"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Worm on a Hook

(read the rest of this shit…)

Honeymoon in Vegas

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS (released August 28, 1992) is pretty mediocre, but definitely more watchable than some of the other stuff I’ve been reviewing lately. That mainly comes down to it being a romantic comedy with Nic Cage playing the protagonist, and going a little mega at times, dipping into those skills from VAMPIRE’S KISS four years earlier and taking them for a little test drive in a more mainstream movie. Gives it a little more energy.

Cage (between ZANDALEE and AMOS & ANDREW) plays Jack Singer, a small time private detective in New York City. He adores his girlfriend Betsy (Sarah Jessica Parker between L.A. STORY and STRIKING DISTANCE), but she wants to get married and have kids, which he’s not comfortable with. It’s a totally normal feeling, but it’s given a ridiculous origin story in the opening scene where his creepily possessive mother (Anne Bancroft in one scene!) dies while trying to make him promise to never get married because no one can love him as much as she did.

Betsy doesn’t want to wait anymore, and gives him an ultimatum that she says isn’t an ultimatum, so he decides she’s right and that they should take a vacation to Las Vegas, have some fun and elope. (read the rest of this shit…)

Light Sleeper

Many of these August ’92 movies I’ve been reviewing have been grueling, but there are some good ones among them, even great ones. To make up for the toil of watching CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS: THE DISCOVERY and LITTLE NEMO, August 21, 1992 also brought us Paul Schrader’s LIGHT SLEEPER. It was the filmmaker’s first time writing and directing since 1987s’ LIGHT OF DAY (though he’d directed PATTY HEARST and THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS and written THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST since then). And it’s up there with his best work.

The troubled journal-writing outsider this one centers on is John LeTour (Willem Dafoe, WILD AT HEART), a New York City drug deliverer who’s having a bit of a crisis because his boss Ann (Susan Sarandon following THELMA & LOUISE and a cameo in THE PLAYER) seems pretty serious about starting a cosmetics company and going straight. He’s 40 and this has kept him going in the four years since he kicked drugs and he doesn’t know what he’s gonna do with his life. He has an idea about getting involved in recording music, but I’m not sure how realistic he thinks that is. (read the rest of this shit…)

Little Nemo / Freddie as F.R.O.7 (and the weird animation of summer ’92, part 2)

Although the weird blockbusters like ALIEN 3 and BATMAN RETURNS were a defining feature of summer ’92, it’s hard to overstate how much weird animation popped up in this little window between Disney reinvigorating the animated feature and anybody else figuring out how to get in on the action in a reasonable way. Earlier I reviewed the well-meaning environmental fantasy FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST and mentioned Don Bluth’s bizarre Elvis-rooster movie ROCK-A-DOODLE. Now I need to bring up two July releases that I skipped over because I’d previously reviewed them: COOL WORLD (co-starring Brad Pitt of JOHNNY SUEDE fame) and BEBE’S KIDS (written and produced by BOOMERANG’s Reginald Hudlin). Both were rated PG-13, which was very unusual for the time… and I guess would be now too, huh? BEBE’S KIDS is groundbreaking as an animated feature from a Black director and about a Black family. It’s also kind of cool that it’s adapted from a standup routine. And Tone Loc got more to do (voicing a fucked up baby) than he did in FERNGULLY (where he was a lizard).

I really want to direct you to my review of COOL WORLD if you haven’t read it, though, because this is a real headscratcher of a movie from indie/adult animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi, working with Paramount and making all kinds of concessions that might’ve turned it even weirder. Back then I liked it (or wanted to like it) enough that I saw it twice in the theater, then when I watched it five years ago to write that review I decided to retire from watching COOL WORLD. But in any study of the weirdness of summer ’92 it must be acknowledged.

Now let’s move on to two more distinctly befuddling animated features released, unsurprisingly, in August, the month of misfit movies. LITTLE NEMO: ADVENTURES IN SLUMBERLAND (onscreen title: just LITTLE NEMO) is a long-in-the-works Japanese-American co-production. It was a 1989 release in Japan, but we got it on August 21st, 1992. (read the rest of this shit…)

Christopher Columbus: The Discovery

In 1992, several similarly themed movies sailed the ocean blue. It was the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus, and it goes without saying that mainstream audiences go absolutely fuckin ape shit for any movie commemorating a quincentenary. So who could blame producers for knowing for sure there was gonna be some intense Columbus Fever infecting the indigenous population of movie theaters, and wanting to hop aboard that ship? For example, Gaumont put together 1492: THE CONQUEST OF PARADISE, which was directed by the great Ridley Scott, with cinematography by Adrian Biddle (ALIENS) and music by Vangelis.

