Blue Velvet

(USA 1986)

Who hasn’t seen Blue Velvet? Even though David Lynch was already established by the time it came out, it’s the film that introduced me to him. I saw it once or twice in late high school or early college, definitely on VHS. The River’s Edge was the only comparison I had, and that was a weird film but…not on the same level. I found Blue Velvet totally watchable because it’s very dark, very sexual, very fucking weird, and very voyeuristic.

That was then, this is now: Blue Velvet is still all of those things, but I don’t remember it having the sense of humor it does. It’s curiously funny. It marks the start of Lynch’s style as we know it: not just surreal (he had already done Eraserhead), but macabre and perverted underneath the innocuous and mundane premise. Lynch sets up his narrative in pieces that refer back and forth, like a moving puzzle. It’s brilliant, and it’s a formula that’s served him well.

Blue Velvet starts with a severed ear on the ground, bugs crawling all over it. A local college kid turned stalker (Kyle MacLachlan) proves a bit too curious when his minor obsession with a night club singer (Isabella Rossellini) leads him into a sadomasochistic nightmare that neither he nor we viewers can turn away from. The whole bizarre and sordid story goes full circle back to where it started: that ear. 

Dennis Hopper as Frank, the gas-huffing sociopath who ends every sentence with the F-word, colors the mood here. None of it would work, though, without Rossellini’s vulnerability, which is crucial. 

Lynch considered Molly Ringwald instead of Laura Dern and Val Kilmer instead of MacLachlan. Thank goodness it happened how it did; what a different film Blue Velvet would have been. For a movie that relies so heavily on nuance, that could’ve ruined Lynch’s career. It didn’t. 

With Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay, Jack Harvey, Ken Stovitz, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance, J. Michael Hunter, Dick Green, Fred Pickler, Philip Markert, Leonard Watkins, Moses Gibson, Selden Smith, Peter Carew, Jon Jon Snipes, Angelo Badalamenti, Jean Pierre Viale, Donald Moore, A. Michelle Depland, Michelle Sasse, Katie Reid, Sparky

Production: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Distribution: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 20th Century Fox (UK), Transmundo Films (Argentina), AMLF (France), Concorde Film (Netherlands), Concorde Filmverleih (West Germany), Finnkino (Finland), Hoyts Distribution (Australia), Shochiku-Fuji Company (Japan)

120 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B+

David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

(USA 1986)

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

—Ferris Bueller

I caught a 30th anniversary screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—what a treat to see it on the big screen again! The first time I saw this was with my mother and grandmother on a school night during its original run—that says a lot about its appeal. I had no idea that John Hughes wrote the screenplay in less than a week, or that it was his “love letter to Chicago” however readily apparent that is now, or that it was one of the top ten grossing films of 1986 ( I do know that it’s one of his best films, and in my opinion his last truly great one.

Where to begin? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is damn near perfect. An exquisite balance of Weird Science fluff and The Breakfast Club heaviness, it’s a fun escape fantasy anyone can relate to—calling in sick and hitting the city—that isn’t mindless. This film is hilarious, poignant in places, subversive, and in many ways so over the top, but it doesn’t insult your intelligence. The story’s holy trinity—mischievous Ferris (Matthew Broderick), quick-witted Sloane (Mia Sara), and high-strung jittery Cameron (Alan Ruck)—are spot on realistic. They’re downright cool—I’d hang out with them. Indeed, Ferris is enviable—admit it, you wanted to be him. I know I did.

The film is an interminable string of iconic scenes and lines: Ferris’s opening monologue, Ben Stein taking roll call (“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”), school secretary Grace (Edie McClurg) explaining to principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) that Ferris “is a righteous dude,” Cameron’s prank call to Rooney (“Pardon my French, but you’re an asshole”), the Ferrari, the Art Institute, “Twist and Shout,” the restaurant (“The Sausage King of Chicago?”), Wrigley Field, the singing telegram, “Save Ferris,” hateful Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey), Rooney’s bus ride home, and being sent home at the end of the credits. Interspersed is weighty stuff like Ferris’s realization that he and Sloane probably won’t be together after high school ends and Cameron’s meltdown—none of it out of place or trite in the context of the film. I can watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off over and over, and never get tired of it because it’s multilayered and always brings a smile to my face.

As for Hughes’s love letter to Chicago, I must say that living here, it’s strangely satisfying to walk down the street on any given day and encounter a setting—a corner, a street, a building—that I recognize from an iconic movie that to this day I love. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking it up.

In 2014, the United States Library of Congress deemed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

103 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Brew & View at The Vic) A

Pretty in Pink

(USA 1986)

Being a full-fledged child of the Eighties—I entered the decade at 9 years old and came out of it at 19—John Hughes spoke to me. Naturally, his teen movies (before he started aiming for Millennials with drivel like Home Alone and Curly Sue) hold a special place in my heart. It seems strange then that even though I played the soundtrack so many times I had to replace it twice, I never saw Pretty in Pink from start to finish. So, when a theater near me screened it to commemorate the 30th anniversary, I thought, “fuckin’ A, why not?”

Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) is a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Her mother abandoned her and her father (Harry Dean Stanton), who’s lost in sorrow because of it. Andie attends an apparently elite high school mainly for “richies”—poor girl slang for “rich kids.” Prom is looming, and no one has asked Andie, something she laments to her boss (Annie Potts) at the record store where she works. One of the aforementioned “richies”—Blane (Andrew McCarthy)—suddenly takes an interest in Andie, sparking jealousy and resistance from Duckie (John Cryer), Andie’s buddy since childhood, and Steff (James Spader), Blane’s best friend. Things get ugly when Blane asks Andie to be his date to the prom—uglier than that homemade dress she wears to it.

Hughes went for something a little more dramatic and maybe mature than what he had done up to this point. Nice try, but no cigar: Pretty in Pink doesn’t totally suck, but it’s not one of his better movies. The acting is good, particularly the scenes with Ringwald and Potts. However, the plot—poor girl meets rich boy—was a cliché even at the time. Hughes himself explored the idea of class and social hierarchy many times before in more interesting and thoughtful ways. The writing lacks the punch of, say, Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. The characters, even Duckie, are colorful but hollow compared to other Hughes films. I found it hard to relate to any of them. Even the alternate ending—Andie ends up with Duckie—is no improvement.

Perhaps its worst flaw is that Pretty in Pink is not one bit fun—it lacks the wit that marks a John Hughes films from this period. The subject matter is heavy, and there’s too much going on that weighs down the story—the business, for example, with Andie’s missing mother and having to coach her father back into reality coupled with the hate she and Blane face from their respective friends give Pretty in Pink a dour vibe. There’s a palpable cynicism that doesn’t work because it comes off as bitter. On top of that, there’s far less comic relief from the sidelines—Potts does her job here, but Cryer is more annoying than funny. Sure, there are some nice moments and a few good lines, but that’s it. Hughes hadn’t lost his touch—Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out later the same year—but Pretty in Pink is a drag.

All that said, no movie from the Eighties is complete without a soundtrack—and Pretty in Pink was a great one. When my music vocabulary was culled from pop radio and MTV, it introduced me to stuff I otherwise would have missed. I still listen to it today; in fact, I’m going to put it on now.

(AMC River East) C-