Monday, February 10, 2014

Riske Business: Catching Up on the Films of 1985

I know you’ve all been holding off on seeing Witness until I gave you my opinion. Your wait is now over.

In addition to Witness, I caught up with ten other movies from 1985 – some big hits, others overlooked and worth a watch plus a couple that are flat-out disappointing. So let’s dive in and don’t forget to join us on Saturday, February 15th for F This Movie Fest 3! It’s the most fun you’ll have since you sang “We Are the World” in your car while drinking a New Coke on your way to WrestleMania.
Witness (February 8, 1985) I loved this movie. Witness does many things right – it’s a tense thriller, an emotional (and sexy) love story and a sensitive depiction of the Amish way of life. Harrison Ford’s performance was a real surprise for me; rarely has he been this sincere in a movie. Matching Ford is a career-best performance from Kelly McGillis, who is the heart and soul of Witness. Knowing now that the actress kept her sexuality close to the vest for so long in real life gives an extra pathos to her character. She’s a woman who honors the Amish traditions but still feels desires that she’s not allowed to express without judgment. The movie has a transcendent sequence midway through of a barn raising that is on par with the best of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. It also does something truly effective and surprising when it exposes the secret villain in the first act. Most thrillers would make it a third-act reveal, but Witness is so well-made that it never ceases to be suspenseful even after the cat is out of the bag. The movie also features an effective villain turn from Danny Glover, who was all over the place in 1985 (Silverado, The Color Purple).
Vision Quest (February 15, 1985) The overlooked and unfortunately titled Vision Quest (which would lead you to believe it’s a sci-fi movie in the vein of Flight of the Navigator) was probably the most pleasant surprise of my 1985 movie catch-up. First and foremost, Vision Quest is simply a solid high school sports movie, which is a subgenre I enjoy. The romance elements are sweet, but the pairing of Matthew Modine (who is actually quite decent here) and Linda Fiorentino (who is pretty in a no-way-to-please-her sort of way) doesn’t actually generate any sparks. That almost doesn’t matter, because the screenplay is smart and engaging and the movie features a great soundtrack including Journey’s "Only the Young" and "Crazy for You" by Madonna. The Madonna song is what drew me to Vision Quest in the first place. It’s the most fucking romantic thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I want to get married just so I can dance to "Crazy for You" at my wedding. Vision Quest has everything you’d ever want in a movie: nose bleeds, starving yourself, Ronny Cox and all the men’s high school wrestling you’ll ever want to see. Also co-starring Patrick’s favorite Daphne Zuniga and directed by Harold Becker (Mercury Rising, Domestic Disturbance), who is the king of the forgettable star vehicle. This is his best movie.
The Purple Rose of Cairo (March 1, 1985) Few movie watching experiences are more enjoyable than Woody Allen when he's on top of his game. The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of those occasions. This movie is completely charming and amusing, especially when the Jeff Daniels’ fictional character walks off the silver screen and into the life of Mia Farrow, leaving his co-stars in the movie-within-the-movie stranded and exasperated. Allen’s script is full of great dialogue (“You make love without fading out?” and “Dad was a card. I never met him. He died before the movie began,” to name a couple of examples), plus an amazing sequence with Dianne Wiest where Daniels slowly comes to the realization of what a brothel is. I also love the message the movie leaves you with: your life may be disappointing in the present, but the right movie can make you feel all better. So much was made of The Artist and Hugo being movies for movie lovers, but I never got that sense because those express movie love from a filmmaker point of view rather than a filmgoer. I did get that movie love exhilaration though from The Purple Rose of Cairo, as it shows a woman who keeps going to the movies to see the same one over and over again because she loves it so much. We’ve all been there.
Desperately Seeking Susan (March 29, 1985) This freaking movie is such a meandering hunk of nothing. Aside from basking in the beauty that was 1985 Rosanna Arquette (can anyone recommend a movie with her where things happen to her legs?), there is not much I enjoyed in Desperately Seeking Susan. I am clueless as to what this movie was trying to be. It’s not funny, it’s not dramatic, it’s merely this screwball..thing. I honestly had no idea where the movie was going. In the right hands that can be an exciting prospect; in this case, however, the movie consistently went the route less interesting. When you are considering to yourself how you would have made the movie better as you are watching it, it's proof that the movie is not working for you. I thought Desperately Seeking Susan was supposed to resemble something like Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion. Hell, Arquette and Madonna are both on the poster after all, but they only share a couple of scenes together. This slight, trivial movie is something a lightweight entertainment should never be, which is frustrating.
