1992: The Cutting Room Floor

B-Sides and Missed Opportunities

1992 was no exception when it came to dropped balls and a constant backdrop of near misses and middle of the road flicks. Here’s the cinematic leftovers of the year.

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent

MSDBUTH FE006Freejack (Bad): A classic example of a cool idea done in a lackluster fashion. The cast was mostly good (Emelio Estevez, Rene Russo, Sir Anthony Hopkins), which makes for a puzzling question of what exactly went wrong.

The Lawnmower Man (Bad): Even as a pretty young kid, I realized that… computers just don’t do those things. Not even a little. But hey. Computer generated effects. Not enough to save it.

Beethoven (Indifferent): I was a kid who was in the process of becoming a young adult. This was a kids movie. It had a Saint Bernard. I guess it was okay.

Thunderheart (Good): Val Kilmer plays an FBI agent sent on an investigation in a Sioux reservation due to his partial Native American heritage. Graham Greene though is the greatest reason to watch this film. Particularly his scene (minute 1:10) where Val Kilmer tells him he had a vision.

Lethal Weapon 3 (Good): Adequate action comedy for the time, back before everyone knew Mel Gibson was an asshole. The addition of Joe Pesci made this film just that more surreal.

Encino Man (Indifferent): Lowbrow comedy with Pauly Shore. Kind of says it all. Notable for ‘Weezing the Juice.’

Cool World (Bad): Brad Pitt is some kind of detective in a cartoon world where Kim Basinger is also a cartoon. Given I’m an animation nut, you’d think I’d love this but… no.

Universal Soldier (Bad): Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme fight each other as reconstructed, dead, not-dead, yet not undead soldiers. Lots of bullets, very little story.

Mom and Dad Save the World (Indifferent): I have friends who adore this as a cult film, but it’s okay. It has Norm from Cheers!

Death Becomes Her (Good): I know this movie was generally panned, but I did like what they were going for. It was the role that Bruce Willis finally started admitting he was balding in, and I have to admit that I was surprised he could play a role that wasn’t a big budget action hero. Good practical effects, too.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Good): Luke Perry and Kristy Swanson fighting vampires being led by Rutger Hauer and goddamned Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens). Add in Donald Sutherland and stir a drink. There’s many worse ways to pass the time.

Stay Tuned (Indifferent): Again… Jack Ritter somehow fails to deliver something memorable here.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Good): Only got to see this recently, and it covers a lot of territory that the television show couldn’t for a lot of reasons. A must for fans of the Twin Peaks television show.

School Ties (Good): A good 1950’s period piece about a Jewish student hiding his heritage to attend a prestigious prep school. In addition to Fraser, you also get a relatively early performance from Matt Damon, as well as Ben Affleck (you can choose whether or not this is a positive).

Last of the Mohicans (Good): I didn’t watch this film until college, and only after the recommendation from my father. It’s all done very well, from the portrayal of the era, to the acting, to the soundtrack (I mean it on the soundtrack. Really good stuff)

The Mighty Ducks (Indifferent): Emelio Estevez teaches kids how to hockey better. I think this movie was done before in The Bad News Bears (1976), and probably better. Great NHL logo out of this film though.

Under Siege (Indifferent): All Steven Segal movies look the same to me, really. This is the one with the stripper in the birthday cake. It’s really the only differentiator for me.

A Few Good Men (Good): This was a good drama, but I got more out of the prank call soundboard app than anything else.

My Cousin Vinnie (Good): I’d not seen this film until the past week as my girlfriend was incredulous that I’d not seen it. Good film, made better by Ralph Macchio not really speaking much from behind his wispy mustache.

 Filling In the Gaps

WMCJ 1992

Kuffs: In my personal Christian Slater revival, I feel the need to see this. I had an opportunity on a flight once, but promptly slept through it.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle: A lot of people talked about this film at the time, but it got away from me. I heard good things.

Juice: Another film that just missed me entirely. As a child of the nineties, I’m ashamed I missed just about everything Tupac Shakur was involved with. So this should happen.

Basic Instinct: This was the film everyone talked about that year, mostly on account of Sharon Stone flashing her hoohah for the camera. Which was exactly why I never got a chance to see it at the time. I assume there was more to it though.

White Men Can’t Jump: Caught about five minutes of this film on HBO as a kid before mom and dad shut it off. It was about race and basketball, and while I was curious about race at that age (racism made zero sense to me – still doesn’t make sense now) basketball carried no interest at all. Young Maurice was kinda dumb to discount it because it had a partial focus on basketball.

Year of the Comet: A cult classic that my friends talk about it all the time. Zombies are in it I think, so… I’m down.

Split Second: I have to see this, but it’s hard to find at a decent price. Cyberpunk-ish monster film with Rutger Hauer? Sign me up!

Rapid Fire: Brandon Lee’s debut. Seems like a no brainer to go back to this and give it a whirl.

