THE BREAKFAST CLUB

By Marc S. Sanders

The outcry of teen angst in the 1980s comes through predominantly in the dramatic talking piece called The Breakfast Club.  I look at the film as a mature interpretation of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts Gang actually, and maybe an extension of some of the themes found in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.  The children are heard.  The adults are present but are mostly muffled and out of consideration.  Writer/Director John Hughes wanted the five teenagers destined to occupy a Saturday in the school library for detention to completely undo their armor.  With adults in the way, kids can never truly be themselves.  Lies, exaggerations and attempts at acceptable image come first but as his script progresses, the teens are reduced to expressing how they value themselves and each other. 

Having grown up watching The Breakfast Club by myself on many Friday nights after some challenging weeks of school, I was always looking to sit on the floor with this pack and share my own demons and fears.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes I felt as if the brain (Anthony Michael Hall, as Brian), the athlete (Emilio Estevez as Andrew), the basket case (Ally Sheedy as Allison), the princess (Molly Ringwald as Claire) and the criminal (Judd Nelson as John) spoke back to me and told me when I was wrong or when I was justified for having felt like I did. 

Nearly forty years later, some of the thought processes the five endure of themselves seems outdated and inappropriate, however.  For example, in Hughes’ film the female characters are sexually harassed, harshly criticized and/or they succumb to stepping outside their comfort zone and changing their appearance to please a male character.  Had this film been released in a post Me Too era, I think both sides of the political aisle would protest its content.  The Breakfast Club is certainly a movie of its day where it’s treated as comedic escapism to have Nelson’s character commit a fellatio act upon Ringwald’s panty covered crotch.  Do not mistake me.  I am not crying foul and demanding censorship or calling for torches and pitchforks.  The contents of The Breakfast Club should certainly remain preserved and viewed upon as what was a mindset of films in the 1980s, and perhaps how the opposite sexes treated one another then.  Sadly, it is still happening all too often.

The success of the film relies upon the differences in the characters.  None of them have the same interests.  Yet, if you allow them to live among themselves without any outside influences, they will open up to one another.  Hughes’ film begins where the characters hardly speak.  John gets the ball rolling as the troublemaker looking for shock value as he attempts to urinate on the floor in front of the others and then succeeds in unifying the students when he causes the library door to remain shut keeping Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleason), the teacher/antagonist, out of reach of them.  Why should the five work together against Mr. Vernon?  They don’t know or have respect for each other.  Why?  Because one generation will stand arm and arm against another generation, specifically a domineering entity. 

Now that they are isolated, Hughes writes in set ups allowing the five to shed their skin.  In one scene, the ladies empty the contents of their purses while the men’s wallets are exposed.  John sleeps around.  Allison may be mentally ill.  Claire lives off the vanity that comes with makeup and perfumes.  Brian’s middle name is revealed.  (“Ralph, as in puke.”)  The kids lie about their sexual conquests only to be cornered into telling how little experience some of them actually have.  Maybe the most common plane they share are their home lives.  Each uncovers how they relate to their parents and none of them have an ideal upbringing.  Rather, they are disregarded or abused or forced into an appearance they really are not passionate about.  Before the film ends, the five will have their battle cry of dancing individually first, and then lined up together, unified, to a song titled, We Are Not Alone

Hughes even allows enough time and subtlety to demonstrate how Mr. Vernon seems to suffer.  There’s a quick moment, where Vernon commits John to two months of detention.  As Vernon storms out of the room, John screams out “Fuck You!” and Hughes keeps a closeup on Vernon letting out a weary sigh.  His exhaustion of being the authoritative adult is wearing on him.  Yet, after twenty-two years of teaching it is also the only pedestal he has left to stand on; to rule over five misfits on a boring isolated Saturday.  Later, he’ll only feel his most powerful when he has John imprisoned away from the others and he can antagonize and threaten him with the intent of elevating his stature over a punk kid.  (Ironically, this moment also reveals how weak John is and not the intimidating bully he holds himself to be in front of the others.)  Later, Vernon tells the janitor how he’ll have to worry about these kids growing up to look after him when he is elderly.  He’s been so occupied with being sadistically cruel, he has not allowed time to carve out a balanced future.

The Breakfast Club is an important piece to watch for uncovering teenage mentality and the subconsciousness.  How do teenagers function by themselves, with outsiders, with their peers, and with their parents?  What’s best celebrated in many of John Hughes’ films are when he allows his characters not to hinder how they truly regard one another.  While I won’t spoil how these five consider each other by the end of this particular Saturday, as an adult and one who analyzes story more carefully than I did at age fourteen, I am disappointed with how Hughes concludes his film.  At least for four of the characters, it doesn’t seem right.  While I’m let down though, that doesn’t mean the movie is wrong. 

