My, my, my, where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday I was researching 1984, which is considered one of the best years for movies. As we move into 2015 (and with no hoverboards in sight), let us revisit 1985. As usual, the list mainly consists of genre pieces – nothing too prestigious!
Back to the Future – [sigh] This movie. It seems to be more popular now than it was upon its release 30 years ago. It’s an American classic, with a smart screenplay, fun characters, memorable dialogue, a soaring music score, and a wonderful “what if?” story at the center of it. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Michael J. Fox plays teenager Marty McFly who travels back in time in a DeLorean and endangers his own existence. If you ask me politely at a party where alcohol is being served, I might just quote the damn thing near-verbatim! “Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth's gravitational pull?”
Andrew’s review for the plot details. Needless to say, I enjoy the hell out of this movie. The whole thing just has this cool low-key vibe of a first-time writer/director (Savage Steve Holland) playing around with the ideas in his head. It's just a shame Holland is stuck in Disney TV land. The characters are likeable, Diane Franklin is adorable, some of the gags are downright bizarre, and one highlight is David Ogden Stiers as John Cusack’s dad… he plays it with the perfect amount of deadpan. “The K-12 dude. You make a gnarly run like that and girls will get sterile just looking at you.”
Brazil – Terry Gilliam’s dystopian masterpiece features Jonathan Pryce as a lovelorn office drone. As a design student, there are a handful of films I turn to when I need inspiration and this is one of them – it’s one of the most elaborate and detailed movies ever made. The screenplay has some genuine intelligence and wit (gotta love Tom Stoppard’s wordplay) and the acting is generally excellent… though I must admit things get a bit bonkers in the second half. Liberals and conservatives see each other in the film, and that suits me just fine! And the behind the scenes battles between Gilliam and the studio are the stuff of legend. “But I could be anybody.” “No you couldn't, sir.”
Clue – A genuine cult classic, back when the idea of making a film based on something as dumb as a board game was a risk and not Hollywood’s standard operating procedure!! I'm not an expert on much of Jonathan Lynn's work but of the films he's directed (including My Cousin Vinny), this has to be the best written of them all. The screenplay (by Lynn, from a concept by John Landis) is full of wonderful wordplay, the likes of which you don’t get very often today. The characters – obviously based on their game counterparts – are all given (somewhat) realistic backstories and the actors make it look effortless. And Colleen Camp has never been hotter! I first saw this film in Los Angeles, done Rocky Horror-style, with performers acting out the film on stage as it played on the screen behind them. “I was in the hall. I know because I was there.”
The Color Purple – This was Steven Spielberg’s eighth movie and to call it a change of pace would be an understatement. (It’s also the only Spielberg film not scored by John Williams). I confess I have yet to see it in its entirety – only bits on TV. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, the film tells the story of Celie Harris, a young black woman in the south during the early 20th century. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey make their film debuts as Celie and Sofia, respectively. Per usual for Spielberg, the film is well-made and well-shot (at least from what I’ve seen) and, of course, the usual suspects wondered how a white Jewish director could make a movie about the female African-American experience. Some things never change. “I'm poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I'm here.”
National Lampoon’s European Vacation – This merely-okay sequel seems to get lost between the original film and Christmas Vacation. The Griswolds – Chevy Chase as Clark, Beverly D’Angelo as Ellen, and two new kids – win an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe and everything that can go wrong does. Honestly, I only remember a couple of things, including the roundabout gag (“There’s Big Ben! And Parliament!”) and that there’s more nudity than you’d get in a PG-13 movie today, because f--- the MPAA. Watch for some familiar faces, including John Astin as a game show host, Eric Idle as a bicyclist who receives the brunt of Clark’s buffoonery, and the late British comedian Mel Smith as a slimy motel clerk. Not much to say… maybe it’s due for a re-watch. “Honey, we're not normal people. We're the Griswolds.”
Death Wish 3 – For some folks, the Death Wish films are totally repulsive. For others, they’re pure entertainment, albeit with diminishing returns. Enter Death Wish 3, the last one directed by Michael Winner. It’s sleazy and dumb and you wonder how Charles Bronson’s character always manages to get into trouble, not to mention everyone close to him is raped or killed. This time, Paul Kersey is back in New York visiting an old war buddy… who is promptly killed by a local gang (whose members dress up like fans at a Warriors convention). The film becomes senior citizens vs. punks and Bronson is assisted by Martin Balsam as a WW2 vet who keeps a Browning machine gun in his closet. Obviously. And despite taking place in New York, the film was shot in England and it shows. “I'm going out for some ice cream... this is America, isn't it?”
Into the Night – This obscure curiosity by John Landis has always fascinated me for some reason. It tells the story of an insomniac (Jeff Goldblum) who encounters a young model named Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer), who’s on the run from the SAVAK (Iran’s secret police). What follows is a strange series of capers, close calls, wrong turns, and other misadventures, all over the course of a night and a day in Los Angeles. Landis was known for casting other filmmakers in his movies and this one is no exception: Jim Henson, Amy Heckerling, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Lynn, Paul Mazursky, make-up FX guru Rick Baker, etc. Landis himself – who was dealing with the aftermath of the Twilight Zone tragedy – plays a SAVAK goon. The biggest name in the cast is actually David Bowie, who plays a sadistic British hitman. This movie is weird but watchable. “Why can't I sleep?”
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure – Another childhood (and, uh, adulthood) favorite. Paul Reubens created the character of Pee-Wee Herman while at The Groundlings. This led to an acclaimed stage show, which was followed by a Saturday morning series for kids. This film – which also put Tim Burton and Danny Elfman on the map – tells a simple story of a man searching for his lost bike. Elfman’s score, inspired by Rota and Herrmann, is larger than life while the stop-motion gags and clown routines are pure Burton. Jan Hooks (who sadly passed away a month ago) is hilarious as an Alamo tour guide and the late, great Phil Hartman – who was part of the original Groundlings team – shows up at the end and also co-wrote the film with Reubens. “I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”
A View to a Kill – The crappiest Bond movie until Die Another Day came along. Bond (Roger Moore in his final Bond film) investigates tycoon Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) who plans to destroy Silicon Valley which would give him a monopoly on the microchip industry. Everyone just looks tired in this one. Tanya Roberts is hot but doesn’t contribute much, Walken is uncharacteristically understated, and Grace Jones is…, well, she’s Grace Jones. Tech stuff is all top-notch but the rear-projection looks awfully dated, especially considering the technical leaps made in FX in this decade. Duran Duran’s theme song is a highlight, though. “You have exactly 35 minutes to get properly dressed, 007.”
The Purple Rose of Cairo – One of Woody Allen’s most charming movies, it tells the story of a Depression-era waitress who goes to see a movie, only for the lead character to notice her in the audience and leave the black and white movie screen for the colorful real world. Mia Farrow (naturally) plays Cecilia and Jeff Daniels plays Tom Baxter, an archeologist. Everything is fine until Gil Shepherd (Daniels), the actor who plays Baxter, learns of what happens. Cecilia must choose between the real actor or the fictional character. Woody Allen has said this is one of the few films of his that actually turned out the way he wanted it when he started writing. “You make love without fading out?”
Also: After Hours, The Black Cauldron, The Breakfast Club, Blood Simple, Cocoon, D.A.R.Y.L., Day of the Dead, Desperately Seeking Susan, Enemy Mine, Flesh + Blood, Fright Night, The Goonies, Jagged Edge, Lifeforce, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Pale Rider, Prizzi's Honor, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Spies Like Us, and Witness.
Will 2015 prove to be as memorable? We’re getting a new Jurassic Park, a new Terminator, and a new Star Wars. What year is it again??