Two weeks ago, I started work on an alphabetical look at 80s movies, both well-known and off the beaten path. That series of articles continues today with a look at titles beginning with the letter B. As with the first article in this series, you'll get trailers and posters for the 19 movies covered in this article, as well as my thoughts on the films and how they've impacted my own life.
We start off with 1987's Back To The Beach, an affectionate parody of the Beach Party movies of the 60s, especially those starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, who return for this movie.
This movie tells the story of how The Big Kahuna (Frankie Avalon, who couldn't be called Frankie for legal reasons) and Annette rediscover happiness in their lives when they visit their daughter (Lori Loughlin) in California while en route to a Hawaiian vacation. I know the plot sounds somewhat dramatic, but it's not a heavy movie at all. The message I got from this movie is that sometimes you can go home again.
I first saw Back To The Beach on one of the Encore multiplex channels in the 2002-2003 time period, and I was delighted by what I saw. The music was fantastic, the jokes were funny, and I loved the entire feel of the picture. Back To The Beach is a movie that made me wonder if I could ever return to the happiness I felt before my dad passed away. I would eventually find that happiness again, but it took almost a decade to do so.
A few years ago, I became friends with Linda Carol, who played Bridgette in Back To The Beach, and when I had the great pleasure of interviewing her last year for Pop Geeks, I asked her about this movie, and she had some great stories to share about it.
Check it out after you're done with this article: The Flashback Interview: Linda Carol
Moving along, we now come to Back To The Future, the classic film about Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), the Hill Valley teenager from 1985 whose friend Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), a mad inventor, has created a time machine out of a DeLorean. An attempt to escape terrorists who Doc Brown tricked sends Marty back to 1955, leading to chaos that could mean the end of his and his family's existences.
What can be said about this movie that hasn't already been said by writers of greater experience and history than I? All I can do is offer my own take on when I first saw this movie. I rented it from a local video store as a young child, and it was love at first sight. The story the movie told was fascinating, and I would return to it again and again over the years. The movie's message about how you can change things for the better resonated with me, although the resonance was hidden inside for many years. The film's last line, "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!" promised something hopeful and exciting on the horizon.
This movie made such an impact on me that I would later befriend two of the movie's cast members on Facebook, Claudia Wells (the original Jennifer Parker) and J.J Cohen (Skinhead). I would later go on to interview J.J for Pop Geeks in one of the first epic interviews I ever did for the site. There's so much more to J.J than Back To The Future, though, and you'll see that when you read the interview.
Here's the link to my J.J Cohen interview for after you're done reading this article:
The third movie on this list is also the third movie whose title begins with the word Back. It's 1986's Back To School, the story of clothing magnate Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) who, when he hears his son Jason (Keith Gordon) is considering dropping out of college, becomes a student himself, first to inspire his child and then to achieve what he couldn't do initially despite his great success, which is graduate college himself.
If you'll recall my writings about The Allnighter in my first 80s move sampler, college was a rough experience for me, leading me to drop out after a month-and-a-half. Although I've achieved my own form of success without college, I often have dreams of going back to school myself. I really don't have any interest in doing so in my waking life, but the thought still lingers in my dreams. This movie is something of a fantasy, but what great fun it is. I really loved Rodney Dangerfield's work in this movie, especially his interpretation of a classic Dylan Thomas poem with an interpretation only Rodney, or at least his writers, could've given it:
Back To School solidified me as a Rodney Dangerfield fan. I found, and still find him to be, a fantastic comedic talent. I even tried taking his self-deprecating style of humor and applying it to my own life, but nobody found it funny. They either tried to boost me up, or they joined in the deprecation as well, and in the case of my mother, she alternated between the two. One time I insulted myself, and then she insulted me as well. I tried calling her on it, and she said, "If you can insult yourself, why can't I?". Well, because parents aren't supposed to insult their children.
On a lighter note, I interviewed Becky LeBeau, who memorably played Bubbles in Back To School, for Pop Geeks in 2019, and she had some memorable stories to share about the shoot.
Check out the interview once you're done with this article:
Moving along alphabetically, we come to 1989's Batman, the second full-length feature about The Caped Crusader with Michael Keaton playing both Batman and Bruce Wayne, going up against Jack Nicholson as The Joker, alias Jack Napier.
I never saw any of Christian Bale's Batman movies, nor have I seen any of the DC Extended Universe films. If I'm being perfectly honest, although Batman was a favorite of many in my age bracket as a child, I didn't see the movie in full until adulthood. I liked what I saw when I finally did. The movie has a fantastic production design, an excellent score by Danny Elfman and equally excellent songs by Prince, and a fantastic villain in Jack Nicholson's Joker.