Teenagers will not always act upon what is right or more precisely what they know to be right or just.  Our teenage years are an opportunity to commit and then learn from our mistakes.  In our adolescent years, we explore what is forbidden with misbehavior and risk whether it be rebelling against authority, daring to drink and do drugs, acting upon sexual impulse or exacting bullying and peer pressure.  Even sneaking through the hallways around school is a game of cat and mouse where the goal is not to get caught by the teacher.

I’m inclined to recommend that parents watch The Breakfast Club with their kids when they are mature enough for the material.  Yet, I really don’t want to.  The whole point of the film is to cut off these kids from the outside world of parents and teachers and peers who expect something different of them than how they truly see themselves.  If my daughter were to watch this movie with mom and dad sitting right next to her, then she might not unequivocally respond to what Andrew, Claire, Allison, Brian and John really have to say.  To get in their minds, my daughter would have to watch without any outside influence where the conversation she has with the film is private between The Breakfast Club and her.  Perhaps, then she’ll see another teenager’s honest point of view.

EXPLORERS (1985)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Joe Dante
CAST: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller
MY RATING: 7/10
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 72% Fresh
Everyone’s a Critic Category: “Watch a Family-Friendly Film”

PLOT: Three friends try to unravel the mystery of these strange dreams they’ve all been having, at the same time.


I’m probably biased, but one of the best times to be a teenaged movie fan had to be the 1980s.  In the wake of his stupendous earlier successes, Steven Spielberg began to produce movies, letting other directors do the heavy lifting while he contributed behind the scenes.  This led to Gremlins, The Goonies, Young Sherlock Holmes, and of course, Back to the Future.  All in a two-year period.  Awesome.

In an attempt to replicate the success of these box-office favorites, director Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins) presented a film unabashedly aimed at its target audience, starring a cast of unknown, but immensely likable, teenagers, including two young men making their Hollywood debut: Ethan Hawke and a nerded-up River Phoenix.  While Explorers lacks the polish and sophistication of its predecessors, it is undeniably charming and, for a while at least, even a little spooky, even if the ending flies spectacularly off the rails.

Ben Crandall (Hawke) is a teenage kid obsessed with 1950s sci-fi movies.  He’s been having these strange dreams filled with what look like electrical schematics.  He draws these pictures as best he can and shows them to his best friend, Wolfgang (Phoenix), a science prodigy.  Ben also makes friends with Darren (Jason Presson), the stereotypical kid-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks, and brings him along when Wolfgang decides to turn on the machine he built using Ben’s drawings.

What this machine eventually enables them to do is fly around inside a converted Tilt-a-Whirl car using an Apple II computer to steer.  (Did I mention this was made in 1985?)  One night, though, a phantom signal takes control of their little craft and starts sending it up, up, up…into space?  I wouldn’t dream of saying.

As a fourteen-year-old kid watching this movie, I strongly identified with the idea of receiving a message from space, not to mention being able to fly in a makeshift spaceship.  To say I envied those kids on screen is a monumental understatement.  Their dialogue may not have been as refined as it could have been, and the sub-plot about Ben’s crush on the “gorgeous blonde” in his class is a little ham-handed (not to mention that plot point never really goes anywhere), but I didn’t care.  SPACE, man!  Just imagine being able to go to SPACE!  What a bunch of lucky kids!

Well, naturally, after a couple of false starts, the three of them actually make it to space, where they have a close encounter of the…goofy kind.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about.  You see, the aliens who were sending these schematics have been listening to and watching decades worth of TV signals.  So that’s how they communicate with our heroes.  Close Encounters it ain’t.  And the way these aliens look…any sense of wonder at being in space and communicating with an alien species gets torpedoed by the fact these guys look like a kid’s version of an alien.  Even Ben realizes something’s amiss when he says, “They don’t make any sense.”

So, yeah, Explorers is no Contact.  But let’s be fair, it was never meant to be.  Sure, it does kind of lead you down that garden path, but the final reels leave you in no doubt that this is sci-fi comedy, not drama.  It has not aged as well as its Spielberg-produced contemporaries.  But I watch it today, and I still get that little thrill of discovery when they turn that machine on for the first time.  And flying around in a spaceship that you built?  Who wouldn’t find that idea exciting?  Am I right?


