Thank you for joining me and/or being patient with me during these last few months of S91: JUDGMENT SUMMER, my look back at most of the summer movie releases of 30 years ago. (If you actually didn’t join me, you can scroll down and click on the links to all the reviews). According to my calculations I reviewed 46 movies for this series, not including the non-1991 ones (like the part 1s for some of these part 2s). And now here are my judgments.
By the end, you noticed, I was calling it “Sarah Connor Summer.” There’s never gonna be an over-arching theme to an entire release schedule, but it really is cool how much of a “let’s give women a little bit more to do in movies” movement took place in those months. By that I mostly mean that
1) THELMA & LOUISE and its fantasy of regular women going ballistic against the daily transgressions of sexism really became a cultural phenomenon
2) TERMINATOR 2’s fierce, muscular (but also emotionally complex) version of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor created a new ideal for women in action movies
3) Kathryn Bigelow directed the other best action movie of the summer, both dissecting and glorying in masculine themes from her unique perspective, which she can do if she damn well pleases.
But there were other portrayals of women I found interesting or novel for the era. In Bill Duke’s Chester Himes adaptation A RAGE IN HARLEM, Robin Givens has an extremely underrated performance as a woman who seems like a femme fatale but doesn’t turn out to totally have the fatale part. In MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE Madonna challenges the era’s discomfort with women who present themselves as sexual beings. In Blake Edwards’ not-great SWITCH, Ellen Barkin has fun playing a man in a woman’s body (and getting to be a broad comedy lead). Christina Applegate is great as the lead of DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD; I didn’t notice anything revolutionary about her character, but she’s refreshing in a sea of male dominated comedies. HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS was directed by a woman, for whatever that’s worth. V.I. WARSHAWSKI is a cool entirely-female driven detective story with a lead who’s allowed more personality and flaws than many heroines, though it loses points for the studio not allowing a woman to write it (other than the source novel). In DEFENSELESS Barbara Hershey has a pretty good remix of the suspense thriller heroine: professional, flawed, sex-positive but not a sex object, kind of a film noir lead in that we root for her as she tries to cover up her part in a man’s death. But most reviewers felt the character was an idiot.
It was a summer that seemed to show some promise for Black directors – Duke made his excellent directing debut in theatrical features (though it did not receive the reception it deserved), Spike Lee had another one (though I think it’s not his best), John Singleton and Matty Rich had their acclaimed debuts and Charles Lane made his big studio movie. The latter two directors quickly disappeared, but Duke has worked prolifically (mostly in TV), Lee continues to be a singular voice (and has had a little more luck getting things made in the last few years) and I imagine Singleton could’ve had a comeback around now had he not died tragically young. But there were definitely many years in between without this many major releases from Black directors, so let this be a reminder that perceived gains in diversity are not always permanent.
One trend I noticed in this summer was what seems like an unusually high number of part 2s. By my count there were nine of them: FX2, MANNEQUIN TWO: ON THE MOVE, NAKED GUN 2 1/2: THE SMELL OF FEAR, SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION, PROBLEM CHILD 2, BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY and RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON. Maybe this is more normal than it seems – I count the same number this year (A QUIET PLACE II, SPIRIT UNTAMED, PETER RABBIT 2, MEET THE BLACKS 2, THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD, SPACE JAM 2, ESCAPE ROOM 2, THE SUICIDE SQUAD, DON’T BREATHE 2) – but at any rate it definitely seems that producers at that time were looking for that balance of concepts and characters who are familiar to us but not so familiar that they’ve been sequelized before. These follow-ups range from 11 years after their predecessor (RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON and ALLIGATOR II) to less than a year (PROBLEM CHILD 2), with an average of 6 years. There’s a good variety of approaches from DTV to made-for-TV to basically a rehash to way bigger and more spectacular than the first one.
I don’t think it would be controversial to say that T2 is one of the best and most influential sequels of all time, one that’s so natural, perfect and conclusive that they’ve tried to follow it up four times so far and each time had to ignore the previous one and consider it a do-over. But I would also make an argument (as I do in the review) that BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY is an incredibly strong part 2, especially considering the difficulty of making a comedy sequel that feels fresh.
I may have forgotten something but I believe these are the summer of ’91 movies with a scene at a video arcade: DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD, SUBURBAN COMMANDO, SCANNERS II, T2. And these are the ones that had video games based on them: HUDSON HAWK, ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, THE ROCKETEER, SUBURBAN COMMANDO, T2. Not having THELMA & LOUISE or BARTON FINK NES or Gameboy games was a real missed opportunity in my opinion.
Unsurprisingly, T2 and POINT BREAK are still my favorite movies of this period, and although I’d written about both of them before it felt really good to tackle them again. I think I came up with some new angles. Also, not on the same level, but I feel similarly about watching and writing about SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO again.
The biggest surprises I think were A RAGE IN HARLEM and THE BONEYARD. The former I think I saw back in the day but I didn’t remember it at all, and I was just so impressed by its odd humor and tone and the performances by Robin Givens and Forest Whitaker. The latter I assumed from the cover would be much wackier than it actually is. It’s a really good one that’s pretty serious for a movie with a killer poodle in it, a good cast of older folks (including Phyllis Diller in a rare serious role!) and (most of all) outstanding monster FX.