Singles: I was down on romance themes when this came out – I didn’t have a serious relationship until I was in my college years. Again, young Maurice was kinda dumb to not like a thing because he didn’t have a related thing.

Candyman: More Tony Todd, please.

Passenger 57: I know this probably isn’t true, but I remember this being Wesley Snipes’ first branding as an action hero. So, I imagine I’d probably like this.

Toys: Looked really weird at the time, and from what I heard it wasn’t Williams’ best. But even Robin Williams on his worst day isn’t bad. Shit, I got through One Hour Photo (2002)

1992: The Dream of the Nineties In Film

So, Where Was I in 1992?

This was a big year for me personally. It was my last year in middle school and also my first year in high school. That summer I travelled a lot. I went to England with my father in June, met a lot of distant relations in the Midwest, caught pneumonia and almost died, then ended up going to my first Band Camp late on account of my recovery. It was the first year I’d be put against incredible challenges for my love of music on account of orthodontics. A lot of good, and a lot of bad. I count this as the first year where I was truly confronted with the reality that I was not at the center of the universe. I also got into a lot of my favorite fiction that year. Neuromancer, The Gunslinger, and 1984 all were read in this timeframe and shaped me just as much as the films we’ll be discussing here.

The Cold War seemed to have finally come to a close with President Bush and President Yeltsin meeting at Camp David. Bill Clinton was on the rise for the upcoming election and managed to wrest the Presidency away from the Republican party while inheriting one of the more memorable uncooperative congresses. Hurricane Andrew wreaked havoc across the Bahamas and Florida, causing huge amounts of damage to both and taking a lot of lives. While distant from my home in Delaware, the mid-Atlantic states were all biting their nails, wondering where the hell the storm would go after landfall. Storms terrified me then, almost irrationally (except for the part where they kill people). They scare me now too to be honest.

Pope John Paul II also decided that Galileo had been in Hell long enough, and lifted a 400 or so year edict of Inquisition by the church for heresy against him. And, my own religious upbringing started here, and not for the better. My contentious relationship with the Christian faith began once it was shown to me that churches were filled with people. Regular, often shitty, people. While there were proverbial diamonds in the rough in my church, I learned that bullies often times went to church for everything from communion to confirmation – both of which I kind of went into with a lack of enthusiasm due to the elbows with which I was rubbing. For people of supposed Christian values, they did not make me feel welcome.

Also, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 arrived on Christmas. Hells. Yes.

The Schlock

The schlock returned with a vengeance this year, with several entries coming to my attention in ways that were unexpectedly wonderful looking back on them now. So, let’s hit the big names in film from the bottom of my barrel.

Alien 3

Alien 3 1991

When I watched it: 1992
It taught me: Disappointment, Tone
Stars: ★★★

I had only recently seen the film Aliens (1986) at this point, and had seen Alien (1979) even more recently (I came to this particular franchise backwards, so the original Alien felt kind of like a let down at the time – don’t judge me, I was young). But, I was very enthusiastic about the film’s impending release at the time. I’d played the videogame tie in at my cousin’s house, and it was awesome. The producers, theoretically, had six years to work on it. So the movie had to be spectacular, right?

Well… not exactly.

The crew and production company had a lot to potentially work with, but the film in many ways felt phoned in and rehashed. They killed off all of the survivors from Aliens (off camera no less) save for Ripley and Bishop (who as a synthetic, arguably couldn’t ‘die’) which felt like a shit way to treat characters who fought so hard for survival in the second film. Then they didn’t really get any big names to round out their cast save for Sigourney Weaver (as much as I like Lance Henriksen, he’s never quite made the A-List for actors). What I did get though were a couple of great second fiddles, some of who later turned into fairly recognizable actors (Charles S. Dutton,  Charles Dance, and, one of my favorite B-listers who never got the leading roles, Pete Postlethwaite). And to be honest, if you take the experience of Aliens away from the film… what you get isn’t necessarily bad. One could even say it harkened back to the ethos of the first film: one monster, a rapidly dwindling cast, and a story of desperate survival. And they got better practical and computer-aided effects to do it with.

The only thing it was guilty of was not living up to the blockbuster convergence of awesomeness that its predecessor, Aliens, successfully deployed. There were no cool sentry turrets, pulse rifles, flamethrowers, dropships, or bad ass Colonial Marines. Just a lot of grubby convicts and lice. They had so much material they could have worked with from the Aliens comic books released by Dark Horse that could have lived up to Aliens… but it just didn’t get used.

Plus, they killed a dog. Automatic negative points are given for that infraction in most films I watch.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula 1992When I watched it: 1992
It taught me: Gothic Structure, Mood, A Love of the Underdogs, Gary Oldman Can Do Anything
Stars: ★★★

I had, at this point, not truly been introduced to Dracula. I’d later buy an abridged audiobook on tape in Ireland in 1996 based off my experience of this film, then later come to read the full book several times over. But, this was my first introduction to the story, altered as it was.

