"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Pinocchio

In 1992, Walt Disney Animation was on an undeniable upswing. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT had been a smash in ’88, THE LITTLE MERMAID reignited their musical fairy tale formula in ’89, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was so respected in ’91 that it got a best picture nomination, and they had ALADDIN coming out in November. It would be funny if they felt the need to re-release classics in the summer to sabotage potential competitors, since ROCK-A-DOODLE and FERNGULLY were long gone by June 26th, 1992 anyway. But I think this was just a reliable money-making technique they had developed, to release an old one in the summer and a new one at the end of the year. Remember that in last year’s summer of ’91 retrospective I got to review the re-release of 101 DALMATIANS, which was really not needed to stave off ROVER DANGERFIELD, in my opinion.

The “WALT DISNEY’S CLASSIC” for 1992 was the studio’s second-ever animated feature, PINOCCHIO, returning in celebration of its 52nd anniversary, I guess. 1940 was the same year Daisy Duck made her debut in Mr. Duck Steps Out, Bugs Bunny made his in A Wild Hare, Woody Woodpecker made his in Knock Knock, Abbott and Costello made theirs in One Night in the Tropics, and Captain America and Bucky made theirs in comic books. It was the year of Charlie Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR, the year DUNKIRK happened, the year Winston Churchill became prime minister, the year the first McDonald’s opened, the year nylon stockings came out. Pretty long ago. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dual

DUAL is the latest from writer/director Riley Stearns, which came to disc this week. I checked it out because I really Iiked his last one, THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE, which stars Jesse Eisenberg as a “35 year old dog owner” who takes up karate after being assaulted, but is not remotely the movie I’d picture when hearing that description. At the end of my review I wrote, “I really like the feel he has here – a barren, generic town, people who speak oddly, an undercurrent of danger as this strange black comedy kind of turns into a thriller. It’s very unique.”

That sounds quite a bit like this one too, despite entirely different subject matter. DUAL is about clones and is set in a casually dystopian near future (or present?), so it’s technically a sci-fi movie, but it feels like it could be the same world as the previous one. It’s got the same sort of deadpan strangeness, plainness and bone-dry, bleak humor. There’s even some combat training that takes place in a room that might as well be one of the dojos in that movie. I wondered if Stearns ever considered using Allesandro Nivola’s asshole sensei character as the trainer, then I read that Eisenberg was announced as a cast member at one point, so maybe it would’ve been him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Unlawful Entry

June 26, 1992

UNLAWFUL ENTRY is one of those big mainstream domestic suspense thrillers that you don’t see too many of in theaters these days but that were a staple in the ‘90s. This one is directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who they probly called “the director of THE ACCUSED” in the advertising, but to me he’ll always be the director of TRUCK TURNER. One of the greats! The screenplay is credited to Lewis Colick (THE DIRT BIKE KID), who shares story credit with George Putnam (who also had FATAL INSTINCT that year) & John Katchmer.

Kurt Russell (in his followup to BACKDRAFT) and Madeleine Stowe (REVENGE) star as Michael and Karen Carr, a Los Angeles couple who in a skillfully tense sequence discover an intruder (Kaplan regular Johnny Ray McGhee) climbing through the skylight into their enormous home one night. Michael threatens the man with a golf club and scuffles with him, but he holds a knife to Karen’s throat and manages to escape.

When they call the cops, officers Roy Cole (Roger E. Mosley, HIT MAN, THE MACK, McQ, LEADBELLY, THE JERICHO MILE) and Pete Davis (Ray Liotta, two years and two projects after GOODFELLAS) respond. I love the way Kaplan and d.p. Jamie Anderson (PIRANHA) zero in on Pete reacting to the story, immediately showing great concern and protectiveness for Karen, and managing to touch her when she almost steps on glass. He’s obviously got eyes on her, and the way Roy says, “Hey – I know what you’re thinking” as they’re leaving, you get the idea he’s done that sort of thing before. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mad God

MAD GOD is a bizarre stop motion journey through the large intestine of a nightmare. It’s hard to describe (or know) what it’s about, but its version of the STAR WARS opening scroll is an actual scroll inked with a menacing threat from Leviticus. It ends, “I WILL MAKE THE LAND DESOLATE SO THAT YOUR ENEMIES WHO SETTLE IT SHALL BE APPALLED BY IT. AND YOU WILL SCATTER AMONG THE NATIONS AND I WILL UNSHEATH THE SWORD AGAINST YOU. YOUR LAND SHALL BECOME A DESOLATION AND YOUR CITIES A RUIN.”

Gee, thanks God!