However, that leads me to think that perhaps this movie should've been called The Joker instead. Jack Nicholson got top billing despite playing a supporting role, his paycheck was bigger than Michael Keaton's, and Nicholson's work as The Joker is still talked about to this day. Granted, many other actors have played the character since then, and two of them, the late Heath Ledger and the still-living Joaquin Phoenix, have gotten Oscars for their versions of the characters. Nicholson still stands out to me, though. I particularly feel that the parade sequence captures both The Joker's hamminess and his malevolence.
Perhaps if Kevin Kline and Tim Curry had gotten the roles of Batman and The Joker, respectively, than perhaps the actor playing Batman might have been able to headline a movie named after the character. We'll never know, though.
Moving from superheroes to sadness, we jump back a year to 1988 and the movie Beaches.
Beaches tells the story of C.C Bloom (Bette Midler), a gifted and versatile performer, and Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey), a poor little rich girl-turned-lawyer, and the ups and downs of their decades-long friendship from youth to Hillary's death. I first saw Beaches in 2005, and the movie made me think about my own friendships over the years. Being on the autism spectrum in a period when so little was known about it made it difficult for me to make friends. I did have a small circle of friends as a child, but most of those friendships would become more like acquaintanceships as I grew older, with only a select group of more than six, but less than ten, kids from my Boy Scout years remaining friends in adulthood, and even then a few of those friendships had breaks that lasted more than half-a-decade.
I'm lucky enough to have a wide circle of friends now, from childhood friends to friends I made online to friends I made via doing interviews, and my life is richer for having them in it. I wasn't always easy to get along with in my teens and my 20s, and I ended up angering quite a few friends over the years. Even though I reached maturity at the age of 30, I still occasionally anger or upset my friends. I've even asked these friends if they would like to unfriend me since I've interpreted their annoyance with my words as annoyance with me as a person, but they've accepted my apologies and remained my friends. That makes me feel good. I have a wide variety of friends, and they make my life better in every way. They're true friendships like the one C.C and Hillary had, and all of my friends truly are the wind beneath my wings.
In discussing Batman, I talked about Jack Nicholson getting first-billed over Michael Keaton despite playing a supporting character. I then remembered that Michael Keaton did something similar with the next movie on this list, 1988's Beetlejuice.
Although Michael Keaton played the Ghost With The Most, the movie is really about the Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who, after their untimely deaths, try to find a way to get rid of the Deetz family, the new tenants of their old house. In some ways, Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice is what TV Tropes would call an advertised extra. He's only in 18 minutes or so of the film, but all the marketing has centered around him, especially in the era where DVD and Blu-Ray covers replace original poster art with giant heads of the most well-known characters.
What are my thoughts on Beetlejuice as a movie, though? I think it's a blast of creative fun. It's a movie that makes me wonder what will be happening on the other side when I pass away. If this movie is any indication, it will probably involve a lot of bureaucracy, but being on the autism spectrum, I'm used to spending a lot of time waiting for things. The afterlife will be a snap.
For more stories about Beetlejuice, check out the interview I did for Pop Geeks in 2018 with Robert Short, the visual effects wizard who won an Oscar for Best Makeup with Beetlejuice:
We now come to 1984's Beverly Hills Cop and 1987's Beverly Hills Cop II, two movies which solidified Eddie Murphy's standing as a box office star.
In Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy plays Axel Foley, a streetwise Detroit detective who, upon the murder of a childhood friend who was working in Beverly Hills, goes rogue to California to investigate the matter further, tangling with California police officers Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and John Taggart (John Ashton) before they assist him in solving the case.
In Beverly Hills Cop II, Foley returns to Beverly Hills when Captain Andrew Bogomil (Ronny Cox), a foe-turned-ally from Axel's first California trip, is shot as part of a series of "Alphabet Crimes", teaming up once again with Taggart and Rosewood, the latter of whom has turned into a major gun nut, as their pursuit of the villains takes them all over California, from The Playboy Mansion to a racetrack to an oil field.
I first saw Beverly Hills Cop when I rented it on my 15th birthday in 1997, and I would see Beverly Hills Cop II two years later. Eddie Murphy's portrayal of Axel Foley was something of an aspirational figure to me. Foley was a man who had street smarts and a sense of humor, and knew how to get big things done in spite of his small stature. In some ways, I wanted to be Axel Foley, not the police officer part, but the intelligent and cool part.
Intelligent and cool...That's what a lot of Eddie Murphy's movie characters were in the 80s, and that's what I sought for myself. Unfortunately, when I tried writing the character of Axel Foley in Animaniacs fan fiction I helped write in the late 90s and early 00s (it's a long story), I wrote Axel not as cool and intelligent, but as emotionally volatile and immature. Basically, I was writing from my own perspective of naivete about how the world works, turning an avatar of coolness and intelligence into a frothing mad manchild. The lesson I would learn from writing fan fiction is that I'm not good at writing fiction of any kind. Non-fiction is my forte, and has been for almost a decade-and-a-half.
