Usually my idea of a good movie summer is one with a bunch of really high quality big budget action/sci-fi type movies. Popular entertainment that we can get excited about and enjoy together and talk about as a collective cultural experience – summer blockbusters, popcorn movies, the sons of JAWS. For example a famously great movie summer was 1982, which gave us CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ROCKY III, POLTERGEIST, STAR TREK II, E.T., BLADE RUNNER and THE THING, among others. Or what about 1990, which gave us TOTAL RECALL, DICK TRACY, GREMLINS 2, DIE HARD 2, DARKMAN and THE WITCHES. There have been some good ones before.
1998 wasn’t really one of those good ones. Two of the big event movies, GODZILLA and LOST IN SPACE, were widely hated garbage. Another one, ARMAGEDDON, is highly influential garbage. Its rival space debris epic, DEEP IMPACT, is kinda dull. Most people despised THE AVENGERS. Even in the animation category it’s a shitty summer, with Disney’s mediocre MULAN and Warner Brothers’ embarrassingly bad QUEST FOR CAMELOT.
I think the best traditional summer movie of the year is MASK OF ZORRO, a hit at the time that’s not discussed much anymore. In the R-rated world the best and most influential was obviously BLADE, a surprise smash released in the supposed dumping ground of August. I also think LETHAL WEAPON 4 is a pretty impressive if messy and offensive action sequel. But that’s about it for those types of movies. (read the rest of this shit…)
I’m a little behind schedule but ladies and gentleman, welcome to the final review in the Summer of ’98 series.
August 28, 1998
54 is the second of summer ’98’s competing disco movies. I’m not sure if it’s the DEEP IMPACT or the ARMAGEDDON, but it’s the not as good and not as well reviewed one. Like LAST DAYS OF DISCO it’s about a particular New York City disco in the later years, and there are conflicts between the management and staff that end with the place being raided by the IRS. But this one is in no way about yuppies, it’s based on the history of a real place, the main characters are all employees of the club, and there’s much more emphasis on the disco as a sanctuary for outcasts and misfits, so it would seem to have the potential to be BEAT STREET to LAST DAYS’s BREAKIN’.
But only the potential. Nobody seemed to take it that way.
Shane (Ryan Phillippe, SETUP) is a macho goon from New Jersey whose dreaming eyes gaze across the water to New York City like Luke Skywalker looking to the stars. He’s drawn to Studio 54 by newspaper columns about the celebrities who go there, so he perms his hair and drags his meathead buddies (including Mark Ruffalo, THE DENTIST) there with visions of Olivia Newton-John dancing in their heads, but only Shane (minus shirt) gets past the openly looks-based velvet rope elimination process.
For a second Shane seems like a Tony Manero, but he doesn’t give a shit about dancing (as in LAST DAYS, dancing is an oddly small part of the disco story). There’s a dramatic closeup of his foot hesitating to take its first step on the dance floor, but then he just goes into the crowd and yahoos for the band like he’s cheering on a football game. The looks he gets cause him to observe his surrounding and copy the other people’s moves. Then he quickly gets a job as a shirtless bus boy and doesn’t have to dance anymore. (read the rest of this shit…)
MANDY is a deranged bad trip of a movie from director Panos Cosmatos (BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW). It features a high grade mega-acting performance from Nicolas Cage (FIREBIRDS), and Cosmatos is the rare director to cinematically keep pace with Cage’s style rather than try to balance it out. He and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb (KING COBRA) peel off the skin of reality and find the painted covers of obscure fantasy novels and death metal albums beneath.
Cage plays Red Miller, a lumberjack who lives in a cabin in the Shadow Mountains circa 1983 with his fantasy illustrator girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough, OBLIVION). One day they get kidnapped by a demonic biker gang and psychotic Christian cult led by hippie folk singer Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK), who strings Red up with barb wire and (SPOILER) burns Mandy alive, leaving her to crumble into ashes in his hands.
