1997: The Dream of the Nineties In Film

College, Round One

We’re looking at some changes in format for this entry, because 1997 was a big year. Make sure to stick around after where the credits usually roll – because this is a Double (even possibly Triple) Feature entry.

The Schlock

Starship Troopers

1997 starship troopers

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: Tons of Great Effects To Chew On

Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is a rising star in his high school class. As a member of a rich and influential family in Buenos Aires, he knows that he could live a good and long life with little hardship. If he wants any say in his society though – if he wants to vote or hold office – he’ll have to serve four years in the military as a Starship Trooper to earn that privilege. He wants to be more than just a bystander in his government, so he signs up for service. Shortly after, Earth comes under attack by an alien race known only as ‘The Bugs,’ and he is sent out to war on the front lines of the Bugs’ home system. Along with several of his high school friends, now also Troopers, he learns the terror of war and the price of citizenship.

This movie is… not good. At least not when you hold it up to the book by the same name, written by Robert Heinlein. The book is about much, much more than going to interesting planets, discovering fascinating aliens, then killing them. It’s about civics. It’s about duty. The film gives that some lip service – but, mostly it’s about killing Bugs. It fits the director, Paul Verhoven, though. This is the same guy who puts up his film Robocop (1987) (an admittedly beloved movie for me) as a Christ story (I seem to recall fewer brutal shootings committed by Christ’s direct hand in the Gospels).

It does however excel in a couple other ways. The first was the special effects side. Looking back now, the effects are okay. In 1997 I remember coming out of the theater on Front Street with my friends and being completely jazzed. This was what we were going to school for: to learn how to do the spectacular animation work we’d just seen on screen. My friends and I spent a lot of time reading magazine articles and scouring the web for tidbits on how to replicate the effects. It was a wonderful rabbit hole to dive deep into.

Another great aspect was that it brought back Doogie Howser. I mean Neil Patrick Harris. Not that he ever left, really. It’s just that Doogie Houser M.D. (1989-93) was largely remembered as a joke by most of my friends at that point. By the time he shows up as Intelligence Officer and psychic, Carl Harris, in Starship Troopers, he’d managed to grow up enough to shake off the typecasting and start climbing the ladder to bigger and better things.

Lastly, this film may have missed some of the messages of the original novel, but it did get propaganda right. ‘Would you like to know more?’ is still cited around the gaming table or among friends to this day. Usually accompanied by the mental picture of a Bug getting a probe right up the wazoo.


1997 face off

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: Great Running Action Sequences

Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage) is a notorious terrorist. Sean Archer (John Travolta) is the FBI Special Agent who brings him down. There’s still work to be done though, and Castor’s brother, Pollux, knows where the next strike is going to take place and how it all will go down. Pollux is in custody, but doesn’t know where his brother is, leaving him vulnerable – but not entirely. The only person the feds know he’ll talk to is Castor. Fortunately for Sean, there’s a ‘highly experimental’ (read: plot-convenient) surgical process that may give him an opening. Sean and Castor have the same build, and with a little pseudo-science, they transplant Castor’s face onto Sean’s in the hopes that Archer can go undercover in the supermax black-site prison where Pollux is being held to get what the feds need from him. Unfortunately, while Archer is on assignment, Castor gets loose and forces the staff to place Sean’s face on him. They both assume each other’s lives and go after each other in a cat-and-mouse style arrangement after that, with a trail of explosions and dead bodies that follow them.

You have to put aside things like medical science, consistency, plot loopholes, reality for just a second, now. It’ll be waiting for us when we get back, I promise.

The reason this film makes the list is its Director. John Woo was the man in the big chair. This is the guy who made some little films from Hong Kong you may have heard of, like A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989), or Hard Boiled (1992). This guy does action well. His style is singular (watch for the doves). If you wanted Chow Yun Fat at his pre-American best, you watched him under the direction of John Woo. That’s what Woo brought to Face/Off. He manages to take an almost entirely impossible premise, then sells it. The actual acting parts are overwrought by Travolta and Cage, but man-oh-man are the fights good. Good enough at least to forget the really obvious problems with plausibility and the entirety of medical science.

