Witness

(USA 1985)

“I’m learning a lot about manure. Very interesting.”

— John Book

More drama than thriller, Peter Weir’s Witness is laced with action, sexual tension, and for good measure (or for good use of star Harrison Ford) a bit of comedy.

Ford is John Book, a jaded smartass Philadelphia detective. While investigating the murder of an undercover cop at a train station, he meets six-year-old Samuel Lapp (Lukas Haas), an Amish boy who witnessed the killing from a stall in the men’s room, and the boy’s recently widowed mother, Rachel (Kelly McGillis). She doesn’t quite trust Book or the world he comes from, but has to set aside her misgivings because he’s their protector for the time being.

Book stumbles upon a plot inside the Police Department and is forced into hiding after an ambush that nearly takes his life. At Rachel’s insistence, he retreats to her community in rural Lancaster County — “Amish country.” Book clumsily and reluctantly adapts to the lifestyle, and he shows he’s got a heart of gold beating underneath all that urbane crustiness. His “English” presence, though, threatens the peace of the Old Order and jeopardizes Rachel’s standing.

A sort of Blade Runner (https://moviebloke.com/2017/03/26/blade-runner-the-final-cut/) set in Amish Pennsylvania, Witness gets into morality, corruption, and culture clash. Its comparison/contrast of the Amish with the modern world is platitudinous and heavy-handed, so much that I found myself rolling my eyes at points. The climax is totally predictable but the tension between Book and Rachel is actually pretty good — good enough to make their subplot romance more interesting than the rest of the film. McGillis bears her breasts in an uncomfortably erotic scene. Bonus: Patti LuPone and Viggo Mortensen both have small parts, which I did not know going into this.

Ford’s only Oscar nomination, perhaps surprisingly, was for his performance in Witness (http://www.tvguide.com/news/oscars-2017-actors-who-have-never-won-an-academy-award/). He lost to William Hurt for Kiss of the Spider Woman (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1986). I can’t dispute the wisdom of that call. Still, Earl W. Wallace and William Kelley won for their screenplay.

With Danny Glover, Josef Sommer, Alexander Godunov, Brent Jennings, Jan Rubes, Angus MacInnes, Frederick Rolf, John Garson, Beverly May, Ed Crowley, Timothy Carhart, Marian Swan, Maria Bradley, Rozwill Young, Robert Earl Jones

Production: Paramount Pictures, Edward S. Feldman

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA), United International Pictures (UIP) (International), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (France), Svenska Filminstitutet (SFI) (Sweden)

112 minutes
Rated R

(Facets) C+

Weird Science

(USA 1985)

“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”

—Lisa

No one can accuse John Hughes of being highbrow with Weird Science, his farcical teenage male fantasy flick. The concept is ridiculously pedestrian: Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), two high school “donkey dicks” who “couldn’t get laid in a morgue,” create an impossibly hot woman (Kelly LeBrock) using their computer and a Barbie doll—where exactly the latter came from isn’t clear. They name their creation Lisa and hope to put her to use for something—they’re not quite sure what. Turns out, Lisa has her own plans for them. Hilarity ensues.

It might sound awful: Weird Science is silly, indulgent, and crass. What sets it apart from other dumb films of the same ilk is that it actually has a heart. Plus, it’s funny. LeBrock is cheeky, charming, warm, and wry here; she knows exactly when to be flirty and when to be more motherly. She puts forth sincerity in her affection for Gary and Wyatt; the way her voice wavers at their parting scene is more touching than she has any business being in a film like this. Bill Paxton is hilarious as Chet, Wyatt’s militant abusive older brother—”he’s kind of an asshole.” His delivery is downright inspiring—that “greazy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray” line gets a snicker out of me every time, as does pretty much everything he says. The scene with Gary’s parents (Britt Leach and Barbara Lang) is classic boy humor. Even Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Rusler are awesome in their smaller roles as tormentors. I love that Hughes incorporates elements from other movies, Mad Max: The Road Warrior and Return of the Jedi to name two. Even the (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek cheesy special effects fit. Bonus: Oingo Boingo. Somehow, Weird Science‘s utter juvenile goofiness is totally endearing. Be careful what you wish for—you just might get it.

94 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Home via iTunes) B-

Desperately Seeking Susan

(USA 1985)

“Yeah, well, fortunately for everyone, I’m here and I’m thinking.”

—Susan

Promoted as “the Madonna movie” when it came out just before the Virgin Tour kicked off in the spring of 1985, Desperately Seeking Susan is an ’80s time capsule: the story revolves around personal ads, the style is big hair bows and junk jewelry, the score is all synth, and of course there’s that catchy dance track “Into the Groove”—a deliciously raw demo, at that. It might seem unlikely, but this film has held up over time and has turned out to be an interesting little gem.

