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Posts Tagged ‘Summer of 1991’

Summer of 1991 closing remarks

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

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

and

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. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barton Fink

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

“He’s poor, this wrestler! He’s had struggle!”


It used to be that August was a time for studios to release a bunch of movies they thought were bad or didn’t have high expectations for. You know, they release ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and T2 early in the summer, hoping young people and families will go repeatedly throughout the summer. Once it gets closer to school starting up again there’s less chance for that, so that’s why in the year in question we were seeing weird rooster cartoons and weird dog cartoons and weird dog live action movies and weird Mickey Rourke movies.

Many things in the world of pop culture were shifting that month. While on the Lollapalooza tour, long-time goth fixtures Siouxsie and the Banshees actually actually made it onto the Billboard charts for “Kiss Them For Me.” (By the next summer they’d have a song in a Batman movie.) Pearl Jam released their first album. LaKeith Stanfield was born. But also Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” love theme from ROBIN HOOD was still the #1 song!

This particular August ended with kind of a whimper – CHILD’S PLAY 3 (still the weakest Chucky movie four sequels later) was released on the 30th. But I thought I should end this review series on the August 21, 1991 release that happens to be one of the weirdest but also best regarded movies of the season. If I had to compare it to another ’91 movie I’d have to say it reminds me most of THE DARK BACKWARD, of all things. Well, and I case some fire stunts reminded me of BACKDRAFT. But those are stretches. This one stands alone. (read the rest of this shit…)

True Identity

Monday, August 30th, 2021

August 23, 1991

As we’ve discussed earlier in this series, the summer of ’91 was pivotal for the emerging Black film movement of the era. BOYZ N THE HOOD was the seismic event, but we also had Bill Duke directing his first theatrical feature, a new one from Spike Lee, and a heavily hyped drama made by a 19-year-old director in a Brooklyn housing project with some credit cards. So it’s only fitting that one of the last movies of the summer was a studio film from the Black director of an acclaimed indie.

Charles Lane had written, directed, and starred in a 1989 film called SIDEWALK STORIES, about a homeless artist in Greenwich Village who takes care of a little girl (played by his daughter) after her father is murdered. Partly an homage to Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID, it’s silent except for the last scene. Roger Ebert loved it, it was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for best director, first feature and male lead, and according to Wikipedia it won the audience prize at Cannes, though I haven’t been able to verify this. The point is, it was respected.

So here we are three years later and Lane is directing a major Touchstone Pictures comedy with the very mainstream premise “What if a Black guy had to pretend to be a white guy?” It stars the British comedian Lenny Henry (BERNARD AND THE GENIE) and is written by Andy Breckman, a (white) Late Night With David Letterman and SNL writer who had scripted MOVING, ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS and HOT TO TROT. (read the rest of this shit…)

Showdown in Little Tokyo

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

“Y’know – this is a weird part of town.”

August 23, 1991

SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO is a movie I have long enjoyed (here is a pretty dumb review of it I wrote 13 years ago). It’s a buddy cop movie starring Dolph Lundgren (between COVER UP and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER) and Brandon Lee (between LASER MISSION and RAPID FIRE), so any possible deficiencies are easily overcome by their great charisma and the unrepeatable novelty of their team-up. Watching it in the context of these other ’91 movies it does seem slightly primitive; it’s a Warner Bros. movie, but the budget was $8 million, which is less than DOUBLE IMPACT – or even non-action stuff like DEAD AGAIN, THE COMMITMENTS, BINGO, RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON and LIFE STINKS – let alone the new state-of-the-art represented by POINT BREAK and TERMINATOR 2. Fortunately it’s in the capable exploitation hands of director Mark L. Lester (STEEL ARENA, CLASS OF 1984, FIRESTARTER, COMMANDO, CLASS OF 1999), so it has heavy doses of The Good Shit. He always gives you something extra.