Event Horizon

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: An Unreasonable Amount of Terror and Unease

In our first pioneering steps into the great void of our cosmos, we sent out a ship. It was called The Event Horizon, and it was fitted with an experimental travel system. Through insanely complex physics, the technology involved would ‘fold space’ in such a fashion that two corresponding places would be connected and a hole punched between both, making a gate the ship could fly through to cross great distances. The ship made its maiden jump successfully insofar as it went into the gate… but never came out again. Until now. When The Event Horizon suddenly reappears years later, a survey crew is sent out to investigate what happened and to piece together the mystery of where it went and why it came back now. When they find out where the ship has been… things do not go well for the crew. See, the ship was travelling through an alternate dimension that could best be described as hell. It might even have been the actual hell. And, when the ship returned, it brought back a little hell with it.

This is another one of those films that made an impression, but comes with a few caveats. While this film is good, and the premise sold me, and it’s well executed, I cannot wholly recommend it. I am not entirely averse to graphic violence. I don’t have a huge tolerance for gore, but I can stomach most things. This was on an entirely different level of magnitude and it struck me on several truly uncomfortable levels. It is not for the faint of heart. While I liked this film, I am unlikely to return to it any time soon. This is the kind of film you probably only need to see once.

Somewhere In the Middle

Chasing Amy

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: Massive Love Complications

Boy (Ben Affleck) meets girl (Joey Lauren Adams), boy falls in love. Girl is a lesbian, but turns out to be a great friend. Boy can’t keep feelings inside, boy manages a strained romantic relationship with girl while alienating Boy’s best friend (Jason Lee). Personal histories come out, tempers flare. Love gets really complicated.

The above is an oversimplification of course. But let’s be honest, romance plotlines are typically variations on ‘x’ meets ‘y’ and then something romantic happens (successfully or not) while other factors make life interesting for both. In the mainstream, x is usually the girl, and y is usually the guy (just like in genetics!). And this really didn’t deviate from a boy meeting a girl, but it made it a hell of a lot more complicated than what mainstream romances typically did in the nineties.

In traditional Kevin Smith fashion, he didn’t waste a lot of time getting the audience into the topic of sexuality up to your elbows while also making his prerequisite dick and fart jokes. The film really showcases all involved parties as more than just a cardboard cutouts or tropes. Anyone who has been in love can tell you that while there’s a lot of great things to come out of it, it’s also a raw nerve for a great number of people. This film is fully populated with raw nerve characters.

I remember the film making some of Smith’s ardent fans uncomfortable at the time. It was a noted departure from his surreal comedies, which I suppose his fans weren’t entirely wrong to have expected or wanted. I didn’t feel that way. As a fan of his from the beginning of his career, I feel that Chasing Amy is one of his great films. It did great at the box office (which Smith needed after Mallrats (1995) experienced a box office flop) but its diversion from the over-the-top wacky antics of Clerks (1994) or Mallrats (1995) left a bad taste in some Smith fan’s mouths. Their loss, I suppose.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: Lots of Laughs; A Thorough Mocking of the Sixties

Speaking of the expectation of goofy comedies, 1997 definitely got one in the form of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Austin Powers (Mike Myers) was the best British superspy of the Sixties. When Powers thwarts his nemesis, Dr. Evil (also Michael Myers), the mad doctor is placed in suspended animation. Powers, the only man to truly know and defeat Dr. Evil, also goes into stasis as well should his archnemesis return. When Dr. Evil is retrieved by his henchmen in 1997, the British Intelligence Service retrieves Powers as well, and the hunt begins.

This film is a no holds barred spoof of every James Bond and James Bond knock-off film ever made. It additionally adds in a scathingly mocking portrayal of the sixties versus the (then) present day. When you sit down to look at it, it very much took the tack of Scream (1996) in some ways. AP:IMoM readily shows all of the plot holes, inconsistencies, and sheer bad ideas ever to grace the genre of Sixties and Seventies Spy films through several great scenes (the best one being the one with Dr. Evil’s son, played by Seth Green).

Beyond Wayne’s World (1992), Myers often falls flat for me. He really does well though in this film by playing both the hero and the villain. You can also probably stop here. There’s more movies after this one, but they feel a little too much like the franchise has beaten all it can from a long dead horse.


