The Boy Who Drank Too Much (1982, directed by Jerrold Freedman)


“He wet his pants on my mother’s rug!”

That’s what happens when you’re the boy who drinks too much.

In this made for television social problem film, a young Scott Baio plays Buff Saunders.  Buff is a high school student, a star hockey player, and an alcoholic.  He drinks because he grew up with an alcoholic father (played by Don Murray) and he learned early that drinking could make him feel confident whenever he was feeling insecure.  When Buff’s drinking gets out of control and he starts getting into fights, blowing off school, and seriously injuring himself, he is sent to a rehab center, one that is out of town so that the hockey team doesn’t find out that he’s an alcoholic.  His best friend, Billy (Lance Kerwin), rides the bus every day so that he can be there to support Buff but Buff’s own father cannot bring himself to come down there.  At first, Buff refuses to admit that he has a problem and won’t even speak up in the group meetings.  Eventually, even Billy starts to get tired of Buff’s attitude and his refusal to admit that his drinking has gotten out of control.  When Billy says that he’s not going to spend his birthday watching Buff sulk at rehab, Buff is forced to take a look at what his life has become.

The Boy Who Drank Too Much was basically an after school special that got the primetime movie treatment.  Scott Baio was in a lot of these movies, which is one reason why it is sometimes tempting to laugh at them today.  Baio was never really a bad actor but he was one of those actors who came across as being smarmy even when he was supposed to be playing a sympathetic or sincere character.  That’s especially true in The Boy Who Drank Too Much.  Even when Buff finally seems to be serious about controlling his drinking, you still never believe his sincerity.  When he apologizes for all the harm that his drinking has caused, he still seems like he’s waiting for the chance to grab the flask that he’s hidden somewhere in the room.  For the most part, though, that works for the character.  Baio’s playing an alcoholic who, for the majority of the movie, just tells people what he thinks they want to hear to get them off his back.

The movie does a good job of showing how a problem like alcoholism can be passed down through the generations.  Lance Kerwin and especially Don Murray both give good performances as the two people closest to Buff.  Murray appeared in and helped to produce a lot of social problem films like this one and it’s obvious that his heart was really in his performance here.  Ed Lauter took a break from appearing in every single Charles Bronson film to play Kerwin’s father and the lovely Toni Kalem, who was one of the most underrated actresses of the era, appears as well.  For a television production that’s trying very hard to be socially relevant, The Boy Who Drank Too Much isn’t bad.

Zapped! (1982, directed by Robert J. Rosenthal)


In this painfully dumb high school comedy, Scott Baio is Barney, a teen scientist who experiments on lab mice and grows specially modified orchids for his high school’s principal, Walter Coolidge (Robert Mandan, who played a lot of high school principals back in the day).  When there’s an accident in the lab, Barney develops telekinetic powers.  Barney then falls in love with the class president, Bernadette (Felice Schachter), while his best friend Peyton (Willie Aames) pursues the beautiful but vain Jane (Heather Thomas).  Barney uses his powers to make a ventriloquist act as if it’s possessed and to help Peyton rig a casino-themed frat party.  Meanwhile, Scatman Crothers plays the school’s baseball coach and has a long scene where he gets high and imagines that he’s riding a bicycle with Albert Einstein.  That’s actually kind of cool.

Zapped! is a movie where Scott Baio magically gains the power to move things with his mind and yet the most implausible part of the movie is the idea of Willie Aames being the most popular student at the high school.  Heather Thomas is believable as a cheerleader and Felice Schachter is perfectly cast as the brainy class president.  Even Scott Baio is not terrible as Barney.  But then Willie Aames shows up and we find out that he’s supposed to be a chick magnet and it becomes impossible for those watching to continue to suspend their disbelief.

Not much really happens in Zapped!  Even after he gets his powers, Barney is frustratingly passive character who just does whatever Peyton tells him to do.  Barney uses his powers to help Peyton show up Jane’s college boyfriend and he uses his powers to help Peyton win games at the school carnival and then Barney uses his powers to help out Peyton when Jane’s boyfriend tries to beat him up.  Maybe Barney needs to get new friends.  The only time Barney uses his powers for himself is when he’s playing baseball and he makes the ball stop in mid-air so that he can hit it.  Somehow, no one watching the game seems to find it strange that the baseball stops in mid-air.  The movie ends with a take on Carrie.  Barney uses his powers to blow off everyone’s clothes at prom.  It’s all to help Peyton, of course.