Looking back, I don’t know why I was so impressed – this is not a great movie despite its starpower (Winona Ryder as Mina Harker, Sir Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, and Gary Oldman as Dracula). But, I was moved by this film in the way only thirteen year-old boys can be. Of course, half naked vampire harlots probably helped, though the effect was lessened by seeing the film not only with my parents, but also with one of the friends of the family.

I simply remember being moved by the overpowering mood of dread and desperation. By the efforts of heroes truly unprepared for the full extent of the horror of the undead. These were not action movie heroes. They were fragile, under pressure, lacking most tools to deal with the problem, and the hero is an old man, Abraham Van Helsing (possibly my favorite gothic hero), fighting in the darkness to save the souls of dear friends if not the greater good of the world. The set and lighting details were great for their time, and did much to set the tone of darkness and vile monstrous intent.

Sure, Keanu Reeves still had the acting ability of a wooden board (which in my opinion aligns with Victorian England pretty well). Broad liberties were taken with the actual story. It’s not perfect. But it’s great in it’s own way in my memories.

This film also introduced me to Gary Oldman, whom in subsequent films I had trouble identifying. This was not due to his extreme makeup and ridiculous hairstyle, but because he can seemingly portray anything in all of his roles that came after (and before), many of whom looked radically different (I mostly have him set in my mind as Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg from The Fifth Element (1997).

Batman Returns

Batman Returns 1992When I watched it: 1992
It taught me: Foriegn Film Experience, Temperance
Stars: ★★★

Wait… it taught me what? Hold on. Let me explain.

I’d seen Batman (1989) a few years before while on vacation with the family on the Delaware Beaches. I hadn’t wanted to (god, I was a dumb kid) and turned out to love it. So it was obvious to me – when the sequel came out I’d see this. What I did not know was that I would see it London. As mentioned in my intro to 1992, I went to England for the first time that summer. Dad and I did a lot of the stuff you’d expect, hitting cultural points, historical destinations, and otherwise touristy stuff. But, one day, we decided we were going to be thoroughly American – we were going to go eat pizza and watch a movie.

And so we did.  But, it wasn’t our first choice. We tried to see The Lawnmower Man (1992) (addressed in The Cutting Room Floor for 1992). And the first thing I learned about British cinemas was that when Britain makes a fucking rule, they actually enforce it. I was too young by one year to watch the film by British ratings, even with an adult guardian present. So, Batman Returns it was.

Most of my memories of this film are actually tinged by that simple experience.

And why should I categorize this as Schlock? This was Tim Burton being allowed to be Tim Burton just a little too much for the subject matter. Joel Schumacher would go on to film greater atrocities to the franchise in Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997), so I kind of give Burton a pass. I love me some Tim Burton, but sometimes he needs to tuck it back a little, and this film was a great example of where a little temperance could have worked out. A little Tim Burton goes a long way.

 

Somewhere In the Middle

Wayne’s World

Wayne's World 1992When I watched it: 1992
It taught me: The Appreciation of a Good Soundtrack
Stars: ★★★★

Oh man. I was not prepared for this. It never crossed my mind that this could make a translation from Saturday Night Live (despite loving the Blues Brothers (1980) which I did not know the origins of at the time) to the big screen.

Needless to say, this was the film when it came to comedy this year by a country mile. It was great from top to bottom, even if it did talk shit on my home state.

And, of course, the scene everyone remembers is the one that taught me how wonderful a good soundtrack was in a film: the car scene in which all parties in the car recreate the song Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. This is credited as the way most kids who weren’t already exposed to Queen while young how to sing Bohemian Rhapsody. I’d already been exposed of course. I’d seen Highlander (1986) and Flash Gordon (1980), but at the ages I saw those films, I didn’t care who the hell was singing those songs.

This would be a force that pushed me on to really start remembering the music I heard in films. I remember getting the audio cassette (remember those!) and playing it to death in my parents’ car all summer long. Good times.

Unforgiven

When I watched it: Circa 2009
It taught me: Vengeance, Descent
Stars: ★★★★

Unforgiven 1992

The redemption story is popular. People love watching Vader come back to the light like in Return of the Jedi (1983). They line up for The Shawshank Redemption (1994) which has the word in the title. They feel good.

This is the exact opposite of redemption, but is just as compelling a watch.

Clint Eastwood is a reformed killer. He hung up his guns, built up a farm, started a family. Then he lost it. Because farming is hard, he takes up a bounty job put forth by the nearby town’s soiled doves after one of them is cut up by a local cowboy. In the process, he begins a slide back into his murderous life of violence to do what he feels is owed to the local cowboys and the town’s harsh lawman (played by Gene Hackman).