When I Saw It: 2017
What It Gave Me: A Decent Thought Experiment

This is a film adaptation of the novel Contact, by Carl Sagan. A signal is received by a young scientist (Jodie Foster) that is revealed to be extraterrestrial in origin. When analyzed, it reveals a complex set of instructions that details the creation of a vast machine, presumably meant to transport one human passenger to an uncertain destination. Faith and science both have things to say about the device, it’s potential, and how to best use it or not use it. Once a plan of action is determined, the human race marches toward whatever mysteries the device holds to tell us more about life beyond our own planet.

This movie got a lot of flak from people. Some complained about the length of the film (150 minutes), yet the same people sat through Titanic (1997) (194 minutes) which bored me to tears and made my butt numb. Another reason might be that the film spends most of its time waxing philosophical about what the signal means for the world. There’s a lot of conjecture about aliens instead of something flashier, like the mega-invasion in Independence Day (1996) that came just a year before it.

It sounds snobbish I guess to say that this was a film made for the more cerebral set, but we’re talking about a film based on the writings of Carl Sagan. Cerebral was guaranteed given Sagan was a genius and a visionary. I guess people just want to see people blow things up more than they want to see a movie about peaceful contact by benevolent aliens. It’d explain Michael Bay.


When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: Another Good Dystopian Setting (That Could Be Real Soon)

An ‘in-valid’ (Ethan Hawke), naturally born without genetic enhancement, struggles to be exceptional in a world where perfection is measured by your genetic engineering. Sickly and disadvantaged, he grows up alongside his ‘valid’ genetically modified brother. While his brother excels based on no other merit than his ‘perfect’ genes, Hawke chafes in a society that does not value him despite his intelligence. Undeterred by his social ostracization, he comes up with a plan to excel using the genetic material made available to him by a ‘valid’ who was crippled. Hawke is determined to get to Titan, a moon of Saturn, using his stolen ‘valid’ blood, urine, and hair samples. Once he gets there, he figures he can show everyone just how valuable ‘in-valids’ can be.

Gattaca wasn’t particularly well received by me the first time around. It should have been. Further views got me on board though. The cast is good between Ethan Hawke (who I’ve liked since seeing Dead Poet’s Society (1989), Uma Thurman, and Elias Koteas.

Furthermore, I remember the whole concept of eugenics at that level being in the realm of flights of fancy; an interesting and plausible idea that we were dozens of generations away from (no matter what futurists might say). Now, we live in the age of CRISPR. Gattaca is catching up faster than I would have given it credit for. It feels less like a science fiction fable now, and more like a cautionary tale.


When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: More Great Animation Magic

A fictionalized story of the Romanovs is presented in this Don Bluth animated film. In particular, it details the life of the lost Grand Duchess, Anastasia Romanov. When the Bolshevik’s overthrew her Tsar Nicholas’ rule in Russia, all the Romanovs were killed and their bodies retrieved, save for Anastasia’s. There are rumors though in St. Petersburg that the lost daughter of Tsar Nicholas was not killed. In fact, she’s said to be living in the city, her true identity unknown to even herself. Anyone who could find her and return her to her grandmother in Paris would stand to make a fortune. In fact, Dmitri (John Cusack) and his partner (Kelsey Grammer) are looking to claim that wealth. They’ve found a young woman (Meg Ryan) with no memory of her childhood who they think can serve as a ringer for the unaccounted for scion of the Romanovs. However, it turns out she really is Anastasia! Furthermore, Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) is not actually dead. He yet lives through necromantic magic, seeking to crush the last remaining Romanov.

The story in and of itself isn’t much to write home about. The voice performances were well done and involved a lot of great cast (including the voice of Rasputin’s animal sidekick, Barktok, played by Hank Azaria). But, that’s not where Anastasia gets my admiration.

What stood out in this was the traditional animation and the way they managed to seamlessly work in computer animation alongside it. 3D and traditional animation had been married well before this film by Walt Disney’s Animation Studios and a handful of others. However, this did it in a way that really sat in the background through subtle compositing. The best example can think of is the scene in which Anastasia sings ‘Once Upon A December’ and imagines what the life of the Tsar’s palace must have been like. You get this wonderful combination of several separate animations and a partially computer designed background.

