Tuesday, June 8, 2021

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Old Friends of '85

As I looked at the films of 1985, I realized that I had seen many of them before, not just once, but many times. In addition to the aforementioned Cannibal Holocaust and Oscar nominees Out of Africa and Ran, I reacquainted myself with such familiar faces as:

The Black Cauldron
dir: Ted Berman / Richard Rich
pr: Joe Hale
scr: story by David Jonas and Vance Gerry and Ted Berman and Richard Rich and Al Wilson and Roy Morita and Peter Young and Art Stevens and Joe Hale, additional dialogue by Rosemary Anne Sisson and Roy Edward Disney, additional story contributions by Tony Marino and Steve Hulett and Mel Shaw and Burny Mattinson and John Musker and Ron Clements and Doug Lefler

A farmboy realizes his pig is a magical being pursued by the Horned King. If the script and structure are evidence of frequent meddling and studio head tensions, the visuals and score at least provide the kind of cinematic "whoa" you'd hope from a Disney film. The visual effects here are awesome, from the titular cauldron to the flames and clouds to the backgrounds; the score is weird enough to perfectly fit the eerie setting. The sequence with the fairfolk seems an odd fit, as though they panicked and realized they needed something for the kiddies. The rest is cool.

The Breakfast Club
dir/scr: John Hughes
pr: John Hughes / Ned Tanen
cin: Thomas Del Ruth

Five teens of separate high school castes are brought together by detention. High school films are difficult to suss, for they are probably the most reflective of the period in which they were produced and therefore unlikely to age well, as far as sexual, racial, and social politics (everyone's white and straight and no one bats an eye at the use of "fag"). The Breakfast Club may be a time capsule, but it's not so much one of the 1980s as it is that of the teenage years in general, with all the confidence and insecurity, insight and ignorance, truth and lies that that age is uniquely capable of. We root for these kids not because they are good people (they aren't), but because they could be - they're figuring it out, just like we had to...have to.
dir: Jonathan Lynn
pr: Debra Hill
scr: Jonathan Lynn, story by John Landis and Jonathan Lynn
cin: Victor J. Kemper

When Mr. Boddy winds up dead, six dinner guests and the butler must figure out who killed him, where, and with what. Creative execution of a board game conceit continues in Murder by Death's vein by giving us a handful of comic stars (plus special guest Lee Ving), multiple endings (another hat-tip to the game), a plotline that recognizes America's past and present political history, post-war propaganda and tensions, and one immortal line after another. I am way too close to this movie to be objective about it, as my sisters, my cousins, and I have watched and rewatched it together almost annually since I was, let me think, born, and I played Professor Plum in a stage adaptation that I doubt was strictly legal. Still, the cult following speaks for itself: this movie is great, like GREAT.

The Goonies
dir: Richard Donner
pr: Harvey Bernhard / Richard Donner
scr: Chris Columbus, story by Steven Spielberg
cin: Nick McLean

On the eve of their eviction, a group of kids delves into the depths of their town to find hidden treasure. I would argue that there's too much going on, too many ideas for cool scenes thrown together to make up a "narrative," between the plumbing (a spectacularly dumb sequence that goes nowhere), the traps (cool!), and most of all, the absence of fat kid Chunk from much of the adventure so that he may delay the villains and befriend the deformed Sloth, which only seems to happen because, uh, plot...machinations....? Even the Fratellis feel like one kid too many. And just when I think it's overwhelming and dumb: a new eye-popping practical set, another cue on that wonderful score, a terrific line reading. It may be dumb, but it knows what it is.

The Last Dragon
dir: Michael Schultz
pr: Rupert Hitzig
scr: Louis Venosta
cin: James A. Contner

On Twitter, I mentioned that its portrayal of the grindhouse theaters of Times Square is, as far as I know, and can think of, and please correct me if I'm wrong, the only example of the theaters as a force for good in any kind of dramatization. When I see that mixed crowd of Black and Asian and trans and Latinx and white people united in their mutual appreciation for the cinema of Bruce Lee, I see a community, with cinema as the center of their world. The other center, of course, is the dance club/studio where the televised music video countdown program is hosted by Vanity, and that becomes the center for much of the movie's mayhem: see, this gangster wants his girlfriend to become a music star, and having extorted his way to success, he thinks he can shake down Vanity, too, but no! She has young Taimak on her side, a Black kid obsessed with Chinese martial arts and culture as he understands it - one great sequence sees him visiting a fortune cookie shop where his careful, clipped pidgin English is met by blaccented Asian youths, one of many scenes where the film explores the blurred lines of appropriation and appreciation in the melting pot of New York City. Like Clue, I've seen it too many times for too many years to approach it with anything but thumbs up. Also, it has the best soundtrack of the year.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
dir: Paul Schrader
pr: Tom Luddy / MataichirĂ´ Yamamoto
scr: Paul Schrader & Leonard Schrader & Chieko Schrader
cin: John Bailey

Like The Last Dragon and Clue... A biopic of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, cutting between the last day of his life and dramatizations of some of his works. This the best way to tell an author's story, not by winking at the audience with lines and circumstances that echo the work, but actually adapting, showing us how the daily interactions and fixations become these monumental works: how a sickly childhood leads to the destructive stutterer in Temple of the Golden Pavilion, how an obsession with youth and beauty informs Kyoko's House, how insecurities become obsessions become Runaway Horses, how a life dedicated to writing about acts of violence as being not just personally cathartic but necessary to society inevitably ends in an attempted coup and a successful suicide. God, it's damn near perfect, isn't it?

Summer Rental
dir: Carl Reiner
pr: George Shapiro
scr: Jeremy Stevens & Mark Reisman
cin: Ric Waite

A favorite of my dad's, in which an air traffic controller has a mini-breakdown and takes his family to Florida on their first vacation; hilarity ensues. There's a subgenre of such films (Captain Ron is another) and Dad liked them all, so we liked them all. Captain Ron got more play, so this was my first time revisiting it in well over a decade and I didn't realize how sincere it all is. Genuine conversations between John Candy and Rip Torn (in pirate garb as Scully) about family and the measure of a man's success, disaster upon disaster visited upon this decent but stressed man until he invites all his family to join in an activity with him and they eagerly do so. There's this wonderful, sad beat between Candy and eldest daughter Keri Green, the low point, where he says, "You can't win 'em all," and she replies, "Don't you wanna win just one?" It's a scene I understood, not just as this open moment between a father and daughter where she has to encourage him, but as part of Dad's affection for it, the recognition that a lot of parenthood is watching  

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