Zapped! supposedly has a cult following, probably composed of people who were 13 when they first saw it and who only remember the sweater scene with Heather Thomas and the final prom scene.  (Or they’re remembering the famous poster, which is a lot more fun than anything that actually happens in the movie.)  Other than that, this is one of the most boring films ever made.  Perhaps the only interesting thing about the movie is that Heather Thomas sued the production when they failed to acknowledge that a body double was used for Jane’s nude scenes.

On a positive note, Zapped! did give us this classic Onion headline:

 

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #15: Bugsy Malone (dir by Alan Parker)


Remember how, a few weeks ago, I said I was going to spend the month of June reviewing 30 gangster movies?  Well, I was doing pretty well but then I got distracted with some things and I ended up falling behind and now, it’s the last day of June and I’ve only reviewed 14 of the 30 films that I was planning on taking a look at.  It’s frustrating but, as any movie blogger can tell you, it happens.  Still, I’m not one to give up so easily!  I promised to review 30 gangster movies and I’m going to keep my word.  Or, at the very least, I’m going to try to…. like, definitely maybe try to….

Anyway, let’s get back to it with 1976’s Bugsy Malone!

Bugsy Malone is an homage to the old gangster movies of the 1920s and 30s.  It’s also a musical, featuring a lot of songs about wanting to make a lot of money, fall in love, and go away to Hollywood.  On top of all that, it’s also a children’s film.  Though they may be playing gangsters and going to war over who will control the rackets, the cast is entirely made up of children.  Though the film does feature a lot of guns, none of the guns fire bullets.  Instead, they shoot custard pies.  Once you get cornered by a rival gangster and you get “splurged,” your career in the rackets is over.  You’re humiliated.  You’re nothing.  You’re just another two-bit hood who couldn’t make it in the big leagues.  You’re just….

Well, you get the idea.

Basically, the plot of the film is that Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) and Fat Sam (John Cassissi) are two rival gangsters who want to take over the Lower East Side.  Fat Sam owns a speakeasy, which means that there’s always a lot of dancing and singing going on in the background.  Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a tough boxer who wants Fat Sam to give a job to Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger), who dreams of going to Hollywood and becoming a big star.  Tallulah (Jodie Foster) is Fat Sam’s gun moll but she used to go out with Bugsy and she still wants him back.  Bugsy get caught up in the middle of the war between Dandy Dan and Fat Sam and it all eventually leads to a big pie fight and a lot of children covered in custard.  “You give a little love,” the children sing as they realize that their lives don’t have to be defined by gang wars, “and it all comes back to you….”

So, I have to admit that I was absolutely dreading watching Bugsy Malone.  I mean, singing children and custard pie guns?  It all sound just unbearably cutesy.  But, to my surprise, Bugsy Malone actually turned out to be a fun and clever little movie, one that was full of smart dialogue, catchy songs, excellent dancing, and wonderfully non-cutesy performances from its cast.  Even though the film may be about a bunch of children dressing up as gangsters, all of the child actors take their characters seriously and director Alan Parker directs the film as if it were an actual gangster film as opposed to just a children’s musical.  The end result is a film that’s cute but never cutesy.  Believe me, there is a huge difference between the two.

To my shock, Bugsy Malone turned out to be an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband

Back to School Part II #11: Skatetown U.S.A. (dir by William A. Levey)


Poster_of_the_movie_Skatetown,_USA

Now that I’ve fully recovered from the trauma of writing about Grease, let me tell you about a little movie from 1979.  It’s a movie about teenagers, love, and competition.  It’s also a movie about disco and some actors who had some extra time on their hands.  It has a great soundtrack and the whole movie is pure 70s.  It even features the debut performance of a future movie star!

What film am I talking about?

SKATETOWN, USA, of course!

But before I talk about the movie, check out the trailer.  This is one of my favorite trailers of all time.  It pretty much tells you everything that you need to know about the movie.  There’s not a deceptive moment to be found in this preview:

Skatetown, U.S.A. is one of those movies that you watch and think, “This could only have been made in the 70s.”  Remember how watching Hollywood High caused me to doubt whether or not the 70s were actually all they were cracked up to be?  Well, Skatetown USA has renewed my faith!  Skatetown is such a 70s film that I personally think someone should send me an honorary coke spoon to reward me for watching it.