Bluth’s former pictures had not been particularly known for this kind of approach, and his studio’s films hadn’t really changed all that much since films like American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), The Secret of NIMH (1982), or All Dogs go To Heaven (1989). Bluth’s studio stuck with traditional cel animation and had taken a beating as other studios like Dreamworks and Pixar (who had the capital) went on to more tech-heavy productions. Anastasia was their first foray into digital, and it made an impression. Between the 3D techniques they employed and the use of a color and shading program called Toonz (previously employed in the film Balto (1995) by Universal), they created a work that far outshone their previous films. Bluth’s studio would only go on to do a few more films, but those films had finally caught up with their competition in terms of technical savvy.

Good Will Hunting

1997 good will hunting

When I Saw It: 2017
What It Gave Me: An Example of Putting Yourself In the Work

Will (Matt Damon) is troubled young man with a lot of personal issues. He lives in Southie, a collection of South Boston neighborhoods that have hit the skids for a long time. He spends most of his time there with Chuckie (Ben Affleck) and their fellow childhood friends. They all drink beer, get into fights, and work a variety of blue collar gigs in order to keep what little they have. Underneath it all, Will has a hidden gift for all stripes of academia that he keeps from his friends. That gift is recognized by one of Harvard’s mathematics professors after Will is caught solving an almost impossible formula on a public blackboard while working as a janitor. Soon after, Will instigates an altercation that turns into a multiple assault brawl and an arrest. He’s bailed out by the observant professor under the provision that Will seeks counseling alongside his academic pursuits. After going through the best of the best, the doting professor sends Will to his college roommate (Robin Williams) who is himself a guy from Southie. Together, Williams and Damon go through his inadequacies, his fears, and, ultimately, his place in the world.

I’ll admit, I didn’t give a shit about this film while I was in college. I had big special effect movies to pick apart. Dramas generally weren’t something I was willing to spend a hell of a lot of time on. I’m a lot mellower now and my wife and I watch a variety of films and television programs. Most still bend to the fantastical, but since I started this series, I have been catching up on the films that I probably should have caught the first time around. I was greatly pleased by this film in my efforts to catch up.

For all of the shit that you hear people give both of these actors, Damon and Affleck are amazingly good acting alongside one another. This is no surprise since both are actually kids who grew up in Boston. They wrote the film, and a lot of the underlying content is autobiographical (if somewhat altered) which gives it some punch. They really bring out the best of their capabilities in this film. When you add in Robin Williams playing a dramatic role as he did in Dead Poet’s Society (1989), the film builds a head of steam that can’t be stopped.

It’s also worth noting a great scene in which Will is asked why he shouldn’t want to work for the NSA. It’s freaking amazing.

Personal Blockbusters

Men In Black

1997 mib

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: The Lighter Side of UFO Conspiracy

Aliens are on Earth and living among us. We’ve known about them for a long time, and we’ve developed an understanding between the rest of the universe and the few people who are in the know. We hide the existence of these aliens to avoid widespread panic and give certain allowances to sensitive alien visitors looking for an out of the way place to live. In exchange we gain closely guarded alien technology to keep up the charade and pay for the Men In Black program that maintains the conspiracy by patenting said technologies. Everybody wins – mostly. Jay (Will Smith) learns of the MiBs after running down a hard to catch alien and is recruited by Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) to help protect Earth from the worst scum of the universe.

This film crept up on me. It was heavily marketed, but I was so damn busy at college I hadn’t hardly looked up from my pegboard and lightbox long enough to catch a commercial. My dad took me to see it at this new place they’d built in Brandywine called Funland: a three story building that hosted parties, laser tag, a full arcade, mini-golf, and a sixteen cinema theater. It was goddamned heaven. With the X-Files now in full swing, government conspiracy and alien stories were peaking. This film added a layer of humor and special effects magic to great performances by not just Smith and Jones, but also from Linda Fiorentino, Rip Torn, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Tony Shalhoub.

