Thursday, December 11, 2014

Where Were You in ’85?

by ScottDS

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?”

Better Off Dead – I joined this particular cult rather late, having seen it for the first time 10 years ago. Check out 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.”

Explorers – Joe Dante’s sci-fi tale is fun for the whole family. Ethan Hawke (in his film debut) plays a sci-fi-obsessed teenager who’s been having dreams of a mysterious circuit board. After putting it together with his genius friend (River Phoenix, in his film debut), they realize they’re able to create a spaceship. With a third friend, they take the ship out one night and are intercepted by aliens. I loved this movie as a kid and it still holds up, but the ending just sits there. The studio didn’t let Dante finish the movie – the final version is a work in progress with characters and entire subplots missing. Having said that, the kids are likable, Jerry Goldsmith’s score is sublime, and Dante regulars Dick Miller and Robert Picardo show up, too. “If this is all a dream, what's gonna happen when we wake up?”

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.”

Commando – I went through an 80s kick on Netflix a few years ago and I had so much fun watching this cheesefest! Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix – JOHN MATRIX!!!! – an ex-Special Forces something or other who has to rescue his daughter after she’s kidnapped by mercenaries… but does it matter? This is Schwarzenegger in his prime, just one year after The Terminator. There’s blood and explosions and crazy stunts and every conceivable weapon. And it might sound sacrilegious but this might be Arnie’s most quotable movie. He even gets in “I’ll be back”! Rae Dawn Chong assists Arnold on his mission and Vernon Wells plays the chainmail-clad bad guy, who gets one of my favorite lines: “John, I’m not going to shoot you between the eyes. I’m going to shoot you between the balls!”

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.”

Rocky IV – More wonderful 80s cheese! This time it’s Rocky vs. Russia as we meet Ivan Drago, the Soviet Union’s top boxer. He kills Apollo Creed in the ring and Rocky decides to fight Drago to avenge his friend and defend his country. This isn’t a movie – it’s a series of montages with some filler in between. But man, it’s so much fun. Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, and Burt Young return and Dolph Lundgren makes for an imposing presence. I still can’t get over Rocky’s birthday gift to Paulie: a robot. Yes, he buys the man a robot. I always assumed the robot was a Soviet spy and if the film were made today, the robot would no doubt get its own spinoff movie. “I guess what I'm trying to say is, if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

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?”

Weird Science – Gotta love that Oingo Boingo theme song! John Hughes’ sci-fi tale features Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith as Gary and Wyatt, two nerds who use the power of computers to create their own perfect woman (Kelly LeBrock)… and then all hell breaks loose. Robert Downey Jr. shows up as the nerds’ nemesis and Bill Paxton steals the show as Wyatt’s older brother Chet. This film also taught a generation that the best protective gear is a bra on your head. I’m sure the inevitable remake will be twice as big and only half as good. “You know, there's going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing.”

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??


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for another article that highlights just what a golden period these few years were for film. Wow there are some amazing films on this list and those of the prior years. I'll bet the 2010-2014 reviews will be sadly lacking in similar punch. :(

shawn said...

1985, a pretty good year for movies. Me? I was just graduating from High School in Southern California, so life was pretty good. I enjoyed most of the movies listed, although I didn't care for Brazil outside of the the dream sequences, A View to a Kill (Moore stayed with it too long) and Rocky 4.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I didn't enjoy Brazil until years later when I saw the original cut and discovered how hacked up the American release had been. Then I realized the political message and had to laugh at Gilliam for getting his film entirely backwards from what he intended.

A View to a Kill was really disappointing.

From Scott's lower list, I would offer high praise for Remo Williams, Lifeforce, Fright Night, Spies Like Us and The Breakfast Club.

ScottDS said...

shawn -

Yeah, I was, uh, two. :-) Obviously, most of these movies I saw years later, and some only recently. Chronologically speaking, it's safe to say Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was the first one on the list I saw.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I looked over 1985 a few months ago and I wasn't sure how many movies I'd be able to use (especially when compared to a gangbusters year like 1984). Somehow, between then and now, the proverbial lightbulb went off and it was like, "Oh, yeah, there were a lot of fun movies made that year!"

I only wish I could've gone into more detail on Spies Like Us and Lifeforce, aka "The Hot Naked Space Vampire Movie." :-)

In fact, I just purchased a region-free Blu-Ray player and the region B Blu-Ray of Lifeforce includes a new hour-long documentary on the making of the film. Apparently, all of the assistants would literally hide in the rafters to watch Mathilda May film her scenes. I can't say I blame them!

Re: Brazil, I believe the Criterion release, supervised by Gilliam, uses the best of the US and UK versions, but I couldn't tell you the differences. I assume you didn't start with the "Love Conquers All" version!

Jason said...

I was four years old in 1985. I hadn’t seen any of the films on this list, although I did have my first actual going-to-the-movies that year when my parents took me to see Santa Claus: The Movie, although I can’t remember it!