But he escapes and gathers some weapons and comes back and fucking fucks shit up. And that’s enough to hang a movie on in my opinion but explaining the premise does not remotely describe the movie, which seems from frame one to be drugged out of its mind and/or existing on a different astral plane. I bet when they try to play BORN LOSERS on Civic TV, this is how it broadcasts – a psychedelic fever dream revenge nightmare. (read the rest of this shit…)
If VOD is where we must go to see rugged heroes run through solidly entertaining classical action formulas then I guess that’s what we’ll do. In FINAL SCORE, Dave Bautista (WRONG SIDE OF TOWN) proves that he can handily carry a wholly unoriginal vehicle that knows how to properly operate the machinery of the DIE-HARD-on-a-____ template. To be more specific, this time it’s the SUDDEN DEATH template – DIE-HARD-in-a-hockey-arena-but-in-a-soccer-stadium.
Bautista plays American ex-Marine Michael Knox, who comes to London to bring his teenage “niece” – actually the daughter of a war buddy whose death he blames himself for – to the soccer match. (Yes, he keeps not calling it football, but don’t worry, there’s a part where a guy gets punched out for that very offense.) Unfortunately Uncle Mike and Danni (Lara Peake, HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES)’s outing coincides with a plot by separatists from the ex-Soviet nation of Sukovia (on the eastern border of Sokovia, I believe) trying to find a former rebel leader in hiding and then blow up the stadium. (read the rest of this shit…)
We all live on the planet Earth, we all know Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL is a great fucking movie. I don’t have to tell you that. I was gonna point you to what I wrote about it in 2002 in case I did, but it turns out that was mostly a collection of jokes about walkie talkies and the dog shitting all over the place if he had run all the way into the space ship. So maybe try googling “is e.t. good” or something. I don’t know. You can figure it out.
Like anybody I’ve loved that pudgy little rascal since he first introduced himself to us in 1982, but I’ve managed to be pretty disciplined about waiting years between viewings so I don’t wear it out. I think last time was when it came out on Blu-Ray (six years ago), with at most one DVD viewing between that and when the special edition played in theaters (sixteen years ago).
But on Tuesday I saw it in the 70mm Film Festival that the Cinerama has here in Seattle every year, and I wanted to share a few new thoughts. (read the rest of this shit…)
August 21, 1998
is when BLADE came out and changed both cinema and humanity forever. But I already wrote the definitive review of that so here I am reviewing DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS.
It turns out maybe the comedies that come out in August are not essential to a summer movie retrospective. That’s a lesson I’m learning. I actually saw DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS at the time, but I realize now that I was conflating my memory of it with IDLE HANDS. I knew it was a different movie, but I thought it was another supernatural teen horror comedy. It was about half an hour in before I realized oh shit, he’s not gonna turn into a zombie. This is that movie where they find out their college has an obscure rule that if your roommate commits suicide then they have to give you straight As (just go with it) so they try to find an unstable roommate and push him to the brink. The kind of movie that should just have a disclaimer and a 1-800 number running across the screen throughout like a watermark on a critic’s screener. (read the rest of this shit…)
August 14, 1998
THE AVENGERS was a widely hated bomb and at the time I thought it wasn’t so bad. I kind of liked it. As is my way. Now, with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight, and not hurt by having preceded it with LOST IN SPACE, GODZILLA and ARMAGEDDON, I stand firmly by it not being that bad and me kind of liking it.
I must note as a disclaimer that I still haven’t watched the at-that-time-twenty-some-year-old British TV show it’s based on. I’m sure there are plenty of legit reasons for Avengers fans and our English friends to hate it that I don’t know about. But I like that it’s a quirky would-be blockbuster with weird gimmicks and humor, and unlike the ugly-as-shit LOST IN SPACE and GODZILLA it has dated well visually – the ’60s-inspired designs look as good or better now than they did in ’98. Also helpful in the timelessness department: the end credits have a James-Bond-theme-worthy song called “Storm” by Grace Jones. (I was gonna say it was 100% ska free, but the soundtrack listing notes a song by Suggs, lead singer of Madness, so I may be forgetting something.)