But that one didn’t come out until October. The one that came out August 21, 1992, causing me to have to watch it, was CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS: THE DISCOVERY. That’s the one produced by the father and son team of Alexander and Ilya Salkind, best known for producing the SUPERMAN movies. And then SUPERGIRL and then SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE and then Alejandro Jodorowsky’s disowned THE RAINBOW THIEF and then this. They had such a terrible time with this one that they quit the business (though Ilya did do one more movie, DANCING FOR MY HAVANA, 23 years later.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Single White Female

Like POISON IVY earlier in the summer, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (released August 14, 1992) is a quintessential, much-imitated suspense thriller of the specific type that reigned in the ‘90s. I rented it on VHS back in the day and I believe I liked it, but I have to admit to thinking of this type of thriller as pretty interchangeable and disposable. Watching it now I can see that this is one of the best of its type.

There are many factors to that. Director Barbet Schroeder (BARFLY) creates a tense and atmospheric slow burn of a character piece. The script by first-timer Don Roos (adapted from a book by John Lutz) nicely establishes layered characters in an uncomfortable scenario, plus numerous details to the apartment building setting that you just know will become relevant late in the movie when violence is afoot. And it looks great – credit to cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (SUSPIRIA, TITUS) and production designer Milena Canonero (also the costume designer, as she was for BARRY LYNDON, TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM, DICK TRACY, THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, OCEAN’S TWELVE, MARIE ANTOINETTE – man, that’s a resume!). The score by Cronenberg’s guy Howard Shore is certainly a big part of setting the eerie mood. And I don’t really know how to measure it but I gotta assume the editing is crucial to the suspense, so I want to mention that editor Lee Percy comes out of the world of exploitation – he was the scamp who bastardized LONE WOLF AND CUB into SHOGUN ASSASSIN, and he did THE KILLING OF AMERICA, THEY CALL ME BRUCE, RE-ANIMATOR, TROLL, FROM BEYOND and DOLLS. Also BLUE STEEL. (read the rest of this shit…)

Diggstown

“This ain’t about money anymore.”

DIGGSTOWN, released August 14, 1992, is a pretty entertaining meat and potatoes movie, with the meat being a sports movie and the potatoes being a con movie. It’s directed by Michael Ritchie (PRIME CUT, FLETCH) and written by Steven McKay (between HARD TO KILL and DARKMAN II: THE RETURN OF DURANT) based on the novel The Diggstown Ringers by Leonard Wise.

James Woods (BEST SELLER) stars as Gabriel Caine (no relation to RAISING CAIN), a master manipulator doing time in a Georgia prison for selling counterfeit art, now making money on the side helping other prisoners escape. When he’s released he heads to nearby Diggstown with a complicated scheme targeting unofficial ruler of the town John Gillon (Bruce Dern, THE DRIVER). Gillon was once the manager of local boxing legend Charles Macom Diggs (Wilhelm von Homburg, DIE HARD, NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR). Now he manages the small boxing venue Diggstown Arena, but makes enough money to buy his his son Robby (Thomas Wilson Brown, the neighbor kid in HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS) a ’56 Corvette. (read the rest of this shit…)

Stay Tuned

STAY TUNED is a big high concept comedy very suited for an August 14th Weird Summer release. It even has a tagline playing off it being a weird time (“Something weird’s on the air.”) It comes from Morgan Creek Productions, who I respect for bringing us such off kilter mainstream releases as DEAD RINGERS, NIGHTBREED, THE EXORCIST III, TRUE ROMANCE and SOLDIER.

It has some loose connections to other movies we’ve reviewed in this series already. The child narrator character is played by David Tom, the main kid from STEPFATHER 3. The villain is played by Jeffrey Jones, the lead of MOM AND DAD SAVE THE WORLD. The director is Peter Hyams, who 17 years later will be cinematographer for the fourth sequel to summer of ’92’s UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. The makeup effects are by Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis, who did top shelf work in ALIEN 3 and DEATH BECOMES HER. (Woodruff played the titular alien, even – he should’ve played the TV here.) And the producers tried to get Tim Burton to direct it, but he chose BATMAN RETURNS instead*.

