I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Solo

Note: I believe I’ve seen the Mario Van Peebles version, but I don’t remember it at all, so I won’t be able to make a comparison.

SOLO, a.k.a. SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is the movie about Han Solo when he was a little younger than in STAR WARS. This is a generalization, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that no one in their right mind wanted to see a movie about young Han Solo. The only exception is George Lucas, who actually had Lawrence Kasdan writing this before he sold everything to Disney. I’m guessing it was his idea of what the fans who hated his prequels wanted to see.

The trouble is that if there was one Star Wars character who would be the MOST difficult to recast, it would definitely be Han Solo. This is a character that’s all about the specific charisma of Harrison Ford. If Kurt Russell or somebody had gotten the part then it might’ve still been a cool character, but it would not be the same. And you can’t re-create that. You can’t reverse engineer it.

So, with that in mind Alden Ehrenreich (the funny cowboy actor from HAIL, CAESAR!) has done as good a job as one could hope in an impossible task. He only looks a little like him and only sounds a little like him, but he gets some of his mannerisms, some of his attitude, some of his charm without ever seeming like he’s doing an impersonation. (If there’s one area in which it’s an uncanny reproduction I’d say it’s in his gun poses, which always look ready for a promotional poster.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Silverado

SILVERADO is Lawrence Kasdan’s upbeat 1985 western about some cowboys and, you know… they meet up and ride together and there’s guns and a jail and a saloon and a guy trying to steal land and all that. I don’t know, it’s a western.

This was Kasdan’s third time directing, after BODY HEAT and THE BIG CHILL. But consider that in the half decade before this he co-wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. This is his rare directing job that has some of the vibe of those George Lucas productions. He wrote SILVERADO with his brother Mark (CRIMINAL LAW) and all these decades later he wrote SOLO with his son Jonathan (who had a bit part in SILVERADO at the age of 14) so I thought it would be a good time to write about this one.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

May 19, 1998

Fresh off of the hard-hitting journalism of Tea Leoni in DEEP IMPACT and Maria Pitillo in GODZILLA, summer of ’98 offered an alternative approach. Johnny Depp (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) plays Raoul Duke and/or Hunter S. Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Thompson’s 1971 Rolling-Stone-two-parter-turned-book about covering the Mint 400 desert motorcycle race for Sports Illustrated. You do see a glimpse of dirt bikes (well, mostly dirt), but the real story is his crazed debauchery while “searching for the American Dream” with his lawyer (who we never once see doing legal work) Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro, SICARIO), ingesting much of the contents of a briefcase containing “a serious drug collection,” turning hotel rooms into Vietnam War movies and barely avoiding death or prison like some silent film clown accidentally dodging a series of falling objects.

And the movie itself keeps ducking dangers with miraculous precision. This is 118 minutes of what mostly feels like aimless madness, depraved variations on bad behavior and hallucinations, but to me it never gets old. I actually feel more exhausted at the end of Gilliam’s more polite movies like BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN or TWELVE MONKEYS. Somehow I’m endlessly amused by Duke and Gonzo’s deadpan craziness as they live out the type of lifestyle where you’d only be a little surprised to wake up with an alligator tail growing out of you, a microphone taped to your face and a giant smoking hole in your hotel bed. (read the rest of this shit…)

Godzilla (1998)

“We got approached with GODZILLA, and Dean was really in favor. I said, ‘Are you crazy? Have you seen a Godzilla film? How does the monster look? They put a guy in there.'” –Roland Emmerich

May 20, 1998

Man, LOST IN SPACE was a terrible summer blockbuster, but I was kind of excited to take a look at it because I had skipped it at the time and there was 20 years of curiosity build-up. And there’s another one coming later in the summer that I despised at the time, but it ended up being influential and kickstarting an in-my-opinion-bad-but-oddly-fascinating filmography, so I’m looking forward to finding out how I’ll feel about it now.

GODZILLA has neither of those factors going for it. I thought it sucked then and it has not grown better or more interesting. Director Roland Emmerich (WHITE HOUSE DOWN) has gone on to make fairly successful (but widely mocked) FX movies, often in the disaster genre. The only significance to this one is that it deflated his premature ascension to blockbuster-A-list after the still-befuddling-to-me smash success of INDEPENDENCE DAY in 1996. TriStar Pictures managed to build up fevered anticipation with a series of teasers that kept the design of the monster a secret. I remember one used the scene where the fisherman runs down the dock as Godzilla’s spikes tear through it. The tagline “SIZE DOES MATTER” simultaneously promised thrilling spectacle and giggled “ha ha, you get it, because of penises.”