QUESTIONS FROM EVERYONE’S A CRITIC

Which character were you most able to identify with or connect with?  In what way?
Shoot, are you kidding?  Ben, played by Ethan Hawke.  He was my age at the time.  Loved movies.  Loved sci-fi.  Wanted to be an astronaut.  Had a crush.  (Christine Day.  Went to my church.  Red hair.)  And also thought those aliens at the end made no sense.  Man, that was ME.

What elements do you feel are necessary to create an entertaining family-oriented film?  Do you feel this movie had those things?
Explorers has everything necessary to create an entertaining family-oriented film…in the first half.  The second half goes for easy laughs and cheapens what could have been something wondrous.  Alas.

THE GOONIES

By Marc S. Sanders

You know how there are some movies designed for that unexpected thunderous rainy, Saturday afternoon?  Maybe a Star Wars flick or an Indiana Jones.  James Bond or Marvel?  For me the best candidate is probably The Goonies, where the rascally kid in all of us comes alive, yearning for adventure like riding our bikes through the paths of the sleepy town we live in over to a hiding spot on the other side of the woods where a once long lost treasure map begins an unknown journey.  Quick on our tales though are the bad guys with the humped back, crooked nose and clicking revolver.

Richard Donner did more for The Goonies than I think a lot of people realize.  It’s no wonder to me that the film is officially inducted into the National Film Preservation Archives since 2017, the same year that pictures like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Ace In The Hole and Titanic also received their recognition.  Maybe Donner had help from producer Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Chris Columbus.  Granted, ahead of the age of cell phone addiction, these guys knew how twelve and thirteen year old kids ticked.  The Goonies bond over insulting each other, shoving one another, telling each other to shut up and freely dropping the s-word.  It’s a rite of passage.  It’s how I bonded with my buddies at that age.  Heck, I still maintain contact with my best friend at the time, Scott, and we still trade barbs like that even if we live over a dozen states away from each other.

Sean Astin plays the asthmatic leader of the gang, named Mikey.  A son of actors Patty Duke and John Astin, he made his film debut with The Goonies, and I think it holds as one of the best child performances to grace a screen.  He’s such a genuine little guy, who is passionate about making any last ditch effort to save his house and home town from being bulldozed by greedy golf course developers.  On a rainy Saturday afternoon, Mikey’s buddies ritually come over to the house and with his older brother Brand (Josh Brolin, another celebrity son making his film debut) make their way into the attic and uncover a treasure map written by the infamous pirate from the 16th century, One Eyed Willie.  Soon after, Mikey along with Mouth, Data and Chunk (Corey Feldman, Ke Huy Quan and Jeff Cohen) embark on adventure that leads them to the underground caverns of an old restaurant off the Pacific coast.  Two high school girls, Andy and Stef (Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton) join the gang.  Andy and Brand have adorable puppy love crushes on each other. 

One Eyed Willie’s map supposedly leads to a treasure of enormous wealth that Mikey and the gang believe can save their small town of Astoria from being razed.  However, there are inventive booby traps along the way, and the nasty Fratelli brothers with their cranky old mother (Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano and Anne Ramsey) are hot on their trail.  The Fratellis are straight out of those old Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.  They are hilarious with their bickering, and scary at the same time. Anne Ramsey was a special kind of character actor with her ugly appearance and craggily voice. It eventually even got her an Oscar nomination (Throw Momma From The Train).  

We may know how the story will end up, but Donner, Spielberg and Columbus advance with one unpredictable scene after another.  Reader, when I feel the height of suspense in a film, I actually tear up and I get a very nervous laugh.  The shootout scenes in Heat (1995) and Lethal Weapon will do that to me every time.  The lightsaber dual in The Empire Strikes Back and the snake pit scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark!!!!  I’ve been watching The Goonies since I was the age of most of these characters.  I still get this natural reaction when Andy has to play the correct notes on a skeletal piano to open a passageway.  Each time she plays the wrong note though, a tease of impending doom appears.  It works so well in the ensemble performance of the cast bellowing “Oh no!” and “Oh shit!” and “My God!” and “Hurry up!”  Edited with the quickly advancing villains getting closer, and the pulse beat music accompanied by composer Dave Grusin, and you are so caught up in their escapades now, that it feels like you are there.

All these kids become your best friend quickly.  Data is the inventor with the tripped out gadgets, inspired by James Bond, ready to set his own booby traps.  Mouth is the Spanish interpreter who gleefully causes trouble and mischief, but Feldman the actor is allowed some tender moments as well.  Jeff Cohen is like the Curly of The Three Stooges who gets sidetracked on his own adventure with a monstrous but loving, and sadly rejected son of the Fratellis.  A chained-up ghoul named Sloth (John Matuszak).  Cohen might have the best comedic moments in the film.  When I moonlight in Community Theater, I still must remind myself that just once I’d like to audition with his hysterical crying monologue where he confesses to stealing his uncle’s toupee to use as a beard to dress up as Abraham Lincoln, while another time he used fake vomit to sicken an entire movie house.  Hilarious stuff! 

There are dropping boulders, rattling pipes, a waterfall wishing well, scary skeletons, that creepy piano, and fun water slides to circumvent around One Eyed Willie’s maze onward to his legendary treasure aboard the most spectacular pirate ship ever seen.  Rarely are kid’s adventures constructed like this anymore.  I dunno.  Maybe it’s the script.  More likely, maybe it is the cast of kid actors doing one of the best ensemble performances together on screen.  Their timing could not be more perfect among the seven Goonies. 

The Goonies is a much more honest and transparent look at how kids behave with one another than you might find in a bleached-out Disney flick.  These kids get dirty and unsophisticated, yet thoughtful.  They are not age 21 playing age 14.  They don’t have fashionable haircuts and designer clothing. They are not pop singers trying to be actors.  Most importantly, the conversations among the gang are more natural in pal around rudeness.  You’re not really a friend unless you are telling the kid next to you to shut up and exclaiming “Oh shit!” when another encounter with danger lurks ahead. 

The Goonies is just a fun ride to watch over and over again. It succeeds with its own interpretation of The Little Rascals, and it’ll give you all the feels as you watch Mikey plead with One Eyed Willie for the next clue, or when he stops to remind his Goonies that there’s more at stake than just a play date on a Saturday afternoon. 

My advice is to keep the rose colored glasses off your children’s eyes.  Let them know it’s okay to get in trouble and make mischief.  Make sure your kids know they should be the best Goonies they can be.

CODE OF SILENCE

By Marc S. Sanders

I must admit I have not watched many Chuck Norris movies. Just a handful here or there like The Delta Force, but on my radar to catch was always the cop thriller from 1985, Code Of Silence. I always intended to watch it someday as the film is highly endorsed by Siskel & Ebert. As well, it’s directed by Andrew Davis, the skilled filmmaker who would go on to direct The Fugitive and Under Siege.

Code Of Silence works in two ways; two stories that live up to the title. Norris is a Chicago cop named Eddie Cusack who heads a squad of under covers within the city. The film opens with what is supposed to be a well-planned drug bust that goes wrong when the one mob faction is overrun by another mob. Cusack’s informant as well as others turn up dead just before his band were to move in with arrests. Nearby, two of Cusack’s men come upon a young, unarmed man. The rookie officer witnesses the elder officer accidentally shoot the kid, and afterwards he plants a pistol in his hand to make it look like self-defense.

Now Cusack has to contend with a mob war in the streets where a boss’ daughter (Molly Kagan) is the only survivor of an attack and he must protect her. While at the same time he has to deal with his squad turning on him because he knows what the elder cop really did. The code of silence motif is expected to be honored in both camps. Personal vendettas and violations of police policy need to remain quieted.

The film belongs to Norris exclusively. Andrew Davis allows some of the action star’s kickboxing skills to work their way into the movie, and it all becomes a sidestep dance routine really. It always amuses me in these action pictures where the star will take on twenty guys at once yet he fights one or only two of them at a time. The other eighteen or nineteen thugs wait their turn. Why not just have all of them tackle Norris all together? No. Then we wouldn’t get his outstretched 360-degree roundhouse kicks in the air.

There’s also an unnecessary cop robot contraption that Norris pilots for the climactic action packed ending. This thing looks a rejected auditioner for the role of Johnny 5 in Short Circuit. The robot must have been too tall for the part and rather clunky. It has no relevance to either storyline and was obviously inserted for fun, campy violence of fireballs and explosions in the necessary old, abandoned warehouse where all of these actioners have to take place.

Fortunately, Code Of Silence has good story material to work with, and some thrilling stunt work including Chuck Norris pursuing a bad guy on top of a moving elevated train that makes its way with an eventual leap into the river. From what I could tell, that was really Mr. Norris himself in that whole scene. Good footage here.

Andrew Davis relies on what would become regular side characters that appear in many of his other films including Ron Dean and Joseph Kosala. They always make for good cop antagonists within the Chicago settings of his films. Norris is also good in a quiet Clint Eastwood kind of manner as he holds his own beliefs against the rest of his department who support the elder cop.

I like the conflicts that happen on both sides of the law in Code Of Silence. Sure, it’s got some silliness to it with the kickboxing and the gigantic, cop robot that shamelessly waddles along, but the two stories hold up by keeping me engaged of their outcomes.

Code Of Silence is a pretty effective thriller.

COMMANDO

By Marc S. Sanders

Colonel John Matrix (HUGE ACTION STAR NAME WITH MUSCLE AND BULK AND SWEAT AND…AND…MUSCLE, because this is Arnold Schwarzenegger) lives a quiet life in the beautiful nature the mountains have to offer him, along with his 11-year-old daughter Jenny Matrix (Alyssa Milano). SIDE BAR: Imagine roll call at elementary school and that name comes up, Matrix, Jennifer Matrix. OKAY! BACK ON POINT: Father and daughter tickle one another, mash ice cream in each other’s faces and feed gentle deer from the palm of their hands. By and large, Commando is a beautiful after school special.

However, this is also a cheerfully bloody and fiery explosive R rated after school special adventure. Jenny is kidnapped and used as ransom to coax John, better known as Matrix, (cuz it’s cooler that way), into assassinating a foreign political leader. Though that’s not how this film is gonna go.

Matrix makes an escape from his watchful guard who ends up “dead tired,” by jumping out of a commercial airliner. He determines that he has eleven hours to find Jenny and blow everyone up real good. He gets help from an airline stewardess, a hilarious Rae Dawn Chong that pioneered what Sandra Bullock memorably did later in Speed. She conveniently has been taking flying lessons that will get Matrix to the private island where Jenny is being held. Thank goodness for that, or Jenny might never see daddy again. Everything happens for a reason.

Look, the chances this film would ever be Oscar nominated against the 1985 Best Picture winner, Out Of Africa, were slim for sure. However, all these years later and I’m still not exhausted of repeatedly watching Commando. It’s a comfortable crowd pleaser. The film is action packed to the teeth with bad guys getting impaled, razor saw disks being used as frisbees to take off a scalp or two, arms getting chopped off and big bunker houses being blown up into huge balls of fire. Thankfully, lots of blood gets to splurt all over the place.

This is an action film for the eyes and ears. For me, it’s better than any of the unfunny Rambo films with their minimal dialogue. In Commando, you get some fun at a shopping mall with elevators rolling across the floors and swings from balloon streamers. Matrix even pushes 10 security guards off him all at once. There are car chases. In a neighboring hotel room, he takes on another muscle head while a naked couple is going at it in the room next door. Commando is just too damn funny, for sure.

Schwarzenegger is a master of the one liner. He drops a bad guy off a cliff and tells his new stewardess friend “I let him go.” Well, he ain’t lying. Rae Dawn Chong is equally funny in her own way. I’d argue the script called for a nothing woman role and she brought something special to the picture. Her incessant complaints and screams at this ridiculous circumstance she gets caught up in are laugh out loud hilarious. Commando is not just action alone. The characters respond to the hyped-up scenarios.

No, the villains are nothing special. A potbellied cheesy porno lookalike Australian, named Bennett (Vernon Wells), with a chain mail tank top and tight leather pants is a former squad member of Matrix’ team from when they were military mercenaries. Bennett is no James Bond villain by any measure, but he’s pleasurably laughable, even if it is all unintentional.

This is a guy’s movie for the most part. It’s brawny and muscled out. It’s got machine guns, shotguns, handguns, and even more guns along with some grenades, detonators, knives and a rocket launcher that seems to become a character all its own. However, I think there’s an opportunity for chick flick adoring women to have a good time with Commando too, when I once again hearken back to Rae Dawn Chong. She is probably Schwarzenegger’s best female counterpart in any of his films. Yes! Above Linda Hamilton and Jamie Lee Curtis. The chemistry just works so well here.

There’s so much to like about Commando and I believe it remains as one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s satisfyingly best films to date.

CLUE

By Marc S. Sanders

The players:

Mr. Green – Michael McKean

Mrs. Peacock – Eileen Brennan

Miss Scarlett – Leslie Ann Warren

Colonel Mustard – Martin Mull

Mrs. White – Madeline Kahn

Professor Plum – Christopher Lloyd

With Wadsworth the Butler (Tim Curry) who “Buttles!” and Yvette the Maid (Colleen Camp).

The roles and who portrays them are the most important thing to follow in the film adaptation of the board game Clue. After that, it’s the ridiculous farce. Motivations and vague connections among the characters are spit out with rapidity by Curry’s zany Wadsworth, the buttler Butler. He’s the real star of the show but every actor makes their own variation of hilarity.

All of them have been summoned for dinner on a dark and stormy night at Mr. Boddy’s mansion. They have been specifically instructed to identify themselves by the colorful moniker documented in their invitations. None of them know each other or Mr. Boddy. Or do they????? Hmmmm!!!

Once they are there, dinner is served accompanied by Yvette’s physical attributes that express themselves quite well in her French Maid’s uniform. Soon after, the board game’s well known weapons (lead pipe, candlestick, revolver, wrench and so on) present themselves and then Boddy turns up dead in the library. Naturally, the players must explore the other well known rooms in the creepy mansion including the kitchen, the billiard room and conservatory to uncover what’s happened…even though he’s dead in the library already.

Eventually, and because the film is fast approaching it’s 90 minute mark, Wadsworth begins to manically explain who the murderer is and how and where it was done. Oh yeah! Other unfortunates have turned up dead as well, including a policeman and a singing telegram.

Clue is on the zany level of Airplane! and The Naked Gun. John Landis co-wrote the film with director Jonathan Lynn and honestly, they could not do anything wrong with the picture as long as they kept everything completely stupid for the sake of comedy. All of the players lend to that ridiculousness going so far as to even pose with the dead corpses to mask the fact that they are truly expired. No matter that the cook has a dagger in her back.

The famous board game is rightly honored even with the square tiled floor in the hall and the secret passages that connect the rooms. Agatha Christie mysteries are targets though too. The assembly of these legendary comedians, who were all pretty much established by the time Clue was released in 1985, know how to find one of Christie’s personality suspects and springboard off of that for great gags.

Look, best I can tell you is don’t pay much attention to whatever motives are rambled about. The visuals are what’s important. Watch how ridiculous Tim Curry gets as he tries to keep this game all in order. Though a sense of order should never be expected. You’ll realize that early on after the Butler accidentally steps in dog poop, and the most important thing over the next five minutes is watching each player sniff for what is that awful aroma. It sounds silly. It sounds immature, but that’s what is specifically fun about the film.

TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.

By Marc S. Sanders

William Friedkin is the director of one of the greatest automobile chases ever put on film with the 1971 Best Picture The French Connection. In 1985, he tried to up his game with the counterfeit caper called To Live And Die In L.A. He just about tops himself.

It is a dated flick with a Wang Chung soundtrack, popped up shirt collars, black leather jackets, and skinny ties. Friedkin goes Miami Vice and it more or less works but his lead player, William Peterson, is no Don Johnson. He’s more like a contestant on the dating show Love Connection.

Peterson plays a Secret Service agent with the last name of Chance; Richard Chance to be more precise. Kind of apprapo as he seems to always test his fate like bungee jumping off bridges (long before bungee jumping was ever a thing) and taking his tactics over lines that should not be crossed.

Chance is on the trail of nabbing counterfeiter, Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), who killed Chance’s partner with only three days left until retirement. The cop who gets killed early on always seems to have three days left until retirement. To get at Masters will require Chance to…well…take some chances. He’ll blackmail a prostitute informant. He’ll also pressure his new partner (John Pankow) into circumventing policy. As well, like any movie cop or agent, he’ll go against the instructions of his supervisor. Chance might even rip off a diamond dealing exchange.

The acting is nothing special here. Peterson looks more athletic than fierce or driven. He’d never be Gene Hackman. Dafoe’s weirdly youthful appearance with his Benneton ‘80s outfits look…just that…well…weird! He’s an artist (like with actual paintings) while also printing fake money.

Friedkin’s film carries on its longevity through the years with an effective car chase; one of the best on film. From what I can tell he mounted a camera on the hood of the car. The camera can pivot 360 degrees. So we can see Peterson driving the car and then the camera can swoosh and turn to give a point of view as to where the car is driving. So now the viewer can see where the cars are careening and turning and speeding towards. It gets especially hairy when the car goes the wrong way up the freeway exit ramp into rush hour traffic. No CGI work here. This is in your face material.

To Live And Die In L.A. is worth the watch. A surprise moment towards the end also gets your attention by going against the typical cops and robbers formula film. The shoestring budget is apparent here with quite dull, very dull, cinematography and no big stars at the time (Peterson, Dafoe, Pankow, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell). However, William Friedkin does his best to make every moment worth it, and I can’t deny it, this 80s raised kid thinks the Wang Chung soundtrack is so friggin’ cool.

WITNESS

By Marc S. Sanders

Recently, I viewed The Last Emperor and one issue I had was that it was challenging to comprehend the in-depth culture of the people it depicted. I really wanted to learn and pass the final exam with flying colors. Sadly, this was an AP class that I just wasn’t qualified for.

Now that I have watched Witness for the first time in many moons, I can honestly say there is an approach where you can get absorbed in a thrilling crime drama while also appreciating the core values of the community the film focuses on, namely the Amish who reside in the state of Pennsylvania. It’s a much easier film to learn from. That’s for sure.

Peter Weir directed Harrison Ford to his only Oscar nomination to date. Ford plays police officer John Book, opposite Kelly McGillis as Rachel Lapp, a widowed Amish mother traveling by train from home to visit family. At a layover stop in Philadelphia, her young son Samuel (Lukas Haas, in one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen, so bright, observant and wide eyed) witnesses a murder committed by a decorated narcotics police officer (Danny Glover). When Book gets wind of who the cop is, all three of their lives are in danger and they are forced to flee and hide back at the Lapps’ home among the Amish community. Book, however, has taken a gun shot wound following an attempt on his life. The Amish see no choice but to heal him, especially at Rachel’s insistence.

Weir, with a marvelous script by Earl & Pamela Wallace and William Kelley, shows the intersection of two extremely different ways of life where an “Englishman’s” belief in aggressive tactics conflicts with the peaceful nature of people looking to never get involved with any other culture. A romance may seem inevitable between the two leads but it’s a difficult one to embrace. It’s truly forbidden, not simply by the elder Amish and their respective code, but both Book and Rachel know it can’t happen either.

Because we are aware of this forbidden romance that seems to break through anyway, there’s a terrific dance scene at night lit only by headlights within the barn. Ford and McGillis really shine through in this scene as it is the first escape from the fear they have for their lives and the code they honor and are reluctant to violate. It’s the best scene in the whole film. It presents possibilities for different people to interact despite the barriers that prevent such feelings and actions. They laugh and swing naturally. It’s a different kind of moment for Harrison Ford, unconventional when compared to a large majority of the action film roles he’s widely recognized for.

With a biting soundtrack of suspense from Maurice Jarre, Peter Weir also focuses on the theme of intrusion. When the climactic and certainly expected shootout sequence on the farm is to begin, it’s frightening and disturbing to actually see men in suits holding shotguns amid an unarmed society. There’s a masterful shot at dawn of the three men marching down the hill quickly approaching the farm. These aren’t cops being covert. These are cops storming a palace of peace and tranquility. It’s hard to watch because of the stain it leaves.

Josef Sommer is the lead dirty cop and he plays a great villain, truly an uncelebrated bad guy character, as the years have gone on. He’s a decorated officer who comes off with an intent that looks like it’s noble, until nobility will no longer work and intimidation has to set in. Weir shoots Sommer at a lower angle to give him an imposing height.

Ford is terrific. You see some of the Han Solo vibe in the character. He’s a tough cop after all, but then he transitions into an awakened man healed by the more primitive methods of the Amish and their drive to simply build and nurture. Another good moment occurs when Book contributes to building a barn with the other men. He shares lemonade with them. Assists with lifting the framework and hammering along. Two communities are no longer clashing. They are now blending.

McGillis is also very good in her role. She is determined to honor her background, but questions if she is capable of sin and defends her position later.

Witness gives an in depth look into the daily life of the Amish, literally how they farm, build and dress. Book wakes up with them before sunrise to milk the cow and he experiences what they endure from pesky tourists looking for photo ops. It makes for some funny moments as well as an opportunity to cheer for the stand he eventually takes.

Another funny moment is when Ford dons the Amish attire for the first time; it doesn’t exactly compliment him well at first. Book’s adaptability to his new community is awkward to grasp.

Witness presents a bird’s eye view into a very private way of living, and I saw a very large picture.

Beyond that, it’s also a crackling, good thriller.

WEIRD SCIENCE

By Marc S. Sanders

John Hughes, as a writer, stretched his imagination far at times. Really far!!!!! You’d have to, to build up your confidence to make a ridiculous comedy like Weird Science come to life. The movie is blatantly absurd, outrageous, a little crude and outright nonsensical. It’s Frankenstein meets Pretty In Pink. It’s alive!!!!!

