Friday, January 27, 2017
This spring, Showtime will bring back Twin Peaks, the short-lived, much beloved show that ran on TV circa 1990-1991 and had one feature film release, Fire Walk With Me in 1992. Way, way back in the 1990's the show made headlines, and managed to capture the public imagination (sort of) during it's initial first season, which ran only 8 episodes. But in the 1990's - as I am sure is true in some ways now - success meant the network and studio boys wanted to get a piece of the pie and get involved, and the second season started strong only to wobble under the weight of 22 hour-long episodes, as was the standard of the era for network shows.
The bizarre turns to quirk turns to a self-parody in pretty short order. Time changes and a loss of the charm that marked the first dozen or so episodes plagued the show, and the show lost viewers. At least it went out quickly.
It's hard to explain how utterly weird it was that Twin Peaks ever happened. We were still basically in the era of three networks (with Fox just finding its footing) and a bunch of cable channels that were usually putting out original material of iffy quality. Shows on the major networks were scientifically designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and so we wound up with a lot of what still shows on the networks today. Cops, lawyers, doctors, and family sitcoms. Some evening soaps with implied sex that came on between 9 and 10 in the Central time zone. Hell, ALF was quirky.* If you wanted a flavor of anything oddball, you were in deep cable or finding video stores with a "cult" section. I mean, David Lynch was hardly a household name in 1990.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
I really dug Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). It's got a lot to recommend it. Terrific action sequences, two great Bond women, it’s funny in all the right parts, and a villainous plot that’s forward looking and diabolical while also being not ludicrous. The movie is also steeped in some odd cultural artifacts of the 1990's, so that makes for some interesting viewing if you were around at the time.
Heck, it has a nerve-jangling pre-credits sequence that’s better than near any of the last ten or so films.
By the time I saw this movie, Jamie and I were dating, so we believe we saw this one in the theater together but can’t piece together when or how. But because I never saw the final two Brosnan movies – the reviews were scathing on both, and I was otherwise occupied – I never returned to watch this one again.
You’ll remember Tomorrow Never Dies as "the one with Michelle Yeoh" if you spent 1993-1995 writing "Mr. Michelle Yeoh" inside a heart in all of your school notebooks (which, ha ha, surely no one did. Cough.). Brosnan is back as Bond and seems more comfortable in the role. Dame Judy Dench continues as M, now giving Bond a lot more leash and verbally manhandling the British Navy. Our villain is Jonathan Pryce, who isn't reptilian or overly creepy, and that makes him oddly buyable as a motivated guy people would get behind. And, of course, the movie features one of the Loises of the 1990's, Teri Hatcher.
I was surprised to realize that, at least now, I liked this movie perhaps more than I’d enjoyed GoldenEye. The writing seemed to be on better footing from both a plotting and dialog perspective, and while Martin Campbell was not responsible for this film, he’d paved the way for what Bond could be like in the 1990’s context which director Roger Spottiswoode would continue to good effect.
Friday, January 20, 2017
If the idea of ending the Timothy Dalton experiment was to shore up the Bond franchise again, one can certainly make an argument that it worked. This was the Bond film that brought in Pierce Brosnan as Bond, got Martin Campbell in as a director, and more than anything else that would point toward what a modern Bond could be in tone - casting Dame Judy Dench as M.
I'm a little bit convinced that the rethinking that led to Casino Royale may well have come from what M reveals about Bond to his face in her brief appearance in the film. In a movie of very good moments, for a wide variety of reasons, Dench's scenes are the most grounded and somehow still the most engaging, and it's also the best Brosnan himself is at any point in the movie - and he's rather good throughout.
GoldenEye arrived in 1995 as The Age of the Blockbuster took a leap forward, and Bond was no longer to be an option on the marquee. Now, we all had to go see Brosnan, whom every American had pegged for the heir to the Bond throne from his first appearances on Remington Steele.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
So, I was at work and I DM'd Jamie.
Me: You want to watch a Christmas movie tonight?
Jamie: Yeah. "Batman Returns"?
Me: *a single tear of joy rolling down my cheek, certain I married the right woman*
I didn't immediately get to see Batman Returns (1992) upon its release. I was at a (sigh) 7 week drama camp for high schoolers that was well worth the money as, in week 2, I realized I absolutely did not want to major in drama when I did go to college. So when I got home and more or less immediately drove to go see the movie, I was aware it was "weird", "not as good as the first one" and the other things people were saying at the time. My memory of seeing the movie that first time was primarily of (a) Catwoman and (b) my girlfriend at the time laughing at me as my 40 oz of soda spilled all down the floor of the theater. Great girl.
