching this movie, if only to see Bowie in his most notable film role. Rest in Peace, Starman in the Sky!

“Teen Witch” is not the Finest Hour for Witchcraft

Resuming my reviews of 80’s movies which are fantasy or thrillers, I am going to take you back to 1989’s corny movie, “Teen Witch”. You may have heard of the flick through the popular web video vlogger, “Nostalgia Chick”, when she reviewed it way back in 2008. The video inspired me to check it out for myself. And boy, was I in for quite a ridiculous, if entertaining watch!

“Teen Witch” was made to cash in on the success of the 1985 Michael J. Fox comedy “Teen Wolf”. However, it mostly catered towards boys. The solution for a more female orientated version? Make the female lead a witch. It concerns Louise Miller (Robyn Lively, sister of “Gossip Girl” actress Blake Lively), a dorky 15 year old girl who pines after star athlete, Brad (Dan Gauthier),but he’s oblivious to her existence, and is happily dating the perky Randa (Lisa Fuller). If that wasn’t bad enough, her sadistic English teacher Mr Weaver (Shelley Berman) continually harasses her on a regular basis in front of the entire class.

The week before she turns 16,  she has a chance meeting with psychic Madame Serena (Zelda Rubinstein), who reveals that Louise is one of the descendants of the Salem witches,and will inherit her powers on her 16th birthday. Louise’s powers enable her to exact revenge on her tormentors, make her nerdy date David disappear (who, despite being seen as less desirable than Brad, actually reminds me of a retro Buddy Holly), and turn her annoying kid brother (Joshua John Miller) into a dog, with water reversing these spells.

As Louise’s powers manifest, she uses them to make herself popular at school, and Brad eventually falls victim to her charms, so to speak. But her new found popularity causes friction with her best friend Polly (Mandy Ingber)…

“Teen Witch” is a movie more renowned for its mediocrity than its credibility. In fact, most of you who have been brave enough to watch the movie the entire way through might only remember the cheerleaders prancing around the locker room to a “new cheer” and declaring that they “like boys”, which seemed to be a thing in the 80’s. The boys in this flick aren’t immune to spontaneous dances either, as a trio of wannabe rapper guys periodically strut around the school corridors, with nobody appearing to bat an eyelid at how random this spectacle is. They come to fruition again when Polly faces off against their leader, Rhett (Noah Blake), thanks to Louise’s confidence boosting powers.

My general consensus of this flick is that it’s watchable enough, as long as you don’t take it  too seriously. Although I may mock it every time I see it, “Teen Witch” remains one of my all time favourite Halloween viewing movies. For that reason, it receives a score of 2 and a half stars from me. Top that!