The God of this movie may or may not be a weird priest played by REPO MAN director Alex Cox, one of a few live action characters seen briefly. He’s the one who sends a character I know from reading is called “The Assassin” – a man in a gas mask who is lowered in a diving bell past towers and rocks and layers of dinosaur bones and stone idols to a war-torn wasteland. He seems to be on a mission to set off a suitcase of dynamite deep in the earth, and most of the movie is a long journey downward, following an ever-crumbling map.

People who demand a strong narrative will melt into a puddle and be lapped up by weird crab monsters with human teeth. There’s a story here, but it’s all dream logic, told with mood, atmosphere and symbolism, not words. There’s virtually no human language that can be heard clearly – just some grunts like in those original Aeon Flux shorts. The score by Dan Wool of Pray For Rain (Cox’s guy since SID & NANCY) is crucial, but so is the sound design by Richard Beggs (TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM, CHILDREN OF MEN), which helps bring life to these inanimate objects. It’s all ticking clocks, whirring servos, tinkling music boxes, puttering engines, rattling cages, crackling flames, clicking gears, flittering wings, collapsing earth, air raid sirens, explosions, gunfire, gnomes chirping like Jawas, babies crying in the distance, and most of all the sounds of the Assassin’s thick coat shifting around, and his boots crunching into dirt. (read the rest of this shit…)

Death Ring

It was the fourth week of June, 1992. BATMAN RETURNS was ruling the roost. It wasn’t the unbridled Batmania of ’89, but it was the biggest movie of the year. On Tuesday the 23rd a couple notable-to-me albums came out. Eric B and Rakim released their fourth and final album, Don’t Sweat the Technique. It included a song about the Gulf War (“Casualties of War”) and the classic “Know the Ledge” (originally on the JUICE soundtrack).

At the time I was also into Deee-Lite, who released their less popular second album Infinity Within. I’ve never been an electronic dance music guy, but the presence of Bootsy lured me into the first album (in fact, seeing them live was the first time I saw Bootsy live), and then I stuck with them. I had not listened to this album in years, but I enjoyed putting it on to get into the 1992 spirit. It’s very of-its-time in that it blends genres and features guest appearances by Arrested Development, Jamal-ski and Michael Franti (then in Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, later Spearhead). I think it holds up as a good album and some of my favorites are the four shamelessly corny P.S.A. type songs: “Vote, Baby, Vote,” “I Had a Dream I Was Falling through a Hole in the Ozone Layer,” “Fuddy Duddy Judge” and “Rubber Lover.” (Why is there politics in my dance music what happened to just dancing without having to care about anything I’m calling the cops)

And then on Wednesday the 24th on the new release shelf of your local video store you may have found the DTV action movie DEATH RING. Its contribution to weirdness in the year of our lord 1992 is that it’s the movie that says “NORRIS, DRAGO, McQUEEN, SWAYZE” on the cover and yes, the Drago is Billy Drago, but the others are Mike Norris (son of Chuck), Chad McQueen (son of Steve) and Don Swayze (younger brother of Patrick). (read the rest of this shit…)

Neptune Frost

NEPTUNE FROST is a new sci-fi movie, though not the type anybody would picture when I say that word. It takes place in what must be the near future, with technology and civilization extrapolated from and commenting on the present. It has world-building, colorfully named characters (Memory, Innocent, Psychology), futuristic lingo, a rebellion. But it’s very much an art movie, its imagery more based in theater and video art than FX, and also it’s a musical. Its story is more mythical, surreal and allegorical than traditionally cinematic. The narrator, Neptune, acknowledges this upfront when she says, “Maybe you’re asking yourself WTF is this? Is it a poet’s idea of a dream?” So it’s not surprising that its growing cult success has come through a carefully coordinated limited release.

It’s set in Rwanda, and begins in a coltan mine. Skinny men in the sun chipping at rock with various tools, harvesting ore for capacitors used in phones and computers they mostly can’t afford. One miner named Tekno finds a big piece of coltan (I thought it was a fossil), becomes enamored with it and holds it aloft. An overseer yells at him to keep working, and hits him in the head. He falls over, to the horror of his brother Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse), and dies. The others are upset but forced to return to work. They drum and chant and create a beat with their work. (read the rest of this shit…)

Batman Returns

“It’s the so-called normal guys who always let you down. Sickos never scare me. At least they’re committed.” —Selina Kyle

“He had graduated to a point where he wanted to make movies that are his movies. And this is one hundred percent Tim’s movie.” —BATMAN RETURNS producer Denise DeNovi


On June 19, 1992 we got a blockbuster super hero movie unlike we’d seen before or have since. Since Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS was about as much of a sure thing hit as a studio could ever have, and because the director had been unsure about doing another one, Warner Brothers left him alone to do what he wanted. So it’s a rare combination: an expensive summer blockbuster based on pop culture icons, but also an odd, personal film by an earnest visualist director without much interest in crowdpleasing spectacle. Okay, maybe that describes 1990’s DICK TRACY also, but this is DICK TRACY’s much freakier second cousin. As the first sequel to the movie that made comic book adaptations a hot commodity it was in a unique position to make up most of its own rules about what a super hero sequel is supposed to be, and it wasn’t timid about it.