Another sequel that came out in 1987 is the next movie on my list, Big Bad Mama II, the further adventures of criminal matriarch Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) and her daughters Billie Jean and Polly, played here respectively by Danielle Brisebois and Julie McCullough.
Big Bad Mama II is a more-than-worthy follow-up to the original Big Bad Mama. If you like skin and shootouts, this is a movie for you to check out. Director Jim Wynorski brings a great sense of frivolity to the chaos of the movie, and Dickinson, Brisebois and McCullough all look gorgeous. Big Bad Mama II is 82 minutes long, a relatively short length of time for a film, but the movie breezes by as fast as the McClatchie girls in a getaway car.
My good friend Kelli Maroney, whom I've had the great pleasure of interviewing twice, also makes a memorable appearance in Big Bad Mama II. Originally up for the role of Polly, Maroney's role is small, but provides the movie with an ending that I'll say is open, but happy. A lot of 80s movies get grief for having happy endings, but with characters like Wilma McClatchie, you root for them in spite of what they do, and you hope for the best for them.
For more about Kelli's work in Big Bad Mama II, and several other movies to come in this series of articles, check out the interview I did with her for Pop Geeks in 2017:
The second time-travel movie on this list to begin with the letter B is 1989's Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure.
This movie tale of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves), two aspiring musicians in late-80s California who are informed by a time-traveling emissary from the 2600s named Rufus (George Carlin) that their music will lead to a future utopia, a future at risk due to their educational issues and the looming threat of Ted being sent to a military academy if he fails history class. Rufus demonstrates how his time machine works, and that demonstration inspires Bill and Ted to take a history report they've been challenged to complete in a whole new direction.
I had seen some of Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure on Showtime in the early 90s, but I wouldn't see the movie in full until I purchased a used VHS copy of it in the 1999-2000 time period. I loved the possibilities the movie presented, the idea that noted people of the past could find things of value in the present that would lead to a brighter future. Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure is a hopeful movie, and I needed all the hope I could get in the late 90s and early 00s. Granted, some aspects of the movie haven't aged well, particularly the usage of a certain LGBTQ slur, but all in all, I love revisiting the movie.
Something else interesting to note is that this is one of the last times we saw George Carlin's edgy yet whimsical persona that lasted from Take Offs And Put Ons to Playin' With Your Head. The year before Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure came out saw Carlin's special What Am I Doing In New Jersey? debut, and that album had a George Carlin who was starting to become angrier and more nihilistic. Carlin's work as Rufus in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, and in the 1991 sequel Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey, was something of an end of the road for Carlin's edgy yet whimsical persona. I would come to miss that era as Carlin got angrier in his work throughout the 90s and 00s.
Speaking of the Bill And Ted movies, if you want some more stories about all three of them from a talent who was involved with them, check out an interview I did for Pop Geeks in 2020 with Amy Stoch, the actress who plays Missy in all three movies:
Jumping back to 1987, we come to the thriller Black Widow.
Black Widow tells the story of Catharine (Theresa Russell), a murderer who marries rich men, kills them and inherits fortunes from them. When two similar murders occur, a Justice Department employee name Alexandra (Debra Winger) find Catharine as the connection and seeks to take her down.
What I find intriguing about Black Widow is the movie's sexual tension. Sure, there's the sexual tension between Catharine and her husbands, but the tension that really stands out is the one between Catharine and Alexandra. While Alexandra wants to stop what Catharine is doing, one gets the sense that she's also turned on Catharine. That's not unusual. There are plenty of murderers who have adoring fans. There's nothing unusual about the LGBTQ community. For me, the unusual aspect is someone who supports the law both despising and admiring someone who breaks the law. I have to wonder if any police officers have had similar mixed feelings about the murderers they put away.
While Black Widow has certainly provoked many thoughts for me, it hasn't provoked as many as Blade Runner, the next movie on this list.
Blade Runner, or detective, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is tracked with stopping a group of Replicants, androids who are used for labor purposes and given four-year lifespans. The Replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), are rebelling against their limitations and seeking out "more life" by any means necessary.
As a man on the autism spectrum, I came to sympathize with the Replicants when I saw the movie for the first time. Just like the Replicants, people on the autism spectrum are thought of as limited and only capable of certain things. Just like the Replicants, people on the autism spectrum have so much more to them than what people see on the outside. Just like the Replicants, people on the autism spectrum don't always communicate with others in the ways that the neurotypical do.
Blade Runner is a movie that I would encourage people to see if they haven't yet. The movie tells a story that we can all apply to our own lives. Perhaps the difference that causes people to underestimate you and treat you poorly is related to your abilities, or to your sexual preferences, or even the pop culture you like. You may find yourself having to fight to be treated as someone who matters, and you should. There's a place for you in this world, just like there should've been a place for the Replicants in the 2019 that Blade Runner depicted.
For more discussion about Blade Runner, check out my 2020 Pop Geeks interview with Joanna Cassidy, who played Zhora, my favorite of all the Replicants: