‘1985’ Film Review: Retro AIDS Tale Earns Its Tears



Dutch Rall

Prepare to break out the handkerchiefs several times during writer-director Yen Tan’s “1985,” a deeply emotional tearjerker and family story set in a year when an HIV diagnosis was effectively a death sentence. This is a realistic, discreet, yet exploratory film that earns its tears honestly and scrupulously.
Gay, closeted, and HIV-positive Adrian (Cory Michael Smith, “Gotham”) comes home to Texas for Christmas for what he knows will probably be the last time. Tan’s camera keeps a polite and empathetic distance from Adrian and his parents Dale (Michael Chiklis) and Eileen (Virginia Madsen), both of whom are very religious, and his little brother Andrew (Aidan Langford, “Bosch”).
The set-up of this story admittedly doesn’t sound too promising, and the very grainy black-and-white cinematography might be a problem for some viewers, but “1985” is a film that is full of virtues, not least the acting talent of its cast, who are all expert at conveying a lot of subtext underneath words and physical behavior. It seems clear that Tan (“Pit Stop”) has worked with his actors very closely and sensitively, and he has won deeply felt work from them.
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Smith has the kind of very severe male beauty and moral gravity that distinguished the leading men in Jacques Demy’s movies from the 1960s. He has the ability to suggest profound levels of decency and despair while also somehow never losing an astringent quality that keeps some of the sadder scenes from getting out of control; this is a crucial skill because there are so many brutally sad scenes in this movie, many of them allowed to play out in what feels like real time.
The actors in “1985” expertly shape their behavior while working in a very patiently naturalistic vein, and Tan’s gentle style with the camera matches them. He uses a lot of low angles to make you feel as trapped as Smith’s character Adrian is at home, and he even makes subtle adjustments to the sound design sometimes so that we really can feel how Adrian has to detach himself from some family interactions, particularly at the dinner table.
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Adrian’s young brother Andrew is having trouble because he is also gay but he is unable to “pass” as well as Adrian did. Chiklis’s Dale worries that Andrew is coming off as too soft for their world; this film takes place in a time and milieu where ministers come to people’s houses in order to burn their sinful records.
Smith is at his best in scenes with Langford’s Andrew because he gets to mentor his little brother a little, and this is at first a relief and finally a kind of torture because Adrian knows that he has limited time to do so, and he is worried about that. This situation and relationship finally begins to feel like a potent symbol for the loss of so many people like Adrian in the 1980s and 1990s, and the subsequent loss for gay kids like Andrew who missed out on all the advice and encouragement they might have gotten from that lost generation.
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“1985” is filled with rich and unexpected scenes, such as the interaction that Adrian has outside a grocery store with a former bully named Marc (Ryan Piers Williams) who insists on giving him a free pie to make up for the past. There is nothing conventional about the beats of this scene, or any of the other scenes in this movie. We don’t know what to expect, and we finally don’t know what to feel, and it’s always a relief when a film allows us to figure that out for ourselves.
A particular triumph here is Tan’s handling of Adrian’s former girlfriend Carly (Jamie Chung, “The Gifted”), a magnetic young Korean-American girl who is an aspiring stand-up comic. The role of the rejected female in stories like this has generally been a thankless one, but Carly is a vibrant and necessary addition to the film.
In the very painful scene where Carly expresses her anger toward Adrian, who is in absolute agony having to hear what she says, Tan doesn’t make it easy for anyone — he lets this scene play out as punishingly as it would in life. But in a later scene where Adrian confides in Carly, Tan offers us the pleasures of intercut close-ups of the two of them that linger on Carly’s deeply likable and attractive attempts to stop crying and resume her “tough chick” attitude by taking drags on her cigarette. She’s trying to be tough for herself here, yes, but also for her friend and former lover Adrian.
At the end, it is Madsen who comes to the rescue in “1985” when the pain involved in this story begins to seem too much to bear. She has a close-up here where she chooses to have Eileen smile at her son rather than break down and weep, and this is a perfect choice from Madsen because Adrian needs this smile just as much as the movie itself does. Madsen has done very soulful work whenever she has had the opportunity, but she has rarely been as fine as in this scene where her character radiates heartbroken maternal love and hard-won acceptance.
“1985” is very tough to watch sometimes, but it’s not depressing: it very believably dramatizes the kind of grace under pressure that can make any of us heroic when we are backed against the wall by life.