The Postman

1997 postman

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: Just Enough Post-Apocalypse

The world as we know it is history. There was a global war, and the skies went dark for three years after a limited nuclear and biological exchange. When the sun finally came back up over the horizon, civilization was all but gone. America and all of the other superpowers were no more. In the remains of our society, only the strong survive. In the former American west, The Holnists rule through intimidation and military might. They may not have the weapons of the past, but what they do have is enough to make everyone in their territory fear them enough to conscript their children and pay them tribute. After escaping the Holnist Army, a drifter (Kevin Costner) comes across a the skeleton of a postal worker who was carrying a sack of undelivered mail when he died. The drifter takes the uniform and the mail, then begins to use it to con settlements into letting him in their walls. His story is that the government back east is back, and that he’s bringing their mail (better late than never) with more to come in the future. He builds up a reputation from the con and eventually causes people to gather to his phony cause of a restored United States. This brings down the wrath of the Holnist Army, and he soon becomes a patriotic figurehead he never knew he wanted to be.

I love post-apocalypse films. This one isn’t as grim and gritty as, say, the setting of The Terminator (1984), or The Matrix (1999), but it’s good. And by good, I mean believable. The settlements look just like they’re supposed to: unplugged and more than a little run down. You can still get power – usually by a generator hooked up to some kind of burnable fuel. You might even have running water if you have close enough access to something clean enough. Horses are again the best way to travel long distances. Barter is the rule of the day.

The film runs toward the sappy and somewhat melodramatic, but there’s still a lot to like. It’s book by the same name (written by David Brin) has a bit more depth to it. The film adaptation has a lot of heart, however. Two of the better reasons to watch the film are the villain played by Will Patton, and Ford Lincoln Mercury, played by Larenz Tate.

The Fifth Element

1997 fifth element

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: A Visually Brighter, Yet Tonally Darker, Future

In the twenty-third century, Earth is home to billions upon billions of humans, and there are even more of us living across the entire galaxy. We live in general peace with our galactic neighbors, and everything seems fine until Evil (yep, that’s it’s name) awakens in the depths of space. Evil begins to home in on Earth at great speed. When it arrives there, it will wipe out not just all human life, but all life. It’s chosen Earth to destroy first because the Ultimate Weapon that can stop it was hidden there by a wise alien race in the early 1900’s. If it can destroy the weapon, nothing will keep Evil from quieting the entire universe. Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a special ops legend, is reinstated from civilian life by Earth’s government to aid a priest (Ian Holm) who knows the secret to the Ultimate Weapon. It turns out that the corpse of a woman was the Ultimate Weapon, and they rebuild her (Milla Jovovich) in a lab in order to defeat Evil and its minion, Jean Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman).

This film was billed as ‘Star Wars for the nineties.’ It’s not, but it is fantastic, regardless of its marketing hype. This was my first introduction to Luc Besson, and it’s launched a general appreciation of his work since. Anything he touches, I’m open to viewing just based off of the strength of this film. He managed to pull off a wonderful visual style for the future that still holds up remarkably well. It’s a riot of colors in a genre where the future is often not so bright. It brings whimsy to an outer space setting that typically feels hard and cold in other movies in the same vein. It’s funny and touching and totally bananas. Yet, it’s also violent and dark at times. Society is united, but also not necessarily great. Everyone in the cast does an amazing job, even the side characters like Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) and the President of Earth (Tommy Lister)

The Game

1997 game

When I Saw It: 1997
What It Gave Me: What A Proper Mindfuck Looks Like

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is the very image of success. He is a successful business man, lives in a beautiful home, and has access to the finest country clubs and restaurants. He wants for nothing. Sure, he has a failed marriage and a brother Conrad (Sean Penn) who is in and out of rehab. Sure, he lives alone with only his maid as his regular human contact. Sure, his dad committed suicide on his birthday when he was a young child. But he’s comfortable. He has no wish to rock the boat. He’s content to live a life of privilege away from others. Then, Conrad swings by with a birthday present. It’s an invitation for a game. Conrad tells Nicholas that he’s played it before and it changed his life. Eventually, Nicholas agrees and goes to the offices of the game’s provider, Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). They put him through a battery of tests ranging from the innocuous to the deeply psychological under the pretense that it will help them customize his own personal game experience. His game begins when someone leaves a clown marionette in his driveway. After bringing the clown into his home, his television speaks directly to him and he retrieves a key from the clown’s mouth. He’s given little other information by the television apart from the fact that his game has begun and the key is important. And then the real oddities start piling up. Old friends seem to turn on him or go strange. Elaborate pranks and ‘coincidental’ accidents occur. Soon, the events surrounding him become more sinister and he begins to see CRS everywhere. Eventually, he comes to learn of a conspiracy that ties everything together through his mysterious game, and his life spirals way out of his control. Who are the people who run the game? What do they really want? Can Nicholas uncover enough to come out alive?