Double, maybe quadruple, Uber Nerds Gary and Wyatt (Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith) spend their Friday night in front of the computer to create the hottest woman ever. With the help of a Barbie doll and some Playboy centerfolds, nothing on earth will compare to this creation for the XX chromosome community. They give her a brain as well by scanning in photographs of Albert Einstein, of course. From there, “Lisa” (Kelly LeBrock), with the toned body that SCREAMS SEX, plots out the boys’ weekend at a blues club, then the mall and later a party at Wyatt’s house where the boys’ reputations are enhanced almost as well as Lisa’s chest.

Lisa helps Gary and Wyatt overcome their insecurities with their popular girl crushes and teaches Chet, Wyatt’s idiot green beret brother, to lay off. Chet is played by Bill Paxton. Can you imagine anyone else playing Chet?

There’s a cuteness to Weird Science. However, the slapstick gags are what really wins. Either you like this silliness or you don’t. I get amused watching all the furnishings of Wyatt’s house, including the Baby Grand piano, get sucked out the chimney along with a half-naked girl. I love it when Lisa freezes the blue blood grandparents in the pantry closet or when she erases the memory of Gary’s father. I also like how Chet is reduced to a big blob of literal shit. Then there’s the nuclear missile that rises out of the floor, up through the roof.

Take off your cap of sophisticated maturity, and just appreciate silly, sophomoric comedy for a change. It’s all harmless, anyway. Lisa makes sure everything is back in its place by the end, only now it’s better and funnier than before.

JUST ONE OF THE GUYS

By Marc S. Sanders

Okay. Okay. No need to throw darts my way. Sorry, but I love the 80s teen comedy Just One Of The Guys.

People please!!!!! Please understand my position on this subject. It’s Joyce Hyser!!!! One of my top three crushes from adolescence – Joyce Hyser. Joyce Freakin’ Hyser!!!!!

Now the irony is that while I have-yes, still have, and my wife has accepted this-a crush on Joyce Hyser the point of this film directed by Lisa Gottlieb is that lead character Terry needs to prove that she is more than just good looks. Terry is not just a hot chick. Terry has a brain, and to prove that she has the potential to be a fantastic journalist, she will register in another local high school where she will submit her article that’ll award her a summer internship at the Sun Tribune newspaper. Only thing is to keep her looks from getting in the way, she’ll have to register as a male student.

All the trappings of comedy cross dressing occur like using boys bathrooms and avoiding jock strap inspections from the gym teacher. She also has to put up with keeping her sex starved brother Buddy (Billy Jacoby) from teasing and revealing her secret. As well, her studly college boyfriend can never find out. An unwelcome crush (Sherilyn Fenn) on her male persona is trouble too. Oh yeah, and the typical 80s cinematic bully, actor William Zabka, has returned for the millionth time. There’s a lot packed into this cute flick that’s a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Gottlieb’s film also steals elements from Jane Austen. The confused romance angle occurs. Terri decides to make Rick Morehouse (Clayton Rohner) the subject of her article. He’s a James Brown loving guy with no style and a crush on the bully’s girlfriend. Terri transforms him while she becomes Rick’s best guy pal. Only problem is that while Terri is working on finding a prom date for Rick, she’s also falling for him.

There’s a sweetness to Just One Of The Guys that always touched me as a teenager. Joyce Hyser as Terry is written more down to earth than characters from other teen 80s comedies. She has ambition and the movie stays with that theme. It’s important that Hyser is positively appealing in the looks department because it’s the Achilles heel of her character. Too often people are judged by their appearance. Her journalism teacher even suggests that she should pursue modeling with next to no shot at being a journalist. Interesting to see this scene in 2020 following the changes that sprung from “Me Too.” Frankly, the scene seems to have more impact today. It’s unfair to think that way about women. Just One Of The Guys with a script from Dennis Feldman & Jeff Franklin knew that well enough from the mid 1980s.

The film also has great side characters. It does really well in the geek gag department. One loves tiny reptiles, that he keeps housed in his pockets. Two others seem to share the same brain on a B movie science fiction level. They’re especially hilarious. Plus, the film boasts a zippy soundtrack that is one of my favorites.

I’ll also proudly say that the infamous topless scene that comes at the end actually seems necessary here, and not exploitive. It almost has to be done when the reveal is finally dawned upon Rick.

That and one of the best film ending on screen kisses make Just One Of The Guys one of my favorite 1980s byproducts.