It's been a long, long time since I watched this movie. It's nowhere near one of my favorite films, superhero or otherwise, and it's always been a bit of a mess. Sure, it features things I love in theory - a Circus of Crime, penguins loaded down with missiles and helmets, the Batmobile, Michelle Pfieffer... but it also feels like too many cooks were in the kitchen deciding what this movie would be.
Friday, November 25, 2016
In our house, a visit from The Dug is a holiday tradition, and part of that visit is always filling two hours of my life with regret. I don't go in for terrible movies quite the same way I used to, but I'm still willing to roll up my sleeves and dig back in a few times per year.
To refer to Rollergator (1996) as a "movie" is a bit of a stretch. Shot on, at best, 3/4" tape (but I strongly suspect it's S-VHS) over what may be, at longest, 3 days, it's nearly impossible to tell if the movie has a script, who this movie was intended for, and what anyone involved was thinking.
For something like 80-85 minutes, this thing just keeps happening, and it's all you can do by the 15 minute mark (even with the benefit of Rifftrax) to not start slamming your head in a car door to make the weird, dull pain behind your eyes go away.
Monday, November 14, 2016
At one point in my life, I was an Arnold Schwarzenegger completionist. If Arnie put out a movie, I was seeing it. This went right up through his pre-Governator movies that were of middling quality. It is true I fell down on the job and didn't see Jingle All the Way during it's theatrical release, but I did rent it with my mom the following Christmas, and we yukked it up together to the antics of Arnie and Sinbad.
But somehow, I missed out on Kindergarten Cop (1990). I don't know how or why. It's kind of odd, really, because it came out during a window when I went to the movies on a weekly basis, and movies were in the theater for usually about a month or more before disappearing back then. And Kindergarten Cop did pretty well. Lots of people saw it.
Further confounding my how's and why's, the movie co-stars Penelope Ann Miller, who was a draw for me back in the day in a post The Freshman world (and even pre-The Shadow). The only thing I can think is that movie came out in December 1990, shortly after I'd moved to Houston but before I had a driver's license. So, it's possible I couldn't get to the cinema and I didn't have anyone to go with.
So, I finally watched the movie.
And it is terrible.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
I remember seeing the commercials for the 1995 thriller, The Net, rolling my eyes, and making a firm decision that I would not see this movie. Over the years, it's surprised me how many people have seen it, declared it terrible, and then expressed surprise that I hadn't seen it and never wanted to see it.
The kids will never understand what it was like in 1995, but we were on the teetering edge of a revolution in computing entering the lives of everyone on the planet. Up to that point, computers had been, in the eyes of the public, a weird mix of science-fiction, radio-kit-bashers-gone-mad, a point of ridicule if people spend too much time with them outside of work, and seen as the key to god-like power as evidenced in everything from Weird Science to War Games to Ferris Bueller. And, my God, such an overwhelmingly male-oriented hobby or interest.
My first introduction to what we'd wind up calling "the internet" was via the hand-waving plot explanations of War Games, but in real like, I only ever knew one kid, our own Groboclown, who had a modem in his house. Aside from that, they were kind of a mystery. By middle-school, I was aware of the "cyberpunk" literary movement, but mostly picked up the terms and ideas of "netrunners" second hand from my brother, who actually read the stuff. But even at that - I got my head around the potential for use, for abuse, for second lives online (that would overtake meatspace).
When I got my first computer (a refurbished Pack-Bell 486 with Windows 3.1. Like a @#$%ing BOSS, y'all!) and headed off to college, that was kind of an act of faith on the part of my parents. They saw it as an over-powered Smith-Corona word processor, which was all we'd had in the house since I was 14 (the early Vic 20 and Apple IIe experiments had not made us computer whizzes). And there was an assumption I'd do things with it, but no one could say what those things would be.
Fortunately at UT, I managed to move in down the hall from some guys who were already deeply computer savvy and who had actual modems and whatnot. And, they weren't the kind of guys who sat in the dark and played Doom and didn't converse. Instead, we were soon running wires down the hallway for networked play, and by Spring semester, with a used and battered 2400 baud modem installed in my computer and an account from UT, I was online. Not that there was much to do online in 1994, but I was there!