If this movie doesn’t give you pause at every level, I wonder what’s wrong with you. By the time you get to the end of the film, you truly feel the hot fury of Eastwood’s vengeance radiating out from the screen like hell’s own fire. It’s a human trainwreck so large you can see it from space. If I could take any inspiration from this film, it was its unforgiving perspective of how deep vengeance can go.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

TMCC 1992When I watched it: 1992
It taught me: Classical Adjustments, the Last Hurrah
Stars: ★★★★

What can I say. Everybody loves Muppets (except for my girlfriend, but I forgive her).

I grew up on a steady diet of Muppets from the classic show, through The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), so this was a no brainer. The family and I watch it regularly in December, sometimes a couple of times. It’s just fun.

I’m also not usually a big fan of quirky adaptations of classics with a couple of notable exceptions (a few being Romeo + Juliet (1996), Strange Brew (1983) – don’t laugh, Strange Brew is essentially Hamlet!). But seriously, add in Muppets and it’s usually all good.

However, that being said… this was my last hurrah for the Muppets I knew in my youth. After this we would get Muppet Treasure Island (1996) which… didn’t quite do it for me. It didn’t have the memorable qualities of what I refer to as the Core Muppet Movies (CMM, patent pending). The movies after lost some of their magic. Maybe it was the death of Jim Henson (which admittedly happened well before The Muppet Christmas Carol) that sent the franchise on its present course. Maybe it was the Disney buyout. Maybe it was just that I grew up.

But if I grew up… would I still love the Core Muppet Movies as much as I do?

Personal Blockbusters

A League of Their Own

ALoTO 1992When I watched it: Circa 1998
It taught me: History, How to Make a Sports Movie
Stars: ★★★★

Given I’m not a sports fan in the broadest sense, I don’t see a lot of sports films. But, I do love baseball. It’s the family religion in its own way. Both sides of my family are baseball people, and many a Sunday was spent at my grandmother’s home or in my parent’s home, or my aunt’s home (the sports bug missed my aunt entirely, but since my grandfather was there frequently, so were the games).

Field of Dreams (1989) opened the floodgates for baseball movies, with my introduction to The Natural (1984), Major League (1989), and Eight Men Out (1988) rounding out my baseball film repertoire. This one, I caught late. But, I am very glad I caught it.

This movie was different for the obvious reasons. I had no idea, no inkling, that baseball would have been affected by the war effort in World War II as a kid. I still had a kind of assumption that sports stars then were immune to anything like they are now. But it wasn’t the case. There was a womens league (they called the All American Girls League), and this told the story of this league. Now, as I was raised to believe, don’t buy your history from Hollywood. This was a fictionalized account, though the subject matter was very real.

And what a cast they got to do it, too. Gena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks… they deliver admirably, bringing a unique American event into a focus with drama, comedy, and passion for the game.

Aladdin

Aladdin 1992When I watched it: Circa 1992
It taught me: Soundtrack Matters, Traditional Animation Matters
Stars: ★★★★★

I am not, generally speaking, a fan of musicals. Don’t get me wrong, I love music – dedicated ten years of my life to it growing up and would still play if given space and time to do it.  But musicals… if it doesn’t have Muppets, I’m generally not interested. But Aladdin had a soundtrack that even years later I can remember the words to.

Aladdin is also a perfect confluence of two things I love very much. Music you obviously have pegged already. But the other is animation. When I trained to become an animator, I was taught one thing very quickly – 2D animation, as we knew it, was going to die. 3D was going to eat its lunch and the world would forge ahead without the old guard because it took too much time. 3D was (comparatively) faster and cheaper. The industry would abandon 2D.

They were… wrong. Just not in the way they anticipated.

Aladdin was a couple of years before I would have this lesson imparted to me. But it’s also part of the reason I don’t think it will ever die out. Aladdin had its share of 3D enhancements, but a lot of it is based on good, old-fashioned 2-D techniques. Hand drawings. Keyframes. A lot of the old skills are still here in spades, and it’s a wonderful thing to see. The 2D world is definitely still around though. And Aladdin is one of the films to preserve the legacy.

The film is just magic in every way. Robin Williams was at his prime here. The work holds up. Kids still watch it. I still watch it.

Not planning on stopping.

Sneakers

Sneakers 1992When I watched it: Circa 1994
It taught me: Espionage, Cryptography, Politics
Stars: ★★★★★

I remember first hearing about the concept of ‘the information age’ around the time Sneakers hit the video store. As noted earlier, I was also beginning to learn about politics of the global kind. This film was the first to put both of these things into context, and it was a humdinger of a film. It’s still easily one of my favorite films of the decade.

It focused on an oddball assortment of highly capable misfits with a talent for doing illegal things. Said misfits turn these skills toward compromising big businesses in order to test their security and readiness at businesses’ request. When a pair of Feds approach their de facto leader, Martin Bishop, and blackmail him into a job, things get interesting. From there it goes into world politics, spies, cryptography, and conspiracy. Old wounds are reopened as Bishop goes down a rabbit hole that results in his team taking on the biggest sneak operation of their lives, playing between technically savvy corporate masterminds, the NSA, rogue spies, and the Russian government.