Desperately Seeking Susan is light and fun, but it’s not a fluff piece. Loaded with mistaken identities, missed connections, double reversals, and loopbacks, the plot is clever and tight even if it isn’t terribly complicated. Roberta Glass (Rosanna Arquette) is a lonely, unfulfilled housewife from Fort Lee, New Jersey. Neglected by her husband, Gary (Mark Blum), a hot tub salesman, she reads the personals for diversion and becomes obsessed with a recurring one between Susan (Madonna) and her boyfriend, Jim (Robert Joy). Roberta steps out to the City to spy on them when Jim summons Susan to Battery Park one afternoon. A series of finely timed events, including the exchange of a jacket with the Eye of Providence on the back of it and a nasty bump on the head, literally pulls Roberta into Susan’s wild life.

Director Susan Seidelman executes the whole thing nicely. The vibe is scrappy and energetic. The story is packed with great characters, and the actors all bring it to make them interesting and believable—even Madonna playing a far less ambitious version of herself. The standouts are Arquette; Laurie Metcalf, who plays Gary’s sister as a neurotic shrew; and Aidan Quinn, who plays projectionist and knight in shining armor Dez with the right amount of gruffness and sexiness. Notable small roles are John Turturro as Ray, the owner of the Magic Club; Steven Wright as Gary’s dentist; and Richard Hell as Bruce, the guy Susan leaves in a hotel room in Atlantic City. The best character, though, is New York City itself; all the exterior shots are fabulous if only for the fact that they capure a city that no longer exists. C’mon, I’m waiting!

104 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Home via iTunes) B

http://www.mgm.com/#/our-titles/524/Desperately-Seeking-Susan

The Breakfast Club

(USA 1985)

“You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?”

—The Breakfast Club

I’ve seen The Breakfast Club too many times to track—so many times, in fact, I can practically recite every line in order. What’s most interesting to me is personal: how volatile my view of this film has been through the years. Seeing it as a teenager in its day, I found it incredibly deep. John Hughes nailed high school social politics better than anyone, and he did it with humor and panache. I was taken aback at how accurately The Breakfast Club depicted my own adolescent perceptions, attitudes, frustrations, fears, and dreams. Seeing it in my 20s and 30s, however, I found it trite—moreso the older I got. Still, I adored its juvenile but sharp and totally quotable lines. Flipping through channels on a recent school night, I noticed that AMC was airing it—in like, five minutes. I hadn’t seen it in awhile, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out what impression it would leave on me now.

The Breakfast Club is an achievement. More like a play than a movie and decidedly minimalist in plot and execution—five characters in search of an exit—it’s unlike anything else Hughes did. The plot is simple: five high school students (Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, and newcomer Judd Nelson) from different backgrounds—and more importantly, different cliques—are forced to spend a day together in close quarters for a Saturday detention. Alien and hostile toward each other, they ultimately bond over silly and not so silly stuff. Not much happens, really—there’s a hallway run that ends with Bender (Nelson) shooting hoops for a scholarsheeeeeeeeep—but that’s okay; the drama comes from the personalities of the characters and the friction and attraction between them. Unlike the plot, the statement here is anything but simple: Hughes says a boatload about stereotypes, peer pressure, conformity, rules, family, and social mores—and how we all trap others and ourselves underneath them. In a way that sort of presages Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture, Hughes turns the “American Dream” on its head: all of these characters simultaneously embody and reject the ideal. Whether he’s hopeful for the future or not, he sees that these kids and this generation do not operate like those who came before it.

What makes The Breakfast Club work is its great ensemble cast. Even the shallow treatment of the adults (Paul Gleason as Principal Vernon and John Kapelos as janitor Carl) doesn’t take away from the film. It’s totally believable: after a deep exchange, I can’t help but think that everyone goes back to what they were doing before. Come Monday, maybe Bender dates Claire, maybe Andy dates Allison, and maybe everyone is nice to Brian—but I doubt it. A major theme here is that everyone is full of shit—even the good guys. The Breakfast Club is rooted in its time and culture (i.e., it’s very ’80s and very white middle class American), but it hits something universal. It’s also totally entertaining: it opens with a Bowie quote, has a classic theme song—”Don’t You (Forget about Me)” by Simple Minds—and is jam packed with snarky lines. What’s not to love?

A word about AMC: like a lot of cable stations, it censors “bad” words. I’m not a fan of that, but obviously it won’t stop me from watching something. That said, AMC could’ve done a better job editing here. The dubbing is horrible; apparently no attempt was made to find replacement words that even remotely match the characters mouths. Ditto for the voiceovers. The censoring often relies not on the word but the context. For example, AMC has an aversion to the word “dick” only when it refers to a penis—not when it refers to a jerk. It doesn’t like “asshole,” but “ass” is okay. It hates all forms of “shit,” replacing it with variations like “it’s the pits,” “eat slaw,” and “hogwash” (for “bullshit”). I recommend sticking with the uncut edition—foul language has a place here and something crucial is lost without it: realness.

In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Breakfast Club “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

97 minutes
Rated R

(AMC) A