But 1995's film, The Net, was less reflective of the techo-utopianism a lot of us were buying into thanks to pop publications like Wired. The marketing and concept spoke a whole lot more to our parents' newspaper-headline driven concern over "this crazy, out of control technology", a future-shock echo that was rippling through the world that was just beginning to understand what it meant to suddenly start seeing monitors on every desk at every job and what was happening as we were having to give all those people our names, phone numbers, etc...
Those weren't just stand-alone ugly data-systems anymore, they were now on the Information Superhighway!*
My point is - the context of 1995 when The Net made it to cinemas everywhere with America's newest darling of the Star System-era of Hollywood, Sandra Bullock, was one of an already buzzing fear or discomfort. Everything about the trailer reeked of the paranoia I could feel from my professors, from the general public and folks who were doing just fine in life without needing an email address, let alone a magic phone in their pocket that was a portal to all of human knowledge and able to access monumental computer systems to provide predictions and prescriptive behavior.*
Anyway, if The Net (1995) has one fatal flaw, it is not the absolutely terrible depiction of computing and the internet that boils away any goodwill the pretty-well researched first act sets up. It is not a bad performance by Sandra Bullock, who is really very good in what limited amount of action she's given to take as a witness to her own life falling apart around her and a clunker of a script.
The movie is incredibly boring.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
At the beginning of the 1990's, I almost bailed on comics. If you want to know who kept me coming back I can throw a bunch of names at you of authors and artists, but the real force bringing me back to the funny book store was editor Karen Berger, the mastermind behind the 1993 launch of Vertigo comics.
A lot of people say a lot of negative things about the comics industry in the 1990's, and if you consider what was going on in many corners, they're not wrong. I was avoiding shiny and holographic covers, watched unknown companies try to launch whole universes in one shot and avoided the Scarlet Spider stuff like the plague. But Berger was the one who saw the potential for what comics could do, saw the potential in then little known writers, was flexible about what could appear in a floppy comic, and she may be the least risk-averse person to ever work at the Big 2.
After successes with Wonder Woman, Legion and other titles, she shepherded several cutting edge titles that eventually set up shop under the Vertigo imprint. She gave Sandman, Swamp Thing and Hellblazer a home, nurtured and loved both the titles and creators, and resurrected dead IP at DC Comics (Kid Eternity, The Tattooed Man, Shade: The Changing Man) while also letting creators bring their own, fresh ideas to the Vertigo. In an era embracing what had been counter culture as we coined such terms as "Alternative Music" and put a groovy coffee shop on every corner, the company that put out Superman was also putting out The Extremist and Transmetropolitan.
Just imagine a young and hungry Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis... And, of course, Garth Ennis. In many ways for which she will rarely be given the credit she deserves, Karen Berger gave us Preacher.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
This week DC Comics's Rebirth event will once again re-set the DC Universe of comics for what will be the third reboot since 2005 (Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint/ New 52 and now Rebirth). Even before the story broke this weekend about what Rebirth will contain, plot and character-wise, I had been thinking a great deal about the direction of media, what superheroes and stories are for, and how I've not felt particularly compelled to write up a bunch of posts upon, nor cast ad hominem attacks on those who enjoyed this year's blockbuster, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Sunday night saw the premiere of Preacher on AMC, an adaptation of the utterly unadaptable Preacher comics from Vertigo's heyday back in the 1990's. As the comics are numbingly brutal and , featuring a wide array of atrocities and blasphemous content, I'm frankly a little concerned about what happens in the media/ social medias if the show is a direct adaptation and if/when people actually start watching the show (the pilot was not a direct adaptation, and I'm not sure it did very well). The content is not exactly the sort of thing that many folks here in the Bible Belt take kindly to, even as a Bible Belt perspective certainly doesn't hurt in contextualizing the overriding experience and meaning of the comic. After all, one of the overriding themes of the book is cutting through hypocrisy wrapped in the cloth - something Texas does just about as well as anywhere (thus, your location).
Monday, May 16, 2016
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the first issue of Kingdom Come, the prestige 4-issue, oft re-issued, comic by creators Alex Ross (artist) and Mark Waid (writer).
It's extremely difficult for me to state how much of an impact this comic had on me as a reader at the time of it's release. In fact, I'd argue it was one of the comics that came out at a particular time in my life that tilted me from an interest in comics and enthusiastic readership to... whatever it became. Further, I'd say that Kingdom Come stands as one of the key books that pushed me from thinking Superman was pretty neat to... whatever my deal is with The Man of Steel today.