Hardest to get through were MOBSTERS (I almost bailed), PROBLEM CHILD 2 and SUBURBAN COMMANDO. I also tried to watch FELIX THE CAT: THE MOVIE (which was from 1988 but shelved in the U.S. until a ’91 VHS release) but I didn’t even make it ten minutes. Turns out the reason I assumed it would be interesting was that I was confusing it with a mid ‘90s TV series (The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat) that was trying to be some surreal Betty Boop jazz age type shit. This one is shit-ugly Saturday morning cartoon save-the-princess bullshit.
But overall I enjoyed deep-diving into these movies and this time period, and I thank anyone who followed along with some of it. It was fun, but it feels kinda good to be free again and just be able to jump around to more random movies that seem exciting at the moment. We return now, from those sunny days of thirty years ago, to our unpredictable pandemic-battered present. As the unknown future rolls toward us we face it for the first time with a sense of hope, knowing that if cornered we will “keep going,” that we will show them that the human spirit is still alive, and that many of the greatest samurai also wrote haiku. Hasta la vista, baby.
A RAGE IN HARLEM
Bill Duke’s excellent first feature as a director.
ONE GOOD COP
Semi-interesting Michael Keaton cop drama/child-raising movie.
SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK
Stephen King TV movie.
Okay sequel. Good clown.
MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE
Holds up. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
(bonus: MEDUSA: DARE TO BE TRUTHFUL, a parody that came out later in the year)
MANNEQUIN TWO: ON THE MOVE
About what I expected.
WHAT ABOUT BOB?
Still funny. Probly wouldn’t be made in the same way today.
Not great, not terrible Blake Edwards body-switching movie.
THELMA & LOUISE
Hot damn, this one holds up, and it was fun to revisit the cultural phenomenon of its release.
I had never seen this and was surprised by how ludicrous it is. But yes, well-made in many ways.
(Bonus: BACKDRAFT 2 – review of late DTV sequel)
Of course I had to revisit Bruce’s weirdest flop/cult favorite.
Spike Lee movies are always interesting. I got some problems with this one, though.
I got so dedicated to this series I watched a Billy Crystal comedy and thought it was okay.
DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD
Not what I expected.
I’m so glad I fit this great DTV monster movie into the series. A new favorite.
ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES
This is the kind of movie I do these summer retrospectives for – the ones with the action figures and the trading cards that are pretty entertaining and very of their time.
(THE ROCKETEER is a better movie like that that came out but I reviewed it for another series a couple years ago.)
STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN
was a huge deal at the time, but it’s not surprising that it’s been pretty forgotten.
HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS
was an odd one.
is definitely not my jam.
NAKED GUN 2 1/2: THE SMELL OF FEAR
I normally wouldn’t review but I had this part 2 thing going.
That’s also why I reviewed SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER again.
And of course the main point of this series was to tackle TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY on its 30th anniversary. (Preceded by a long-overdue revisit of THE TERMINATOR.)
Followed immediately by POINT BREAK, also a masterpiece.
And what the hell, the surprisingly decent made-for-TV sequel ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION (preceded by the original ALLIGATOR, which I loved).
And don’t you ever question my dedication to my scholarship because I reviewed PROBLEM CHILD 2 so I also watched PROBLEM CHILD.
I wish I had revisited BOYZ N THE HOOD instead. But I didn’t think enough time had passed to improve on this review of it.
BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY
is my second favorite part 2 of the summer.
is one of the worst movies I watched for this.
I enjoyed V.I. WARSHAWSKI though.
I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed so many comedies so close together. Here’s a HOT SHOTS!/LIFE STINKS double-header.
THE DARK BACKWARD
is a disgusting and weird oddity I’ve always loved but you probly wouldn’t.
is okay but kind of mildly pissed me off.
really impressed me though. Horror movie of the summer, I guess!
is a good one. Or two.
I also watched THE BLUE LAGOON to prepare for RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON starring Milla Jovovich.
And I did an animated dog double feature: 101 DALMATIANS (re-release) vs. ROVER DANGERFIELD.
is also about a dog. Live action. Non-talking.
is corny but I liked it.
In the thrillers that start with ‘D’ and were released on August 23, 1991 showdown I preferred Martin Campbell’s DEFENSELESS to Kenneth Branagh’s DEAD AGAIN.
Another comedy double feature: MYSTERY DATE and PURE LUCK.
My love for SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO only grows.
has good makeup.
And I ended with an R-rated movie. BAR-TON FINK! BAR-TON FINK!
September 1st, 2021 at 1:26 pm
Ha, I was going to say after posting the ROCK-A-DOODLE article that I only hope a similar article can shed some light on FELIX THE CAT: THE MOVIE, but I decided not to post it as I thought I didn’t need to embarrass everyone with one of my weird obsessions. But now it’s relevant! There is next to nothing about it out there, and it’s *such* a weird project inside and out. I really wanted to see it as a kid because the trailer was on the SPACED INVADERS VHS, but I could never find a copy on VHS, and had to wait for the DVD to become a Poundland staple when I was about 17. It was released in cinemas in the UK sometime in 1990 (IMDB says 1988, and it was in the can by then, but that’s wrong), and my mum once told me she considered taking me to see it as my first movie (I would have been 3); oh what could have been!
TWISTED TALES OF FELIX rules, best ever revival of a golden age character for my money.
Great series Vern, great summer everyone, thanks all.