I’ve written before about my love for the era of comic book movies that started with BATMAN and ended around BLADE or X-MEN. Since the medium that inspired them was still considered nerd shit, since digital FX were in their infancy, since most of them never worried about setting up a sequel let alone a cinematic universe, and since most were heavily influenced by what Tim Burton had done in BATMAN, the genre was very different from what it is today. There was far less literal fidelity to the source material (for good and bad), and relatively few attempts to depict extravagant super powers and creatures, meaning less falling back on visual effects sequences. Some tried to reimagine a pulpy past (THE ROCKETEER, THE SHADOW, THE PHANTOM, DICK TRACY), while the ones trying to be new and contemporary often celebrated colorful outsiders and weirdos (THE CROW, THE MASK, BARB WIRE, TANK GIRL, X-MEN). And I think my favorite thing about them is that they didn’t usually take place in “the real world.” They depended on a stylized look with big sets on sound stages, matte paintings and miniatures to create their own heightened reality. (read the rest of this shit…)

Memory

MEMORY is not the best movie we will see from star Liam Neeson or director Martin Campbell (DEFENSELESS, GOLDENEYE, THE MASK OF ZORRO, CASINO ROYALE, THE FOREIGNER), but I think it’s an interesting one. It’s a grim thriller about a contract killer who realizes he’s starting to get dementia and tries to go after some bad people before his mind is gone. That’s pretty similar to the premise of Paul Schrader’s disowned (but I kind of liked it) 2014 film DYING OF THE LIGHT, but it’s actually a remake of the 2003 Belgian film DE ZAAK ALZHEIMER (THE ALZHEIMER CASE), itself based on a 1985 novel by Jef Geeraerts.

It starts with Alex Lewis (Neeson, KRULL) on the job. He enters a hospital in scrubs and we know he’s not a regular nurse by his complete non-reaction to some asshole nearly running him over in the parking garage. It turns out that’s his target, some jerk visiting his mother. We see just enough of of the guy to imagine he might deserve this fate, but also enough of his mother’s terror behind her oxygen mask to think “Man, that’s fucked up.”

As Alex is making his escape he reaches for the keys behind the mirror, and takes a bit to remember they’re in his pocket. Not a big deal, except if you’re a total pro and never make mistakes like that. Can’t make mistakes like that. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Princess

THE PRINCESS is a new straight-to-Hulu movie with a simple concept. At its center is a Disney-type story of a medieval princess who wants to find her own destiny and not be forced to marry somebody for political reasons, but it’s done as a violent martial arts movie with a DIE HARD type premise. The Princess (Joey King, WHITE HOUSE DOWN) wakes up, having been drugged, in a Rapunzel type tower. She doesn’t have long hair, but she does know how to fight, so she battles to the death with the guys guarding her and sneaks around the castle picking off enemies McClane/Ryback style while plotting how to save her family, who she sees threatened at swordpoint in the plaza below.

In flashbacks we learn that due to a lack of male heirs The King (Ed Stoppard, JUDY) was gonna let this motherfucker Julius (Dominic Cooper, WARCRAFT) marry the young princess. She almost went through with it “for the good of the kingdom” or whatever, but backed out at the last minute, and now this hostage situation is how Julius plans to change her mind. Great guy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Elvis

Any musician biopic, pretty much, is gonna be a legend or a tall tale. What’s great about Baz Luhrmann directing one is that his entire style leans into that. Condensing a whole life and career into an entertaining 2 1/2 hours requires shortcuts, cheats and artistic license that prevent it from being literally true, so here we have a director whose work is rarely about the literal truth anyway. It’s more about how something feels and looks and sounds, or making it look and sound like it feels. Biopics depend on montages to move quickly across time, and this guy speaks fluent montage. He’s also a director whose films have generally been on the verge of being jukebox musicals (going all the way in the case of MOULIN ROUGE!). So what could be more perfect for him than an Elvis Presley biopic?

ELVIS is absolutely presented as a legend, one told by Presley’s long time manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, DRAGNET), who admits “there are some who’d make me out to be the villain of this here story,” and in between his justifications does come off as something of an evil mastermind. He addresses us decades after Elvis has passed, when he’s on his own death bed in a Las Vegas hospital room with a view of Star Trek: The Experience (1998-2008), but in his mind he’s also dragging his I.V. drip around an empty casino. (read the rest of this shit…)