This is how you fuck with people.

It’s directed by David Fincher, a personal favorite of mine who also directed Seven (1995) and Fight Club (1999). His visual style and thematic presentations outline the titular ‘game’ as it events grow from simply intriguing to the lethal. The paranoia sets in from the moment Nicholas begins taking the test and reaches through every character interaction. By the time you’re a third of the way through the film, the paranoia becomes infectious. Everyone’s in on it. They have to be. How else could you get so thoroughly into someone’s life? The movie basically keeps you guessing until the film’s climax (which I have some trouble with admittedly). Your brain will not be able to shut off while you watch everything unfold.

While it’s not as crazy as the climax of the film, there’s a great scene that really drives across the feeling of total violation when Nicholas returns home to a vandalized home. The walls are lit by UV lights and fluorescent graffiti scrawls and plastered messages mock him, preying on his inadequacies and revealing his deepest fears and secrets. As he continues through the home, White Rabbit plays in the house louder and louder as he finds that whomever is coming after him has left police photos of his father’s body from the day he committed suicide. It’s the first time he shows true fear in the film. Truly chilling stuff.

The Devil’s Advocate

1997 devil's advocate

When I Saw It: Circa 1998
What It Gave Me: Theological Horror, A Better Devil

After successfully defending an accused child molester (who was guilty as hell), Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves)  gains the attention of a New York City law firm. They headhunt him and bring him into the influence of John Milton (Al Pacino), the head of the firm. Milton lavishes Kevin and his wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), with a king’s welcome. He gets the great digs in Manhattan, a huge salary, a corner office, and immediately assignment to some… interesting trials. Not long after, his long hours begin to destroy his relationship with Mary Ann. Mary Ann has trouble adjusting to the new lifestyle as she feels increasingly judged by her new circle of peers. Then she begins to have gruesome visions. Her new ‘friends’ writhe with demons beneath their skin, and she sees an infant playing with her own severed reproductive organs. As odd events and potential seeds for marital infidelity occur, both Kevin and Mary Ann begin to suspect something sinister at play. It seems that John Milton is behind everything going wrong. Oh, and that Milton is the Devil himself.

While I’m not a religious man, I like theological horror. When you’re talking about the devil, it’s hard to get the balance right. So often, the devil is an almost farcical or even a cookie cutter villain. He is the kicker of puppies… because reasons. He’s the guy who shoves people in front of buses for kicks. It’s so easy to portray the devil as a simple foil because he’s just evil by nature. It’s easy to just make him an archetype and be done with it. Not so in The Devil’s Advocate. The Devil has an agenda here. He has what he feels just cause to be angry; he has motivation to both push men toward sin and to do evil himself if it’s called for. The devil comes across as nuanced, experienced, calculating, and methodical in this film. I don’t think anyone else has quite pulled off a portrayal of the devil quite like Pacino does here.

The film also has wonderful visuals as well, and they don’t skimp on horrific imagery. Yet, the gore presented is momentary. They don’t slather it on so much as they give you just enough brief glimpses for your mind to fill in even more horror than what is presented. The swirling sinners in the stone work and the sinuous demons waiting beneath the skin of Milton’s minions leave enough vagary to conjure up even more unsettling ideas in the imagination. The effects seem a little dated now – but they manage to pull off just enough to leave an impression even by today’s standards.

Grosse Pointe Blank

1997 grosse point blank

When I Saw It:
What It Gave Me:

Martin Blank (John Cusack) is a professional killer. He’s good at his job, but he’s growing more and more distracted and dissatisfied with his work. After a run in with rival assassin Grocer (Dan Ackroyd) and botching a job for a client, he decides to take a trip back home. Not only is there a job there waiting to be done on behalf of his pissed off client, but it’s also the weekend of his high school reunion for the class of 1986! While he’s there, he reconnects with his old flame Debbie (Minnie Driver), and grapples with the existential crisis that his life has become.