Just as MYSTERY DATE has its two leads getting into trouble with gangs in Chinatown, this is about two guys fighting a Yakuza drug ring in L.A.’s Japanese district. In this case that’s in their job description as members of the LAPD Asian Crime Taskforce. Dolph’s Sergeant Chris Kenner gets the kind of introduction all his characters deserve: he single-handedly raids an illegal fighting circuit by climbing through a skylight, swinging into the ring on a rope and saying, “Haven’t I told you this is illegal, and it pisses me off?” Then he’s announced as the new challenger and has to fight the guys in the ring. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mystery Date / Pure Luck

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

August 16,1991

The only thing I remembered about MYSTERY DATE was that Gwar was in it. It’s a once-crazy-night movie where this kid Tom (Ethan Hawke, EXPLORERS) nervously takes out his crush Geena (Teri Polo, BORN TO RIDE) and tries to impress her, and they end up at a place called Club Voltaire during a Gwar show. We briefly get to see them roaring and thrashing and performing a cartoonish decapitation – pretty great choice for the “band that would seem intimidating to these people” scene. (In Keanu’s THE NIGHT BEFORE it was Parliament-Funkadelic.)

What I did not remember is that Tom finds a dead body in his trunk, accidentally kills a cop, and gets in a war with the Chinatown mafia. I thought it was gonna be a normal horny romantic comedy type deal.

Tom is a shy recent high school graduate. Since he looks like Ethan Hawke they don’t try to pass him off as a total nerd – he wears a Los Lobos t-shirt and has posters of The Stranglers, The The, Elvis Costello, UB40, and that Lynda Barry “Poodle with a Mohawk” cartoon, all suggesting he’s, like, a guy who listens to college radio or whatever. But he doesn’t make it clear what other passions he may have, save for this “mystery girl” next door (I think she’s housesitting?) who he spies on through a telescope (unethical). He lives in the shadow of his brother Craig (Brian McNamara, SHORT CIRCUIT), who’s at law school, and his parents’ dog, who they’ve taken out of town for a dog show. (read the rest of this shit…)

Dead Again / Defenseless

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

August 23, 1991 saw the release of two American suspense thrillers by notable overseas directors. Best reviewed, highest grossing and first alphabetically was Kenneth Branagh’s DEAD AGAIN, starring Kenneth Branagh and his then-wife Emma Thompson, written by Scott Frank (PLAIN CLOTHES).

Under the opening credits are an old timey montage of 1940s newspaper headlines detailing the story of a singer named Margaret Strauss (Thompson), who was stabbed to death with scissors, and then her husband Roman “The Maestro” Strauss (Branagh) was convicted of murdering her. The opening is done in black and white, with The Maestro getting a weird haircut and posing with evil smiles in the shadows as he tells reporter Gray Baker (Andy Garcia in his followup to THE GODFATHER PART III) that he loves his wife. When Baker asks if he killed her, he leans over and whispers to him and you’re supposed to wonder what he said I guess. But, like, what would he say? Definitely no? Arguably yes?

Anyway the main story is 40 years later when private detective Mike Church (also Branagh), who specializes in finding lost heirs and speaks in a shifting series of dorky American accents that I don’t think is intended to be funny, reluctantly agrees to do a favor for a priest he knows (Richard Easton, YOUNG WARRIORS). A mysterious amnesiac woman who does not speak (Thompson again) showed up at the orphanage where he grew up, and he agrees to drop her off at the hospital, but when he sees all the scary mentally ill people she’d be with he feels bad and lets her sleep at his apartment. No, he doesn’t do anything untoward, but yes, he quickly falls in love with her and acts like a weirdo. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Commitments

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

August 14, 1991

THE COMMITMENTS is the story of a wannabe music manager in Dublin convincing his friends (all white) to put together a soul cover band. The conceit is that ’60s soul music is beautiful and “honest,” that working class Dubliners have more in common than they realize with the African-Americans who created this music, and that the novelty of white Irish people pouring their hearts into these beloved songs would be a cute and fun way to celebrate them in the context of a comical underdog story.