By 1996, I just wasn't that interested in superhero comics. It seemed like a lot of books were trying to pull things off that weren't working, and, honestly, at age 21, glancing over the covers - a sense of creeping embarrassment hit me for the first time in my life in regards to comics. Not for the hobby or comics themselves, but it seemed that, in the mainline superhero books, writers and artists and the companies themselves had a vision they were trying to execute, and that vision felt like a 13-year-old trying on their dad's suit thinking they could con the bank into giving them a loan.
By '93, a brave new world of tough, militaristic, snarling characters had flooded the shelves. New publishers had arrived with fully formed concepts and universes, clearly either inspired as "extreme" versions of existing characters, or taking their cues from the artwork on heavy metal album covers (which, you know, how could you fault them?). And at DC and Marvel, familiar characters were getting changed and rebooted (see: Azrael Batman) to reflect the times. To me, the stories themselves lacked anything resembling narrative sophistication or substance, taking a Canon Films approach to violence and vitriol and mistaking it for maturity. The plots were sophomoric at best, and adding spiked shoulder pads to pre-existing characters did nothing to sell me on their new grittiness. I'll never forget cackling my way through the 1994 Dr. Fate reboot, Fate, wherein the hero turns the all-powerful helmet of Dr. Fate into a knife. So he can cut things! To the extreme!*
Meanwhile, Karen Berger had set up Vertigo at DC and was putting out Hellblazer, Shade: The Changing Man, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, The Invisibles, and, of course, Sandman and Sandman Mystery Theatre. I didn't think I had to look too far to see characters who were telling me they were for older readers - they simply were the sophistication (or what passed for it) that felt like the proper heirs to the Moore legacy.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
|I don't believe anyone in the movie actually calls the main character "Darkman", btw|
What to say about Darkman (1990)?
It's hard to categorize as "good", and I think my affection for it is rooted in nostalgia and the electric current I got seeing this very, very strange movie when I was 15. It came out just shortly after I'd moved to Spring, TX, where I'd live from grades 10-12. I was vaguely aware of a movie called Evil Dead 2 that you were supposed to see, but I hadn't seen it yet, and I'd never heard of Sam Raimi. I just took Darkman for what I thought it was and what I'm sure the studio brass also thought they had: a royalty-free superhero movie they could make cheaply and quickly to ride on the coattails of Batman (1989) and America's awakening interest in superhero movies about "dark" heroes.
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
In February of 1919, some of the greats of the silent era - Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith - came together to found their own studio: United Artists. The studio was formed in reaction to studio and artist friction over salaries and creative control. One could say that the idea of an artist's ability to produce an independent vision is baked into the DNA of UA, and, over the years, that spirit has brought us new perspectives to the silver screen, bold proclamations of artists unhampered by the small minds of businessmen, free from the the penny-pinching dream killers of accounting.
So, it should come as no surprise that, some 76 years later, UA would bring us a truly unique dream of the 90's, a clarion call to a generation, a mirror held up to reality showing us truths about ourselves in only the way we can truly get from a masterpiece like Hackers (1995).
This is maybe one of the worst movies I've seen in the last ten years.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
I really have no explanation for why I watched about 90% of Air Bud (1997) on Saturday night. I was supposed to be at a baseball game for our local minor league team, The Round Rock Express, but I was taking my 86 year old uncle, and once its tarted drizzling, we just went and grabbed dinner instead.
Well, that meant I was home by 8:15, because 86 year olds like to eat dinner kinda early.
So, I walked in the door and Air Bud was on TV, and I started watching it ironically, but, you know, I kinda liked it. It's not that hard to believe it got watered down into the movies we eventually got and spun off into the Buddies series. But, yeah, it was okay. And it was generally better in execution than most low-budgety stuff made for kids.
I really thought I'd seen it before, but I think I caught maybe the last five minutes. I really hadn't seen it.
It's a movie about a sad kid living with his mom and baby sister in a new town who meets a dog that can shoot baskets. Like, there was a real dog that could do that, and they filmed him and we had a movie about a kid overcoming some minor obstacles, the meaning of teamwork, friendship, bad coaching, sports dads being jerks, responsible pet ownership, the evil of clowns and how cool it really is when you train a Golden Retriever to shoot baskets.