I was skeptical on account of my belief in the auteur theory. I was one of the rare wet blankets who hated ID4 (which stands for “Independence Day takes place partly on July 4th”) and as much as I wanted to see a cool modern Godzilla movie I didn’t think this guy had the skills to do it. On May 20th most of the world ended up agreeing with me. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Horse Whisperer

May 15, 1998

THE HORSE WHISPERER is a drama about healing and romance and horses. It’s pretty simple and intimate, focusing mainly on three characters, but it’s on an epic canvas; it’s nearly 3 hours long and it spreads out to widescreen when it moves from New York to the wide open fields of Montana, photographed lovingly by Robert Richardson (U-TURN, THE AVIATOR, DJANGO UNCHAINED).

Sixteen year old Grace (Scarlett Johansson in her followup to HOME ALONE 3) has a horrific horse-riding accident – I was actually unprepared for how fucked up the accident is – that results in the death of her best friend (Kate Bosworth [THE WARRIOR’S WAY, HOMEFRONT] in her first movie) and her friend’s horse, plus the loss of one of her legs and the mangling of her horse, Pilgrim. (This is the third movie of the summer where a semi-truck plowing into someone is a crucial plot point, but I don’t think this one involved a tired driver.) The experts want to put the horse out of his misery, but Grace’s mom Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON) never gives permission, so he lives in a barn all scraped up and violently freaking out when approached. Grace is kind of the same, hating her mom and her life and breaking down when she sees Pilgrim scared of her.

But Annie reads a magazine article about this horse expert in Montana named Tom Booker (Robert Redford [THE HOT ROCK], his first time starring and directing at the same time). When she can’t get him to come to New York she packs up her daughter and horse against their will for a long drive conveyed through the medium of longer-than-expected driving montage. Grace dodges all attempts at conversation and bonding – thankfully the movie doesn’t give Annie any horse troubles on the trip. That would be a nightmare. I don’t know how helpful a horse whisperer is when your psychotic horse gets loose at a truck stop. (read the rest of this shit…)

Quest For Camelot

May 15, 1998

In the mystical past of summer of ’98, “animation” meant drawings. TOY STORY was the only computer animated feature that existed, so that was still just a novelty, not the entire industry. It wouldn’t be until the Fall that dueling bug movies kicked off the war for computer animation supremacy, so nobody wanted to be Pixar yet. They still wanted to be Disney.

The previous November, Fox Animation Studios had made their Don Bluth directed version of a Disney movie, ANASTASIA. In December Dreamworks would release their Biblical version, PRINCE OF EGYPT. And this was Warner Bros. Feature Animation debuting with their sword and sorcerer version. They took a little bit of the dark fantasy of THE BLACK CAULDRON and early Don Bluth, but mostly tried to make a musical in the vein of the ’90s classics like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ALADDIN.

The operative word being “tried.” This is a terrible fucking movie. Nothing can compare to FOODFIGHT!, but as far as professionally completed animated features given a wide release in theaters, QUEST FOR CAMELOT (a.k.a. THE MAGIC SWORD: QUEST FOR CAMELOT in some countries) is one of the worst I’ve watched all the way through. The shamelessness with which they try to copy Disney, combined with the clear lack of understanding of why people like the stuff they’re trying to rip off, and the substandard execution of it, is honestly depressing to watch. Like any animated feature there are surely many talented people who worked on it, but it’s very obvious that the direction at the top came from a bunch of clueless executives who just had no respect for the audience or the art form, and no idea what the fuck they were doing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Deep Impact

May 8, 1998

For many, the 1998 summer movie season will always be remembered as the comet vs. the asteroid (or the dueling asteroid movies, if they forget that one was a comet). DEEP IMPACT is the first released, the less popular, and the more grown up of the two movies. It’s way less stupid, less hectic, less hateful, and more forgotten by society. But that’s not necessarily undeserved. It’s not all that exciting.

The story begins with high school lovebirds Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood, THE TRUST) and Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski, THE WICKER MAN) enjoying some amateur astronomy when Leo discovers a comet headed for the earth. His teacher sends the evidence to a pro (Charles Martin Smith, MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI) who verifies it but is immediately killed in a car accident.