The cast is stellar and the performance shines. Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Ackroyd, River Phoenix, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell… there’s no way to lose.

Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs 1992When I watched it: Circa 1996
It taught me: Soundtrack Matters, Crime, Dialog
Stars: ★★★★★

While this is one of Tarantino’s earliest works, I only saw it after seeing Pulp Fiction (1994), and even then only after a considerable gap.

Tarantino, while known for his visual styles and snappy screenplay dialogs, is not known for his originality. That’s certainly true here. If you have seen the film City On Fire (1987) you can tell this film is a direct rip-off.

But, what a rip-off.

I had not seen City On Fire yet. The film blew me away.  While it copied City On Fire, it took a different page in portraying the dominant side of it.

The story opens on a pair of criminals staggering into a safehouse that may no longer be safe. One is bleeding out slowly from a gut wound, the other is trying to pick up the pieces of their jewelry heist that has just gone sideways. As the film progresses and more of the thieves’ crew appears at the safehouse, flashback vignettes unravel a web of betrayal, crime, drama, and acts of unconscionable violence.

I was barely able to process it. It’s a jangle of raw nerves, lurid criminality, and tense dialog that delivers shocks to this day. The song ‘Stuck In the Middle With You’ now evokes a strong reaction in me even years later.

1991: The Cutting Room Floor

This was the bigger list for 1991…

I was surprised at 1991’s film experience. When compiling my movies of choice for that year, I said, “this list feels thin.” Then I looked at the number of films I saw that fell into the background. Admittedly, when you have a year with T2: Judgement Day in it… everything else sort of falls flat.

So, I present to you the films that fell under Ah-nold’s shadow and were either a good flick, just okay, or flat out terminated.

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent

Star Trek VI

  • Nothing But Trouble (Bad): Dan Ackroyd plays a weirdo (one of his best numbers) and yet he still fails to save this film – even as the director. Digital Underground was called in to try and pull the film out of a tailspin, but it still crashed the film into the ground. If you must watch this one, inebriation will go a long way to surviving the experience.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze (Bad): For as good as the first one was… just… no. Even if David Warner is in it, it does not forgive the presence of Vanilla Ice.
  • Drop Dead Fred (Indifferent): A girl’s imaginary friend comes back in adulthood to cause trouble. Stuff happens, but it’s not memorable.
  • What About Bob? (Indifferent): I like Bill Murray as much as the next guy. But this film wasn’t his best.
  • Hudson Hawk (Bad): This is probably at that weird intersection of events that results in a guilty pleasure. Watch with beer and the full understanding that it’s not going to get better.
  • City Slickers (Good): “Just one thing.” “Your finger?”
  • Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (Indifferent): OJ was in this as Northberg, so the trial hadn’t happened yet. It was funny, but ordinary.
  • Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (Bad): As much as I love the first film (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 1989) this follow-up is not required viewing. Just falls flat. Bogus is even in the title.
  • Hot Shots! (Indifferent): I remember laughing, but none of the jokes.
  • Doc Hollywood (Good): Michael J. Fox continues a general winning streak. Staple comedy stuff, worth a view.
  • Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (Indifferent): Wow. Mom and Dad picked a racy film for a twelve year old’s birthday party. A cult classic for some, but T&A failed to cement this as a favorite.
  • Highlander II: The Quickening (Bad): There should be only one.
  • The People Under the Stairs (Indifferent): Another cult classic which was okay, but didn’t leave a lot of itself behind in my mind.
  • Cape Fear (Good): De Niro portraying an unhinged stalker. Par for the course.
  • My Girl (Indifferent): A coming of age story as I was starting to come of age, but what I remember the most is the young female lead blubbering about Macaulay Culkin’s glasses.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Good): I’m not an avid fan of Star Trek. But, Klingon Shakespeare and Pepto Bismol blood in zero-G is cool. That alone beat the hell out of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) in which ‘god’ wanted to bum a ride.

Filling In the Blanks

Silence of the Lambs

I also found that I missed a LOT of stuff from this year. I mean, a whole shelf of VHS practically fell through my field of view and I didn’t grab enough. Many of my peers will no doubt school me for this list as it includes some of the really iconic movies from the year of 1991. Some I missed because I wasn’t old enough, others wouldn’t have passed my parents’ muster, and others just wouldn’t have registered as important to me at the time.

I can’t blame outside sources for everything though. I’m a grown man and I’ve been able to watch any damn movies I please. Shit, I worked at a Blockbuster Video in college. Free rentals! I had tons of opportunities.

So, with great shame (not for all, but definitely some), I note the following gaps in my film knowledge, and mark them for future consideration.