It wasn't going to win any Oscars, but it wasn't totally stupid.
Weirdly, I still haven't watched my BluRay of Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet. Toonight, maybe?
Sunday, April 10, 2016
In 1989, Michael Keaton put on a terrible-looking rubber cowl with ears, got dropped onto fantastic looking sets with Jacks Palance and Nicholson, Jerry Hall and Kim Basinger, and the world went bat-shit. Warner Bros. made a ton of money off not just the movie, but the merchandising. Batman, overnight, became America's favorite superhero.
All the studios scrambled to see what else that looked like a comic books that they could exploit, but without spending a ton of money (this was a pre-CGI era). And for about 10 years, man, there was a lot of stuff coming out. A lot of stuff of varying quality.
I'm actually a fan of The Shadow from 1994 or so, and I love Disney's The Rocketeer. Both super fun movies, even if The Shadow kinda hams up, then softens up the whole concept. Marvel, for their part, laid some eggs in their straight to video Captain America and Punisher films, circa 1990.
During this era, a vision in purple spandex strode onto screens across America. And, for reasons I cannot put into words, felt compelled to see this movie then and a few times since. The Phantom (1996)!!!
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
After Teen Witch, I needed to cleanse the pallet, and the first thing that popped up in my years-old Netflix queue was the 1995 kind-of-odd movie, Blue in the Face.
If you've never seen it, it's a sort of sequel to the 1995 drama, Smoke, which I haven't seen in forever, but which I highly recommend. It's 90's indie film making at its purest and best and stars Harvey Keitel and William Hurt, too of my favorite guys from that era.
When the movie wrapped, they had the location and - as has never happened before in the history of film, extra budget - and apparently Harvey Keitel was around, anyway, so they made up an entirely secondary movie on the spot. Director Wayne Wang and Paul Auster - who wrote the novel upon which Smoke was based, thought up some scenarios, put out a call, and, like, tons of folks showed up to be in the movie.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Here's the thing. I don't think Ron Howard is much of a director.
When I watch his movies, I can almost feel the focus groups and studio notes taken as wisdom. I shouldn't be able to pause in your movie and say "this scene was written this way because they think I'm a moron". But, in a Ron Howard movie, that's generally my take away. He wants to make movies that will be both semi critic-pleasing and still sell a boat load of tickets, and that's a tough balancing act, but one he's made work for years.
When this movie ended, I said something along the lines of "Well, that was exactly what I expected" and "I think there's a reason that they don't make movies like this much anymore". But I didn't really mean either comment as a dig, and neither comment was entirely accurate.
Back in the 1980's, UK film concern Merchant Ivory began exporting films to the US with a small burst of success here stateside. Really, I think the breakaway hit was A Room With a View (1985) - which I've never seen to my recollection - exploded with the one-two punch of Howards End (1992) - which I did see in the the theater during its initial run - and The Remains of the Day (1993) - which I did not, though I do remember it coming out. If you ask American cinephiles if they like Merchant Ivory pictures, I think they'll say yes, but aside from these three movies, I don't know if any others really got any traction stateside, and by the turn of the Millennium, Merchant Ivory pictures had largely disappeared from the conversation.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
For reasons upon which I am unclear, Quentin Tarantino was well aware he had a particularly vocal fanbase in Austin. I suspect screenings of Reservoir Dogs at either The Dobie (a small "art house" theater on the edge of campus) or the Village (a larger, equally dumpy art house theater a few miles north of downtown) might have gone well for the director, but I was living in North Houston from 90-93, and missed that window.
Anyway, Tarantino booked a screening of his new film, Pulp Fiction (1994), on campus at UT Austin about two months before the film's broad release. I've written before about the experience*, but it was pretty amazing. Hogg Auditorium, an old-style movie and performance house, was filled to capacity. The place was rowdy as hell. People were dressed in black suits and ties. In sports parlance, this was a hometown crowd.
So, it should come as no surprise that when Amanda Plummer's character took the screen, shouted spittle our direction and then the credits appeared, the crowd went monkey-shit. Standing en masse, cheering, clapping, roaring really. And not for the last time. The adrenaline shot didn't just get the crowd on its feet, if there'd been a police cruiser to turn over and set ablaze, it would have happened. We were up and down in our seats throughout the screening, and I guess at that point Mr. Tarantino had a good idea there was an audience for his movie.