(Maureen McCormick, who is best known for playing Marcia Brady and who had a small role in Skatetown, wrote in her autobiography that the main thing she remembers about Skatetown is all the cocaine on the set.)

Skatetown USA doesn’t really have a traditional plot.  Instead, it’s a collection of “comedic” skits mixed in with roller skating performances and a nonstop soundtrack.  There is not a second that music is not playing in the background and, for what appears to be a low-budget film, the soundtrack is truly impressive.  Basically, almost every great disco song from the 1970s is heard at some point during Skatetown USA.  (Even that “Boogie Nights” song that Paul Thomas Anderson was apparently not allowed to actually use in Boogie Nights!  Imagine being the copyright holders who said yes to Skatetown but no to Paul Thomas Anderson…)

The film’s main character appears to be an unnamed DJ (Denny Johnston).  The DJ wears a big white afro wig and is always dancing in his booth.  Occasionally, he shoots a lightning bolt from his middle finger and suddenly, professional roller dancers appear and do a routine.  At the end of the movie, he looks at the camera, says that it’s all a fantasy, and winks.

Skatetown is the most popular disco roller rink in town.  Clean-cut teenager and all around nice guy Stan Nelson (Greg Bradford) wants to win Skatetown’s roller dancing contest.  (The prize is $1,000 and a moped!)  His best friend, Richie (Scott Baio), accompanies him and hopes to win a lot of money by betting on the outcome of the contest.  Stan angrily reprimands him, “This isn’t the streets!  This is Skatetown, U.S.A!”

That’s right — don’t mess with the good name of Skatetown!

Anyway, Stan’s actually a pretty good performer and he does this trick where he rides a skateboard while wearing roller skaters so you would think he would be a sure bet to win.

BUT NO!

The reigning Skatetown champion is Ace Johnson (Patrick Swayze, making his film debut) and we know that Ace is a bad guy because he wears all black and he occasionally snaps a whip while he’s rolling around!  Ace isn’t above cheating to win but really he doesn’t have to cheat!  Ace may be the bad guy but, seriously, he totally kicks ass while wearing roller skates.  As soon as he rolls out there, you understand why he’s the reigning champion.

See, here’s the thing with Skatetown: We’re supposed to be rooting for Stan but Ace really is a hundred times better than him.  There’s a reason why Patrick Swayze went on to have a career after Skatetown while Greg Bradford only has 8 credits on the imdb.  Swayze, even in this silly role, had movie star charisma whereas Bradford — well, he’s comes across as a nice guy but there’s nothing special about him.  Swayze, meanwhile, is dangerous and smoldering.

For instance, when Stan does his routine, his background music is The Village People singing “Macho Man” and you can’t help but snicker a little.  Whereas, when Ace performs, his background music is a slightly menacing cover of Under My Thumb.  Stan is the Village People.  Ace is the Rolling Stones.

Anyway, the film might not be good in the traditional sense but I absolutely loved Skatetown, U.S.A.  Why?  Because it’s a total time capsule! Watching it is such a totally 70s experience that I was even tempted to get a frizzy perm, start wearing bell bottoms, and stop wearing a bra.  Fortunately, the temptation passed but still, I enjoyed getting to use my cinematic time machine.

Add to that, the film itself is just so over-the-top and silly that … well, you can really believe that everyone involved in the movie was snorting mountains of cocaine in between takes.  There’s not a subtle moment to be found in Skatetown, U.S.A.  Instead, it’s all bright neon, loud music, flamboyant characters, silly melodrama, and corny humor.

(My personal theory is that Skatetown, U.S.A. was taking place in the same cinematic universe of A Clockwork Orange and it was showing what normal teenagers were doing while Alex and his droogs were seeking out the ultraviolence.  The over-the-top design of Skatetown reminded me of the similar flamboyance of the Korova Milk Bar and the droogs’s bowlers and oversized codpieces weren’t that different from some of the costumes worn by the cast of Skatetown.)

Anyway, Skatetown is one of those films that everyone should see once.  Unfortunately, because of all the music in the film, it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and it probably never will be because life sucks.  It is on YouTube, though it was recorded off an old VHS tape so the transfer is not the best.

Here’s Skatetown, USA:

One final note: Skatetown, USA was directed by the same William Levey who also directed Blackenstein, Hellgate, and The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington.  It was written Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween and directed a film that is well-liked by several of the writers here at the Shattered Lens, The Last Starfighter.