  • The Silence of the Lambs: Apparently my dad and my grandmother (yes, my dad and his mom) watched this together and determined the film was great. And, that it was wholly inappropriate for just about everyone else in our family. Serial killers aren’t a favorite topic for me, but this is critically acclaimed stuff. I have to remedy this gap, and soon.
  • The Doors: I didn’t know who the hell Jim Morrison was when this came out, so I didn’t care at the time. Given an updated appreciation of music that preceded my birth at a later stage in life, this seems like a no brainer in hindsight. While not a huge fan, I appreciate what I do know and would love to learn more.
  • New Jack City: I’m not sure I was even aware of this film growing up. But, it’s Wesley Snipes and I know a lot of folks who really liked this film.
  • Career Opportunities: Jennifer Connelly. I’ll admit this freely. It’s the only compelling reason I have to visit this. I’m comfortable with this.
  • Backdraft: I have a friend from college who watched this movie like it was holy scripture. It helped his dad was a fire chief I suppose. Never made it to my VHS player though.
  • Jungle Fever: I missed everything Spike Lee produced in my youth. He was ‘controversial,’ and as a result his films never got through my house’s front door or garnered much attention. Mom and dad of course had their own picks come through that could have been considered controversial – I just don’t think they were ready themselves for the raw nerves that Lee hit with his films. A lot of white, suburban parents probably weren’t, which was probably one of Spike Lee’s points in making the films he’s known for. Regardless, the topic of sex as a focal point in any story was enough to keep this film out of my reach as I was still too young to watch this at the time Jungle Fever came out. The good news is my parents have become wiser with age, and as noted above… I can watch anything I like nowadays.
  • Boyz n the Hood: Much like the above, except replace sex with gang violence.
  • Point Break: Yes, yes.  I know, I know, I’ll get on this. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.
  • Dutch: This is a big favorite in my aunt’s family, but it never broke the barrier into my immediate family’s collection. We started watching it this Thanksgiving  during dinner. But, as with any holiday event with my family, discussion was the main focus, not the film. Plus I had to leave earlier than expected. So I owe my cousin a viewing.
  • Double Impact: Something with two Jean-Claude Van Dammes? Sure. Why not? Probably better than Timecop (1994), which we’ll get to soon!
  • Barton Fink: It’s John Turturro and John Goodman. It seems like this is a no brainer. I came to love Turturro recently after watching The Night Of (2016) and O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000). I started streaming this recently on Netflix, but I have the attention span of a weasel on speed. I shall return to it with any luck.
  • My Own Private Idaho: I always did like River Phoenix – Explorers (1985) was a regularly viewed growing up, later he was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and then again in Sneakers (1992). Seems logical to add this film to the pile.
  • Curly Sue: this is one of two remaining films (the other being She’s Having a Baby, 1988) remaining in my list of John Hughes directed films remaining to be watched. So, it has to happen.
  • The Last Boy Scout: Bruce Willis action films are hard to turn down given my love of Die Hard (1988). And of course you have Damon Wayans who was on the rise at the time. But, then again: Hudson Hawk. Maybe it just felt bad to fully trust Bruce Willis in 1991.
  • JFK: Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. I know that much. So why not see the rest? Oliver Stone was a big part of the nineties, and honestly, I’m not sure I’ve seen any of his work.

1991: The Dream of the Ninties In Film

So, Where Was I in 1991?

I was in my last two years of middle school. I’d finally started to come out of my shell the tiniest bit, though I was still just the nervous kid who was just good enough at talking his way out of having the shit kicked out of him by the worst bullies. I was discovering that in my school my social caste was low. Music kids at least had a clique to fit into, and I had long ago learned that I didn’t want to be with the in kids who had some byzantine requirements to run with them, one of which was abandoning the friends who’d always been there for me. My social circle had started to solidify and I was starting to feel a place where I belonged. My love affair with tabletop roleplaying games had also taken off, and I was running games of Robotech and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my friends. Seeing his son turn into a second generation geek, my dad stepped in to teach my gaming circle how to play Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Another older friend would run Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars while TSR and West End Games were still a thing.

The political scene got weird that year. I remembered that we learned at scout camp, over breakfast prayer, that America had kicked off its involvement in the Gulf War that summer and that we needed to pray for our boys in the war. Later in the fall, I remember watching CNN announcing SCUD strikes out of Iraq and the reports of US Patriot Missiles that knocked (most of) them down. Just after Christmas, a lot of the hubbub about Russia and ‘the bomb’ started dying down as the Soviet Union fell apart. Or at least it felt that way at the time to a young kid who didn’t really grasp the situation. The resulting shitshow it set off would come much later.