This is one of Mrs. Vern’s favorite movies, so I wanted to be open to it, but I definitely rejected the idea at the time, not taking any serious offense or anything but just under the belief that at best white singers can do pretty good soul music. Dusty Springfield was a one off and Amy Winehouse was 9 years old at the time so it just seemed delusional. I imagined some kind of “let’s all clap for these white people pulling off pretty good soul music” story of triumph for people who don’t generally listen to the real thing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bingo

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

You may have thought I was done with the weird dog movies of summer ’91 after the ROVER DANGERFIELD (plus 101 DALMATIANS re-release) review last week, but if so you forgot all about the live action division. August 9, 1991 also saw the release of BINGO, a pretty odd movie about a kid whose family moves, leaving behind a dog he had secretly befriended, E.T. style.

It’s directed by Matthew Robbins, who as a writer contributed to George Lucas’ original THX 1138 short and Spielberg’s SUGARLAND EXPRESS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and as a director gave us CORVETTE SUMMER, DRAGONSLAYER, THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN and *batteries not included. He doesn’t have a credit on the screenplay here – that went to newcomer Jim Strain.

Bingo is a dog who lives with a circus. One day he has to fill in for an injured poodle, but he freezes when he’s supposed to jump through a flaming hoop – a flashback tells us that his mother was killed in a pet store fire. (I sincerely love the shot of puppy Bingo mourning at his mother’s grave [with flowers!] like he’s Bruce Wayne or somebody.) His trainer Steve (Simon Webb, one episode of MacGyver) tries to shoot him, but Bingo escapes because Steve’s Peg-Bundy-looking-wife Ginger (Suzie Plakson, MY STEPMOTHER IS AN ALIEN) at least briefly sympathizes with him, telling him to run away and “Do whatever makes ya happy!

(read the rest of this shit…)

101 Dalmatians / Rover Dangerfield

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

Earlier this year I did a week of rock ’n roll related animated features, including Don Bluth’s ROCK-A-DOODLE, which was released on August 2, 1991 in the U.K. (though not until the following April in the U.S.). In that review I talked about Disney struggling in the ‘80s, and Bluth disagreeing with their direction and splintering off to try to recapture the old Walt magic, doing a pretty good job for a while but then completely losing the plot by that time, when he made that completely befuddling movie about a farm rooster exiled to animal Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Disney was finally getting their shit together, in a way that reinvigorated the entire American animation industry. It kicked off in the summer of ’88, when Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams’ love letter to animation history WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT was a giant hit with adults as much as kids. Then in ’89 THE LITTLE MERMAID perfected the musical fairy tale formula that Disney and its rivals would attempt to recapture for the rest of the decade. (A similar thing was happening on TV, with every network trying to make prime time cartoons in the wake of The Simpsons. Even the cartoons made for younger audiences were beginning to be more creative and less disposable: Nickelodeon debuted Doug, Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show on August 11th.) (read the rest of this shit…)

The Blue Lagoon / Return to the Blue Lagoon

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021

In my study of Summer of 1991 and especially it’s part 2s, I didn’t think I could skip RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON. But I had never seen the first film – 1980’s THE BLUE LAGOON – so I had to watch that first.

Based on the 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole (previously filmed in 1923 and 1949), it’s an adventure and, I’m sorry to say, romance. Sorry because it’s between two teenage cousins who grow up stranded on a tropical island together. Even aside from the incest thing, they literally don’t know any other humans, how romantic is it gonna be that they choose each other?

It’s a period piece in the Victorian period, which we only know from the boat at the beginning. Richard and Emmeline are little kids. Emmeline’s parents have died, and her uncle, Richard’s dad (William Daniels, MARLOWE), is taking them to San Francisco. It is established that Richard is already a horny little bastard – he sneaks a peak at the cook’s collection of nudie photos and gets spanked for it. But there’s a fire onboard and only the kids and the grumpy cook, Paddy (Leo McKern, DAMIEN: OMEN II), escape on a life boat. (read the rest of this shit…)