Who’s the best bad guy on Fox’s “Gotham”? We rank all the bad guys we’ve seen so far. This list will be updated with new villains as they come in season 3 and beyond, and as characters warrant reevaluation.
Fox

38. Harvey Dent (Nicolas D’Agosto)
Not actually a villain yet, so technically he sucks. I’m sure he’ll move up once he becomes Two Face (if that ever happens). For now, he’s just generally unhelpful as Gotham’s DA.
Fox

37. Mr. Freeze (Nathan Darrow)
Hopefully now that he looks hilarious he’ll grow a personality instead of just moping around all the time.
Fox

36. Sal Maroni (David Zayas)
So annoying and bad at being a gangster that I’m surprised he survived almost to the end of the first season.
Fox

35. The Electrocutioner (Christopher Heyerdahl)
The “Gotham” showrunners have so far missed out by not having him back since Mr. Freeze and Firefly came along. We’re due for an evil team-up of villains who carry elemental guns. Get on it.
Fox

34. The Red Hood Gang
The only reason I didn’t completely forget about these guys is because there was a callback to them late in season 2.
Fox

33. The Spirit of the Goat
This is technically several people, and the actual “goat” is, I guess, the evil therapist (Susan Misner) who managed to convince people to become serial killers. Anyway, points added for excess complexity. Points subtracted for being otherwise boring.
Fox

32. Evil Bruce (David Mazouz)
Very much a dope, and yet to prove his value as part of the Gotham evilness. There’s a lot of potential here, at least.

31. Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari)
Exactly the sort of corrupt police commissioner Gotham needed: incredibly unlikable and irritating. You’d enjoy watching him get his, admit it.
Fox

30. Mayor James (Richard Kind)
A bumbling but fun idiot. It was really kind of a bummer that Galavan didn’t kill him.
Fox

29. Matches Malone (Michael Bowen)
Only has two scenes, but one of them was that one where Bruce Wayne’s mom and dad get murdered. Because he murdered them. In his other scene he shoots himself in the face. Points for having an efficient arc, I guess.
Fox

28. Mario Falcone (James Carpinello)
Amusing to watch, sure, but “super strong raging lunatic” is not the most inventive brand of “Gotham” villain.

27. Carmine Falcone (John Doman)
A little too vanilla for “Gotham,” and doesn’t really fit in in the new wacky world of Batman villains. And that contrast becomes even more evident when he returned in season 3. So, yeah, get outta here.
Fox

26. Silver St. Cloud (Natalie Ayn Lind)
Finally, Bruce Wayne has met a girl who can relate to how rich he is. Unfortunately, she’s also trying to kill him, and it’s impossible to tell when she’s being sincere. She thinks dolphins can read minds, though, which is pretty dumb even if she was just trying to be poetic. Children, ugh.
Fox

25. Basil a.k.a. Clayface (Brian McManamon)
Basil, who can shapeshift after being resurrected by Hugo Strange, brings tremendous sitcom-ish potential to “Gotham.” His face is hilarious.
Fox

24. Zaardon (David Fierro)
A truly delightful fake villain who belches a blue smoky toxin. Even in death he entertains.
Fox

23. The Lady (Michelle Gomez)
Pretty much a video-game villain, having had her business ruined by single dude (Jim Gordon) who fought off her army of hired killers.
Fox

21-22. Gerald Crane and Jonathan Crane (Julian Sands and Charlie Tahan)
Tragic figures on “Gotham” tend to be pretty meh unless they are so tragic you start to feel real emotions about them. The Cranes (Jonathan will eventually become the Scarecrow) actually manage to pull that off! 
Fox

20. Theo Galavan/Azrael (James Frain)
An excellent schemer who ends up foiled by Tabitha, killed by Penguin and Gordon, resurrected by Hugo Strange (who tricks him into thinking he’s the 300-year-old St. Dumas warrior Azrael), then blown up with a rocket launcher by Butch. Now THAT is a fully formed character arc.