I got my first example in huge flaming letters that year about racism, and that race in America was not a settled issue. If that sounds naive, it’s because I was. I grew up with kids of all colors and creeds in my classes, and I had parents who taught me that everyone had something to bring to the table regardless of sex or race, and that we all bled the same color. Everyone was the same inside and there was no good reason to discriminate. Sure, I’d seen a small number of racist kids, parents, and assorted asshats by then, but surely they were on the decline. All my teachers who taught the civil rights movement to us (mostly in February) said so. Sadly, especially when little kids are involved, teachers tend to gloss over or even lie about things. When Rodney King took a beating for the ages at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department that year, everything changed. Someone had managed to film the whole thing with their camcorder, and that showed that the number of said racist asshats in our country was not exactly in decline. Far from it. It was all anyone could talk about for months. “Can’t we all just get along?” became a mantra heard on TV, on the radio, and on the lips of parties both sincere and mocking. This was also the year that some of my faith in cops as ‘good guys’ started to crumble as I learned about something most white kids didn’t experience: police brutality. It was an important lesson in corruption, racism, and authoritarianism, though I don’t think I could have vocalized it that well at the time.

But, like most twelve year olds… I mostly cared about Sonic the Hedgehog and my new Genesis game system I got for Christmas.

Oh, and a couple of great movies.

The Schlock

There weren’t a lot of good-bad movies to inspire me in this year for whatever reason, though there was a lot of schlock watched. Then again, there was a lot of it from the previous year, so this category gets a buy this round.

Somewhere In the Middle

Hook

Hook 1991

When I watched it: 1991
It taught me: Wonder
Stars: ★★★

A lot of my friends go all-in on this movie and it’s a favorite of my girlfriend’s. I like it, though it’s not necessarily a personal blockbuster for me. There was a lot to like though.

The story centers around a successful lawyer, Peter. He has two kids, married a woman he loves, and by all means, things should be looking up. But, he’s starting to feel his age. He’s a burned out workaholic who’s barely able to see his kids; kids who are starting to resent him for it. When he goes to London to visit his wife’s ailing grandmother Wendy, his children mysteriously disappear and the story goes on to to transform into a story we all know: Peter Pan. This is because Peter is him, Peter Pan all grown up. The children have been stolen by none other than Captain Hook who as absconded with them to the Pirate Cove. He returns to Neverland to rescue his children with the help of his long forgotten gang of  Lost Boys.

A big part of Hook’s success for me was that it opened up wonder in a way only big-budget special effects could. They were something amazing for their time – the special effects progressed rapidly in the nineties, and this was a showcase example. I remember how vividly the story was brought to life, how magical it all felt. It was everything you hoped Neverland could bring you.

Apart from that, it struck needed balances. A parent could watch it with their child, and each viewer got what they needed from the film. It was a rare instance of something with as much appeal for grown ups as it had for their kids.

The cast was also exceptional, with Robin Williams as peter, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, Bob Hoskins as Smee, and Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Robin Hood 1991

When I watched it: 1991
It taught me: The Devil Is In the Details
Stars: ★★★★

This is almost schlock.

The only things that got it out of that particular bucket, were its insane production value and top-notch actors. You have Morgan Freeman, Kevin Costner, Alan Rickman, Brian Blessed, Christian Slater, Michael Wincott, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and a cameo from Sean Connery (the most Scottish king of England you’ll ever find).

The story is familiar, just with none of the singing animals that my generation had come to expect from the story. Ultimately, the movie did have a fatal flaw: Kevin Costner. I’ve heard what everyone else heard: Costner was terrible at English accents… so he gave up and played it as straight as he could, rolling with his American accent instead. Regardless of that statement’s truth, no one else seemed to be phoning anything else in for their performances and honestly, Freeman and Rickman steal the show anyway. All it took was that one detail, Costner’s lack of Englishness, to get this film panned.

For a guy who’d later in his career be willing to take extravagantly expensive reshoots for his film Waterworld (1995) when he realized viewers could tell his hair was receding… you’d think Costner would have tried just a little harder. It could have made this into a film that could have really sold the classic tale. Even with Alan Rickman completely eating his lunch.

The Rocketeer

Rocketeer 1991

When I watched it: 1991
It taught me: Pulp; Art Deco; That I Still Love Jennifer Connelly
Stars: ★★★★

I remember my dad taking me out to see this. I don’t think we knew what we were gloing to get, though dad had a better idea than I did. This was as much a new hero movie for me as it was a harkening back to the two-fisted adventure tales of his very early youth. In we went with our tickets, and out we came with broad smiles.

The film is about a pilot who happens into a stolen jetpack designed by none other than Howard Hughes. He uses the pack to save lives and eventually draws the attention of Hughes (played by Terry O’Quinn!), the FBI, the thieves, and because it’s set in the thirties… the Nazis (punches incoming!). Adventure ensues.

I just remember getting so caught up in this film in terms of story and design. It taught me a fair amount about how adventure stories from the old pulp magazines worked. It also had just enough of the period’s flavor, such as Deco (used to great effect in the movie poster). If I had to go back and put my thumb on where my love of Deco came from… it may have fully bloomed from somewhere else, but there’s a good chance the seed was planted here.