(Summer of ’98 note: Like BLACK DOG it’s a sleepy-truck-driver accident that sets everything up.)

I don’t understand that turn of events. It skips over a year, so for a second I assumed the accident prevented them from finding out about the comet in time, but no. Actually the government found his information and named the comet after him and Leo. What’s the story purpose of killing him off? Not wanting to keep checking back in on a guy that knows about stars and shit? I’m not sure. (read the rest of this shit…)

He Got Game

also May 1, 1998

I remember thinking of HE GOT GAME as a slightly under-the-radar Spike Lee joint, but I think it’s become pretty well known over the years. It’s just that it’s in that middle period where he still seemed to have clout but the cultural excitement around him was on a slow, inevitable decline after touching the sun in 1992 with MALCOLM X.

With CLOCKERS and GET ON THE BUS he got increasingly experimental with his style, switching between different film stocks and handheld cameras in energetic ways that I always thought were influenced by Homicide: Life on the Street. HE GOT GAME is a uniquely stylish film that seems more inspired by slick commercials and sports show intros. The story is about the ugly, exploitative side of college athletics, but the style is all about worshiping basketball as the great American sport.

Two credits give you an idea of Lee’s lofty approach: “Music: Aaron Copland. Songs: Public Enemy.” The musical score is built from the sweeping 1940s “populist” style orchestral pieces by, as Lee puts it on the commentary track, “the great American composer from Brooklyn, New York.” Pieces used include “Our Town,” “Lincoln Portrait” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The latter has been used in sports broadcasts and Navy ads, it has played on Space Shuttles and inspired the scores for both SUPERMAN and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. It was originally composed upon America’s entry into WWII. Copland considered the titles “Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony” and “Fanfare for Four Freedoms” before using a term he heard in a speech by Vice President Henry A. Wallace. These are reverent Americana anthems for the pursuit of happiness and amber waves of grain and all that. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tully

No, it’s not the sequel to SULLY, smart guy. It’s also not the sequel to BULLY. It’s not the monster from Sesame Street, it’s not the founder of the coffee chain, and it’s not the device that’s a wheel and the rope goes around it to lift things up. It’s just TULLY. That’s the name of a character. I’ll explain it later. Be patient.

One thing I always get excited about: a new Diablo Cody movie. I liked JUNO and JENNIFER’S BODY was interesting and I even saw the movie she directed, PARADISE (though I don’t seem to have reviewed it), and though she said she didn’t rewrite much on the EVIL DEAD remake, she either helped make it great or didn’t screw it up.

But it’s YOUNG ADULT that made her one of my favorite screenwriters. I gotta proselytize for that movie all the time. It speaks deeply to my darkest thoughts as somebody who left the suburbs, didn’t end up being a regular grown up type person, and alternates between pitying and envying the perfectly fine people who did it the normal way and have kids and houses and cars and money and shit. And it’s one of the very best roles for one of my very favorite actresses, our Furiosa, Charlize Theron. (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Dog

April 10: SPECIES II
April 24: THE BIG HIT, TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY

May 1, 1998: BLACK DOG

On the same day that Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panther Party died, and Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke got married, BLACK DOG came out. (I wasn’t seeing it, I was seeing HE GOT GAME.)

BLACK DOG is a good old fashioned medium budget summer action movie, which is something that existed twenty years ago (we’ll also see THE NEGOTIATOR later in the summer). It’s an example of the mini-trend of action movies trying to appeal to country music fans (FIRE DOWN BELOW) with its soundtrack of songs about how half your check goes to the landlord and half to Uncle Sam, or how free it is to be “a road man,” with “those windshield wipers slappin out a tempo” when “each mile brings me closer to you.”

Patrick Swayze (STEEL DAWN) plays Jack Crews, a nice and upright Swayzian family man working hard at a warehouse to support his beloved wife Melanie (Brenda Strong, STARSHIP TROOPERS 1-2) and daughter Tracy (Erin Broderick, RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP). He sees his responsibility to provide for his family as his highest calling, and makes time to cook “only the absolute best homemade” for dinner and to go to Tracy’s basketball game. But if somebody at work tells him to stay late for some bullshit when he’s supposed to pick the girl up from school he’ll say “If you need it, it’ll be done.” (read the rest of this shit…)