To me it doesn’t seem anything like a Tim Burton movie, or like “THE EVIL DEAD meets Monty Python” as screenwriters Tom S. Parker & Jim Jennewein (sharing story credit with Richard Siegel) supposedly pitched it. What it reminds me of really is a HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS type movie. I know we already got a sequel to that this summer, but this is kinda like HONEY WE’RE STUCK IN THE TV, with delusions of being ROBOCOP. (read the rest of this shit…)

Johnny Suede

I’ve been trying to put my finger on the specific vibe I sense in early ‘90s (pre-Tarantino) indie-cinema. We hit on the topic with GAS FOOD LODGING, RUBIN & ED and NIGHT ON EARTH (though the latter is almost too accomplished a version of it to feel like the same category). These are movies that are very different from each other in most respects, but they share a lack of interest in traditional Hollywood storytelling or narrative structure. They’re a little more like dreams, or real life, or poems, or at least meandering novellas than tightly woven tales of adventure. You’re following a story, picking up on themes, wondering what it’s building to, or what it’s saying. But often you have to face that it’s more stream-of-consciousness than that. It’s not about that. It’s more about spending some time with some odd characters, in a specific place, with a distinct tone. What you get out of the experience is up to interpretation.

My instinct is to want a tighter narrative, but there’s something appealing about movies like this too. Some freedom in letting go of any expectation that it’s gonna make itself clear.

I was thinking about it last month on my vacation/Covid isolation in Knoxville, Tennessee. My aunt-in-law showed us writer/director Tom DiCillo’s third film, BOX OF MOONLIGHT (1996), because it was filmed around there. And now, coincidentally, here I am watching his debut, JOHNNY SUEDE, in the final stretch of my summer of ’92 retrospective. It was released August 14, 1992, but DiCillo says on the DVD commentary that it played for a week and a half in New York and then a week and a half in L.A. and that’s it. Somehow we all knew about it when it was on video, though. (read the rest of this shit…)

Raising Cain

August 7, 1992 brought us the release of not only best picture winner UNFORGIVEN and feature length movie 3 NINJAS, but also one of the most joyfully deranged thrillers of the era, Brian De Palma’s RAISING CAIN. I reviewed RAISING CAIN a few years backoh jesus actually it was 18 years ago what the fuck… and it’s an okay review as far as describing what the movie is like, but I could not in good conscience do a series on the weirdness of Summer ’92 and not revisit it. This is one of the top achievers in the field.

Five years earlier, De Palma had had a huge mainstream success with THE UNTOUCHABLES, a well-reviewed hit movie that nabbed four Oscar nominations and won best supporting actor for Sean Connery. He’d already cashed that in to make the acclaimed war drama CASUALTIES OF WAR (1989), and then his attempt at a big zeitgeisty literary adaptation, THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990), had been one of Hollywood’s most notorious fiascos. So it might’ve seemed at a glance like a shrewd move to return to the genre he’d originally been known for – the amped up Hitchcockian thriller. (read the rest of this shit…)

3 Ninjas

They used to say that August was the “dog days,” when all the shitty movies get dumped. Yeah, okay, maybe some of them. But August 7, 1992 was when they released one of the best movies of the ’90s. A movie I continue to watch every couple years and absolutely love. One of those movies that’s kind of seen as a commentary on its genre but really it’s just a high watermark for it. This was even the movie that won best picture that year. Oh yeah no I’m not talking about 3 NINJAS yet, I’m talking about Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN. I was planning to revisit it as part of this retrospective but jesus christ it’s September already, and I’ve already reviewed it before, I’ve even reviewed its Japanese remake before (it’s good!). If I was gonna write about it again I’d want more time to really focus on doing it justice and I can’t do that right now, I’d have to rush it. So instead here I am reviewing some real dog shit released on the same day. These are the choices we make as writers.

I had never seen 3 NINJAS before, but obviously I wasn’t gonna skip a movie that has three or more ninjas in it. It’s from director Jon Turteltaub (THE MEG), who had only done the Barbarian Brothers comedy THINK BIG (1990) and something called DRIVING ME CRAZY (1991) at this point, but somehow he got this released by Touchstone Pictures. Then he continued his Disney relationship by following it with COOL RUNNINGS (1993), WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (1995), PHENOMENON (1996), INSTINCT (1999), DISNEY’S THE KID (2000), NATIONAL TREASURE (2004), NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (2007), and THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010). Man, he got lucky though, because this is some real bottom of the barrel dreck, almost as bad as any off brand DTV throwaway kiddy garbage you’ll ever encounter. I guess Michael Eisner only cared about that “we’re not spending DICK TRACY money on anything anymore” edict we discussed in the ENCINO MAN review more than he cared about finding movies worthy of showing to people. (read the rest of this shit…)