Also Jennifer Connelley. ‘Nuff said.

The Addams Family

Addams Family 1991

When I watched it: 1991
It taught me: Gallows Humor
Stars: ★★★

This is one of the earliest examples I can personally remember of the reboot boom of this decade. It was before I had learned to utter things like ‘Can’t they just leave [a cherished and loved childhood property] alone? They always wreck it!’ Because this film was friggin’ awesome.

I had initial doubts about it. But they all proved unfounded and it further developed my repertoire of morbid humor. The weird, the strange, the odd, and the ghastly mixed with spontaneous and razor sharp presentation and timing to make something you could laugh at again and again.

Looking back, I ought not be surprised. This had a fantastic cast. Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd, Angelica Houston and Christina Ricci all came together for a film that simply could not be contained.

The Fisher King

Fisher King 1991

When I watched it: Circa 1995
It taught me: Madness, Consequence
Stars: ★★★★

This is occasionally referred to as a comedy. Because hey, Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges! They’re funny! Especially Williams!

While there are funny bits in this… this is not a comedy. This is a drama. And a heart wrenching one at that.

It follows the lives of two men. One is a former shock jock radio personality whose career has imploded after his online antics bring about a tragic downfall. The other is a mentally ill man roving the streets of New York, believing himself to be a knight on a quest for the Holy Grail. They find each other after the ‘knight’ saves the disgraced radio star from a beating and progresses into a journey of self-redemption (and grail seeking), but it turns out their lives are tragically intertwined already without either one really knowing it.

Primarily, this was a great personal example of the thing most of our parents have the hardest time grinding into us as we grow up: actions have consequences. Sometimes the actions and consequences are simple, and sometimes they run deep and out of control. No one is exempt, and once the train leaves the station, it’s gone and out of your reach to control it.

Additionally, this is one of the first films I remember to effectively convey the condition of mental illness. It’s easy to just look at someone and say “diagnosis: crazy!” Crazy is a term so liberally applied that it’s almost lost meaning. But the way they approach Williams’ character displays the full depth of those deep in the grips of mental illness. Those stricken with madness can be charming, endearing, and forceful; but more often they are haunted or shattered. And to make it worse, you never really know what you’re going to get or how aprson so afflicted is going to act. The film put this right out where you could see it and get a good look. I try to keep what this film taught in mind when I portray a character who has something deeply broken inside.

The scene that sticks with me is the one in which Robin Williams is chasing after a woman played by Amanda Plummer whom Williams is smitten with. Following in her wake, he goes into Grand Central Station and has a delusion in which everyone in the station save for he and his muse are waltzing to music only he can hear. It is a fully fleshed out delusion with the magic that only well choreographed film can provide.

As we watched, my dad’s jaw kind of dropped and he stammered, “If that’s a delusion… I wanna have one.”

Personal Blockbusters

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

T2 1991

When I watched it: 1991, 1992 (Twice)
It taught me: Continuity; Post-Apocalypse
Stars: ★★★★★

I remember this very, very clearly.  My parents debated taking me to this film – not just because of the violence and the graphic nature of the subject matter, but also because I’d not seen the first yet. Precisely because of the violence and graphic nature of the original.

Eventually, they decided it was okay, and just before I went to what passes for Space Camp in my home state, we went out to see it.

And my mind was blown. This is where I got my first big dose of the concept that is the post-apocalypse.

Burned out husks of buildings and cars. Skeletal remains scattered everywhere. Laser shots exchanged between bedraggled and desperate humans and gruesome cybernetic killing machines bent on the eradication of mankind. This was a film that planted a seed in me that will not yield. It sprouted roots in my spinal cord, extended tendrils through my arms, and made my hands type out stories of shattered worlds and desperate survival.

Yeah, it’s a big budget action movie that should have been nothing but schlock – the first one was schlock certainly, using (at the time) second-tier character actors (let’s be honest, at the time of The Terminator (1984), Schwarzenegger wasn’t called on for his acting chops). But this is James Cameron we’re talking about. And even in his early years, James Cameron did (and does) not fuck around.

The care and the detail that went into the film was something that really inspired something in me later as well – the concept of continuity carried out beyond the cursory. The mythos of the Terminator had been particularly well thought out concept in the original film, and they incorporated and advanced many details into the second that remained true almost seamlessly in its follow-up. There are things that in repeat viewing that have caused problems (why the T-1000 requires touch to replicate something when a full body scan is probably better; how a T-1000 with no biological components comes through a time travel machine that requires a living energy field for transit). But it still holds up remarkably well.

This film may indeed be the signature film of the decade – it broke the mold of what we thought we could do in terms of story, of special effects, of production value, and upped the ante on how to make not just profitable but great sequels.

Blog, Fiction, Columns and Art of Maurice Hopkins