Cat’s Eye (April 12, 1985) Cat’s Eye is not among the best horror anthologies, but I found it to be entertaining all the same. The first segment, starring James Woods and Alan King about a heavy smoker (Woods) terrorized by the company he asked to help him quit smoking, is attention-grabbing and notable for an amusing hallucinatory party sequence. The second segment, about a man who has to make a lap around the 5” ledge of a high rise building, is truly suspenseful. The final story, and the one that Cat’s Eye is best known for, features a young Drew Barrymore at risk of having her breath stolen by a miniature monster. The only one who can protect her is the cat, also acting as the wraparound thread for this anthology. This last segment is silly and features the disagreeable Candy Clark but is nearly saved by a great moment where the monster spins at high speed on a record player and is whizzed into a floor fan. The monster special effect is neat in a chintzy '80s way, but the segment pales in comparison to other similar installments from horror anthologies such as Trilogy of Terror and Tales from the Hood. At least it’s better than The Gate. Cat’s Eye is a mixed bag but worth watching once if you haven’t seen it.
Rambo: First Blood Part II (May 22, 1985) I’m a big Sylvester Stallone fan, even though I sometimes wonder why. He’s had some tremendous movies but many more disappointments. I give him the benefit of the doubt every time because he seems to be sincerely trying to make a respectable movie in most cases. For some reason, I never sought out the Rambo series until recently. I saw the 2008 reboot/sequel first, and then went back to the original First Blood and now watched Rambo: First Blood Part II. This is not a good movie. In fact, the first hour, up through Rambo’s torture by the Russian mercenaries, is rather boring. But after that – holy shit! People and cars and bridges and huts exploding from super arrows! Bazookas to helicopters! Rambo shooting computer equipment with a machine gun! Rambo stalking his prey while covered in mud! At this point, I get the appeal. Rambo: First Blood Part II is awesome for the last 30 minutes. However, the real reason I enjoy this movie (and Stallone in general) is how clumsily earnest it all is. In the first two Rambo movies, I sincerely feel Stallone is raw over the mistreatment of the Vietnam vet and so riled up that he chose to use his art to express that. It just so happens whatever narrative sensitivity he brought to the Rocky movies is gone. Rambo is more akin to The Incredible Hulk.
Silverado (July 12, 1985) I had heard forever that Silverado is a terrific Western. Not quite in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong -- it's effective, but works in spurts more than as a whole. Kevin Kline is excellent and Brian Dennehy is even better. The dynamic between these two former riding partners and now mannerly adversaries gives Silverado most of its juice. I also think the Danny Glover character’s arc is compelling, as is the character played by Linda Hunt. Where the movie loses steam is when we’re following Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner and especially a clumsy love story involving the ever-present Rosanna Arquette that is so confused you don’t even know who her would-be suitor is from scene to scene. But I’m making it sound as if I enjoyed Silverado less than I did. It’s entertaining and well worth a look. There’s simply a bit too much going on for the movie’s benefit.
The Black Cauldron (July 24, 1985) The Black Cauldron has a rather notorious history. It was in production during a change in management at Disney, and the new studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, disgusted with how dark the movie was, ordered heavy cuts be made. The home video release of The Black Cauldron was even delayed because of the movie’s dark content. I went into it hoping it was going to be a hidden gem. It’s not. The Black Cauldron is a very disappointing entry from the studio and possibly one of their worst animated features. The darkness of the movie is not the real problem, although it is quite bleak and joyless. My main issue with The Black Cauldron is how boring it is. The story is uninvolving and the majority of the characters (especially the heroes) are tremendously underwritten. The animation is impressive and beautifully gothic and I did like two of the characters – the formidable chief villain, The Horned King (who reminded me of Skeletor) and the hero’s sidekick, Gurgi, a cute little dog/mogwai that is a dead-ringer in voice and personality to Gollum from The Lord of the Rings movies. I’m shocked that Andy Serkis (a.k.a Shiar LeBeouf) hasn’t cited this character as inspiration for Gollum or that more people haven’t made the connection (there’s a reference to it on the super popular Gurgi Wikipedia page, but that’s all I’ve found). It’s the exact same thing!