Fox

19. The Flamingo (Raul Castillo)
“It’s not a job if you love what you do,” Eduardo Flamingo says as he’s torturing and getting ready to eat a dude. It’s a little bit hard to hate this guy.
Fox

18. Richard Sionis (Todd Stashwick)
A corporate boss who makes the interns fight each other with swords to determine who gets the real job. That probably makes him my role model. 
Fox

17. Father Creel (Ron Rifkin)
Not only is Creel a priest who sacrifices children, but he’s also an old man who can jump real high. A double whammy of Cool Villain Things.
Fox

16. Copperhead (Leslie-Ann Brandt)
“Gotham” may be overflowing with assassin characters, but they aren’t all super-memorable. Copperhead definitely is, though, despite only appearing in one episode — she’s one of the few bad guys on the show who are calm and rational instead of being unhinged in some way.
Fox

15. Poison Ivy (Claire Foley, Maggie Geha)
Possibly the most relatable character on the show: a grump who just wants all these nerds to go away.  And then, once she’s turned into a teenager, takes advantage of lusty men in order to steal their stuff.
Fox

14. Captain Barnes (Michael Chiklis)
Yes, ole Captain Barnes has the same affliction as Mario Falcone. BUT Barnes is played by Michael Chiklis and is the GCPD captain, so by default he’s way more fun.

13. Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas)
Good with a whip, doesn’t take any crap from her brother Theo, apparently is into base jumping, and stabs a guy in the neck with her heel that one time. All of this is awesome.
Fox

12. Firefly (Michelle Veintimilla)
They turned Firefly into a woman! Awesome. I’m sure the genderbending made some dude on the internet mad, which automatically puts Firefly in the upper echelon of “Gotham” villains. That she’s actually cool anyway is icing on the cake.
Fox

11. Butch (Drew Powell)
Plays the straight man to basically every other character on the show — until Penguin chops off his right hand and they start affixing tools to his stump. My favorite is the power drill. 
Fox

10. The Court of Owls
They’ve had a hand in lots of the wacky events that have taken place so far, their masks are funny, and they almost killed Alfred. Gotta respect all of that.
Fox

9. Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan)
Sure, he’s a bad person, but he always looks like he’s having so much fun when he’s murdering everybody. We all should admire how he does what he loves.
Fox

8. The Mad Hatter (Benedict Samuel)
Samuel is solidly theatrical, and the incredible cruelty of the Hatter in general goes a long way on a list like this.
Fox

7. Ed Nygma/The Riddler (Corey Michael Smith)
So good that I could totally watch a “Hannibal”-like show that’s just about him.
Fox

6. Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong)
His totally calm demeanor and permanent condescending smile makes all those horrible experiments seem totally reasonable.
Fox

5. Oswald Cobblepot a.k.a. The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor)
It was almost sad when his stay at Arkham Asylum in season 2 mellowed him out, but the payoff was worth it: He killed the Van Dahl siblings, cooked them and then fed them to their mother. “Game of Thrones” totally ripped that off, by the way. (That was a joke. Don’t @ me.) 
Fox

4. The Dollmaker (Colm Feore)
If we were ranking these “Gotham” bad guys solely on the fear factor, Dr. Dullmacher’s brand of body horror would probably win by default. 
Fox

3. Barbara Kean (Erin Richards)
In the DC Comics annals, Barbara is supposed to marry Jim Gordon and have a kid with him, and so it’s super fun that “Gotham” turned her into a murderer there for a while.
Fox

2. Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan)
Is he the Joker, or just a “proto-Joker”? I don’t know, but he’s super fun and steals every scene he’s in, as well as all of the ones he’s merely mentioned in.
Fox

1. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith)
There are a handful of actors on “Gotham” who really, truly got what kind of show it was trying to be in the early going, and Jada Pinkett led the way. To our great relief she kept all her memories when Hugo Strange resurrected her. There’s been a seriously troubling lack of Fish in season 3.
Fox

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We’ve got the definitive rankings of Gotham City’s baddies in Fox’s Batman prequel show

Who’s the best bad guy on Fox’s “Gotham”? We rank all the bad guys we’ve seen so far. This list will be updated with new villains as they come in season 3 and beyond, and as characters warrant reevaluation.

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