And it’s a fuckin action adventure starring Ralph Fiennes, cashing in on SCHINDLER’S LIST, I guess. You don’t see that every day. I guess maybe you could count STRANGE DAYS. (read the rest of this shit…)
August 7, 1998
There’s this conventional wisdom I’ve heard thrown around more than once that if you notice a shot being cool then it’s not really a good shot. Which is to deny the existence of Brian De Palma. SNAKE EYES is an underrated spot on the De Palma timeline when he had just made a huge hit with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and was able to cash in and get big studio resources for a much more purely DePalmian thriller that exhibits 36 chambers of filmatistic showboating.
Why not use the suspense thriller format to explore every new or uncommon use of cinematic language De Palma was interested in at the time? Additionally, why not use every new or uncommon use of cinematic language De Palma was interested in at the time to explore the suspense thriller format? There is no why not. This movie is great.
Nicolas Cage, not long after FACE/OFF, plays Rick Santoro, not the stick-up-his-ass homophobe former GOP senator and presidential candidate from Pennsylvania, but an obnoxious, bribe-taking bad lieutenant, port of call Atlantic City, who wears loud clothes, bets on boxing matches, and is gonna have to stop fucking around and be a hero this time. See, Santoro is standing close enough to get blood on him when the secretary of defense (Joel Fabiani, BRENDA STARR) gets shot at the fight. Santoro bulldozes his way into investigating so he can cover the ass of his old war hero buddy Gary Sinise, REINDEER GAMES), who was in charge of security. (read the rest of this shit…)
Okay, I’m not gonna look up who it was, and I forgive you, but somebody asked me to include BASEKETBALL in this series, and I’m a people pleaser, so I watched it. I hope you’re happy.
You see, the idea of BASEKETBALL is that it’s like baseball, and yet also it’s like basketball. That’s why it’s called baseketball. The first syllable is the first syllable of the word “baseball” and the second and third syllables are the second and third syllables of the word “basketball.” But the thing is those are usually two totally different sports. That’s why combining them into one is silly silly laughs for everyone. It makes no sense!
Okay, to be fair, this was not originally intended as a topic for a movie. Apparently director David Zucker and friends made up the sport and played it for ten years and it became a big thing in their neighborhood (“inspired by a true story” say the production notes), and maybe he looked into the abyss and the abyss looked back at him so he thought it was acceptable as an idea for a movie. Or maybe he just wanted a movie for his friends to watch. (read the rest of this shit…)
July 29, 1998
THE NEGOTIATOR is a monument to that too-brief window of time when there were big budget Samuel L. Jackson vehicles. He’d been acclaimed in supporting roles including JUNGLE FEVER, then said that line in JURASSIC PARK, then became a superstar with PULP FICTION. I always thought it was unfair that Travolta was nominated for best actor and Jackson for supporting, but that’s mostly where he stayed. He was still kind of a sidekick in DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE or THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT or a scene-stealer in JACKIE BROWN. And technically even this one is a two-hander with another star, but it starts on Jackson and keeps the two separated for most of the movie so I’d put it in a rare Samuel-L.-Jackson-vehicle category along with SHAFT, THE 51st STATE and SNAKES ON A PLANE.
Also going on in the late ’90s: Kevin Spacey. Like Jackson, he was a veteran character actor who suddenly caught the world’s eye with an indelible performance in a breakout indie crime drama. And he actually won his Oscar. After SE7EN and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL he was one of the most respected dramatic actors in Hollywood.
So THE NEGOTIATOR had a pretty catchy thriller hook (hostage negotiator gets framed by crooked cops, takes hostages in a desperate ploy to find out the truth and prove his innocence), but it was definitely that heavyweight actor showdown that lured us in. Two enormously respected actors, also known for hip movies, actoring the shit off each other in a studio thriller. That had appeal back then. (read the rest of this shit…)