Real Genius (August 7, 1985) I didn’t want to watch Real Genius very much because it seemed like a variation on Revenge of the Nerds. But every person I asked about it told me that it was one of the ones from 1985 that I had to see. I can sort of understand why now. Real Genius is fun and has some big laughs. Val Kilmer is charming and amusing like he usually is, especially early in his career. Gabriel Jarrett (who looks like one of the brothers Roengartner) makes for a sympathetic sidekick and the bad guy is William Atherton (Ghostbusters, Die Hard, Bio-Dome), who HAS to be this guy in real life. There is no way it’s a coincidence he plays the same asshole in every movie. My favorite line of his in Real Genius is “What are you looking at? You’re laborers; you should be laboring. That’s what you get for not having an education.” I think I’ll never like Real Genius as much as most people because I didn’t grow up with it, but I’m happy I saw it nevertheless. Does anyone else think Mitch’s girlfriend looks like Selma Blair?
After Hours (September 13, 1985) After Hours is the best. If I had to pick a favorite movie from 1985, it would be Back to the Future (of course), but After Hours would be a close second. Martin Scorsese made this movie on a lark (Tim Burton stepped aside after hearing Scorsese wanted to direct) because he was frustrated with pre-production falling apart on The Last Temptation of Christ and needed a movie on which to focus his attention. Scorsese has said he approached After Hours as primarily an exercise in style; if that’s the case, the movie does not suffer from the old "style over substance" adage. In fact, it’s what greatly adds to the feel of unease in the movie. After Hours is comparable to watching a bad dream. Griffin Dunne is you, and no other character will connect with you including the beautiful girl you want to sleep with but something is always going wrong (Rosanna Arquette), the girl you don’t want who will not go away (Terri Garr) and the one who is absolutely nuts (Catherine O’Hara). No one will answer your questions, innocuous comments make others upset and you can never achieve the one thing you want to do. After Hours might actually be about dating and what a crazy, frustrating experience that can be. The movie builds and builds to an absolutely nutty climax which includes one of the biggest laughs I’ve had in a movie in a long time. Hiding from an angry mob, Griffin Dunne is on a fire escape and witnesses a wife shooting her husband dead in a nearby apartment. His reaction is priceless (“I’ll probably get blamed for that...”). An overlooked gem in Scorsese’s filmography and the one film on this list you have to see the most. Just buy it, don’t even rent it.
The Color Purple (December 18, 1985) – I was avoiding The Color Purple for years because I thought it was going to be a bleak, despairing movie that was only made to win awards and make me feel sad. It is bleak and despairing at times, but I should have had more faith in director Steven Spielberg. I’m glad I gave it a chance, as I found the movie to be a really emotional and powerful experience similar to how I feel about The Shawshank Redemption. It’s simply good drama. What I found so touching about The Color Purple is that it’s really about how the power of loving one another can sometimes triumph over irrational evil and hatred, in this case caused by fear of empowerment. The movie is full of magnificent performances, including Danny Glover as the detestable Mister. Whoopi Goldberg is almost a backwards revelation for me here, because I had a specific image of her in my head and was really blown away by how much I believed her to be this character in her first screen appearance. Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery are also very moving in their performances as the women that slowly give the Goldberg character her self-esteem back. The Color Purple is better than I expected and features a line of dialogue that sums up best what I like about the movie: "I’m poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear G-d, I’m here. I’m here." It's a declaration that every person is entitled to fair treatment, equal respect, the pursuit of their own happiness etc. and should stand up to get it when they are not. The Color Purple is an absolutely beautiful movie.

More Recommendations from 1985:
Back to the Future


Death Wish 3
Fright Night


Return of the Living Dead

Summer Rental (enjoy the worst dub in movie history)
The Sure Thing

To Live and Die in L.A.

Can’t wait to chat with all of you next Saturday and follow me on Twitter @AdamR38. I just want to be happy and I want you to be, too. It all starts on Twitter is what I’m saying. So many jokes. So good.

Leave a comment with your take on any of these 11 movies. I’d love to hear what you think.


  1. Lordy, you're right on Silverado. I love the movie, but you could severely trim the Costner and Scott Glenn stuff and focus on the Kline & Dennehy & Glover stories and I'd be a happy camper. (Also, the movie's visual joke involving Linda Hunt and a bar is so damn good for being both funny and eminently practical.)

    The Color Purple does seriously have moments of joy that'll just kill you. Celie's first smile? "God Is Trying To Tell You Something"?

    Finallu, in the pantheon of Weird Villain Turns, I have a special place in my heart for Alan King in Cat's Eye.

  2. Reading this made me realize that The Goonies Derivation applies to most of 1985 for me.