The PG-13 rating was very new when European Vacation came out, so I guess they were still working it out. My memory’s a little hazy since I only saw the movie once, but I think they had female dancers with breasts showing but were covered with some kind of transparent mesh, and then they had one dancer that flat out showed her chest to Rusty. I think the rule is you can have one female topless scene for a PG-13, so maybe the flick isn’t too far off from what you can get away with. Also, from what I read, European Vacation is the one out of the first three Vacations that John Hughes didn’t write the script for or just wrote very little of it. I guess that’s why it seems like it didn’t have the punch of 1 and 3.

It’s funny that so much of Commando only takes place in a span of 11 hours (the time John is supposed to fly to Val Verde). The movie does such a good job of setting up the premise early on, then it just lets Arnold loose to start killing bad guys for the rest of the movie.

Whenever I think A View to a Kill, I always think of that Duran Duran song!

Not too many people might know this movie, but 1985 also produced a teen flick called Girls Just Want to Have Fun. It’s mostly notable for being a very early vehicle for Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt, and Shannen Doherty. It’s pretty much just a dance flick – teen girl (Parker) wants to get on a dance television show, stern father won’t let her, she meets cute guy, yadah yadah yadah, you know the drill. It’s no great shakes, and you’ll see the clichés coming a mile away, but I did like the soundtrack and I do feel a little nostalgic watching it because it looks more like my childhood (no internet, no cell phones, racing home to watch a tv show because you don’t have TIVO).

Dwizzum said...

Another great year for movies. I watched most of these on cable over and over and a kid. Just think of all the "classics" you left off that are entertaining. Ladyhawk, Fletch, Year of the Dragon, and a personal favorite Summer Rental. 1985 has a deep bench for movies.

ScottDS said...

Jason -

Don’t get me started on the ratings. There’s no consistency at all. One sex act gets an R, the other gets an NC-17. One sexual F-word gets an R, but two non-sexual F-words get a PG-13. Violence is okay but boobs are not. Aargh!!!

Yeah, I forgot that about Commando… in that respect, it’s very well done (for what it is).

We used the Duran Duran theme in one of our student films so it’ll always hold some sentimental value. (It was done by one guy as a joke and it stuck.)

I’ve never seen Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

ScottDS said...

Dwizzum -

Yeah, I just ran out of room. At the start, I thought I’d have trouble finding enough, and then it became an embarrassment of riches. 1986 should be fun, too. It’ll finally be time to talk about Howard the Duck!

PikeBishop said...

How could you leave off Silverado? Lawrence Kasdan's slam-bang, slap leather homage to the classic western. Great cast (Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Scott Glen) featuring an amazing show-stealing debut performance by Kevin Costner, and a superb supporting stable of actors (Linda Hunt, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, John Cleese, Rosanna Arquette et. al). Beautifully shot and edited, a rousing adventure, perfect for the height of Reaganism!

ScottDS said...

Pike -

Jeez, at this point I might have to do a part 2 or something in six months. I just ran out of room! :-)

Kenn Christenson said...

"The Killing Fields" also came out in '85. I don't think there's a more vivid example of the brutality we were fighting in Vietnam.

ScottDS said...

Kenn -

As I said above, nothing too prestigious given the films I've seen thus far and, unlike Andrew, I can only really delve into movies I've seen more than once.

I have yet to see The Killing Fields but it's certainly on my radar.

Kenn Christenson said...

I should have mentioned - excellent run-down, Scott. Just thought I'd throw that one out there, for those who hadn't seen the film or hadn't seen it in a long time.

ScottDS said...

Kenn -

Thanks! I enjoy doing them.

AndrewPrice said...

Pike, I totally concur about Silverado! That's a fantastic western and a great film. I highly recommend that one.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

In other news, it looks like my Ghostbusters III predictions are starting to come true... maybe. Link here.

My love for Jennifer Lawrence and Lizzy Caplan are well-documented, but can't we get some f---ing adults in this thing?!?!

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late to this but.....

I was still a kid in '85 and I didn't see some of these movies until a few years later.

Back To The Future - A timeless classic
Better Off Dead - Great movie for its time
Commando - One of Arnolds best movies
National Lampoon's European Vacation - I liked it, but it wasn't as great a movie as the 1st and 3rd
Rocy IV - Made me sad I was not an American...
Weird Science - Didn't love it, but loved Kelly LeBrock

From the other movies I loved The Breakfast Club, The Goonies, Mad Maxx Beyond Thunderdome, Pale Rider, First Blood and Spies Like Us
I also liked Cocoon, D.A.R.Y.L., Flesh + Blood

It was a good year.


ScottDS said...

Scott -

Yeah, I was surprised by how good a year it was when I was doing the research. Spies Like Us is a favorite of mine as well.

"Doctor..." :-)

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