“Heaven Help Us” (1985) dir. Michael Dinner, scr. Charles Purpura

One of the most pleasant surprises I’ve come across recently on HBO On Demand is seeing “Heaven Help Us” again for the first time since 1985.  This was a film that was promoted as a crass “Porky’s”-style teen sex comedy back in the day, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s an extremely funny, sometimes raunchy, but also frequently poignant look at a group of teenagers in Catholic high school in Brooklyn back in the mid-1960s.  The cast includes Andrew McCarthy, John Heard, Donald Sutherland, Wallace Shawn, a pre-“Entourage” and “Platoon” Kevin Dillon, a VERY young Patrick Dempsey, Stephen Geoffreys, Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson’s voice), and Mary Stuart Masterson in one of her first roles.  This is far from a perfect film, but it’s so damn good and much better than its critical and popular reception back in the day.  It’s weird to imagine this was considered disposable teen trash back in the day, because it’s not only better than most teen films released in the last several years, but much better than a lot of mainstream films released in the last 30 years.   Seriously, this is a sleeper that’s worth rediscovering.  The attached scene here is a school Brother, hilariously played by Wallace Shawn, delivering a stern lecture before a high school dance.  And yes, I still have more than a little crush on Mary Stuart Masterson’s character even 30 years later. Dave says check it out!

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“At Close Range” (1986) dir. James Foley

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Another sadly neglected/forgotten film from the 1980s, “At Close Range” is based on the true story of the Pennsylvania crime family led by Bruce Johnston, Sr. Christopher Walken is in his scariest role ever as the crime boss Brad Whitewood, Sr., a role turned down by Robert DeNiro because he thought it was “too dark” (which is really saying something). Walken’s character may be one of the most evil I’ve ever seen in a film … a cold and ruthless mammal (I can’t bring myself to call him a man, let alone human) who has absolutely no soul. Sean Penn plays his son Brad Jr., a teenager going nowhere who becomes part of his father’s gang. Penn’s character later finds himself in way too deep and learns way too fast that his father’s “love” is expressed solely for the purpose of disarming someone and keeping them under their control. The acting by all parties (especially Walken, Penn, and Mary Stuart Masterson as Penn’s girlfriend) is outstanding. With the possible exception of “Glengarry Glen Ross,” this is director Foley’s finest film. A great film, but terribly disturbing and sad.