The film’s population of misfits is peopled with a perfectly curated cast. In addition to the leads played by John Cusack and Minnie Driver, you have Doctor Oatman, Martin’s terrified psychiatrist, played by Alan Arkin. You get Jeremy Piven as Paul Spericki, Martin’s best friend from Grosse Pointe High. You also get Hank Azaria as a government spook trailing Martin, and to sweeten the pot, Joan Cusack plays Martin’s high energy assistant who runs his empire of death. It’s probably one of the best assembled group of actors I’ve ever seen. They may not all be headliners, but the chemistry they have is amazing. I’d probably give an eye tooth to have had the opportunity to see them filming this behind the scenes. It had to be a blast.

The soundtrack is also pure bliss for me since I grew up not only in the nineties, but also the eighties. It runs the gamut of great period music from The Specials, Guns ‘n’ Roses, the Violent Femmes, The Clash, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Jam, The Pixies. I could go on, but it’s a huge list. Too big to get into here. The collection for either of the two soundtracks are one of those great examples of CDs to just pop in and set to repeat. You could do worse.

And then there’s the writing. This has to be one of the most quotable films I think I’ve ever seen. It comes up everywhere I go since the movie has a broad kind of appeal for a lot of my friends.

The really curious thing to me is why there’s not more work by the film’s director, George Armitage. Armitage has few directing credits to his name on IMDB, and most of them seem to be exploitation flicks, TV movies, and one action film before making a handful of films like Grosse Pointe Blank, Miami Blues (1990), and The Big Bounce (2004). After that, like Keyzer Soze… poof, he’s gone. He hasn’t directed another film in thirteen years as of writing this in 2017. Come back, George. If you have another Grosse Pointe Blank style hit in you, I want to see it. The world needs to see it.

Triple Feature: The Special Edition Star Wars Films

1997 star wars banner

The keen eyes among you may have noted an omission here. It may have seemed like a million voices cried out at once in something like elation and rage mixed together. It would have felt like a ripple in some universal force which guides us all and binds us together.

No. I have not forgotten the re-release of the Star Wars Trilogy. And 1997 was one hell of a year for Star Wars.

There’s a good reason I haven’t rated these films – as far as I am concerned, Episodes IV through VI of Star Wars are from the years 1977 (Star Wars), 1980 (The Empire Strikes Back) and 1983 (Return of the Jedi). These films were known quantities save for the scant bits where Darth Lucas opted to make a few tweaks. By technicality, they aren’t really Nineties films so much as older films with tacked on footage. For the sake of argument, the originals are all five stars. I’d give them more actually. There’s a rating system I’m adhering to, though. So, five stars.

As for the re-releases, well, you have to really look at what they changed before you can sufficiently quantify any inherent goodness. But, we’ll get to that in a moment. Right now I want to tell you how it felt to me when the films were brought back to the big screen.

The Experience of the Second Coming of Hamill

The news of a re-release of the Star Wars Trilogy in 1997 was not secret. Once it was announced in mid 1996 that not only would the Star Wars films return to theaters (one a month starting in January and ending in March), but each film would be fully restored and have new material added! George Lucas wanted to take advantage of emerging visual technologies to add in new elements to enhance his original work. Considering how he’d collaborated in the great hits of my youth (Star Wars IV through VI and the Indiana Jones Trilogy), I was greatly anticipating bonus footage.

Well, it turned out to be a mixed bag.

Millions of loyal fans and new generation of Jedi worshippers came out to the theater to see it. And at first, it was glorious. The film was really cleaned up. Everything looked so much more amazing on the screen. My dad had told me for years that until you saw first scene in Episode IV on the big screen – the one where Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) Corellian Corvette is being chased by the Star Destroyer – you ain’t really seen it. And he was right. I was struck anew with awe and love for the films. I loved seeing the expanded port of Mos Eisley as Luke (Mark Hamill), Ben (Sir Alec Guiness), and the droids move toward their destinies. There were neat aliens, more jawas, more Star Wars. I loved it.

Then, we meet Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and everything is going well. Greedo and Han are verbally sparring and then… what? What?! WHAT THE FUCK? Greedo takes a pot shot at Han before the footage we all know takes over and the film continues.

My mind screeched to a halt. I thought to myself, ‘that’s not the way it goes! That… that’s not my movie! What did you do that, George? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?’ Admittedly, it didn’t take priority for that long – there was still more of A New Hope to go. And most of the changes were good in Episode IV. Except for that one. That one, near-total-movie-ruining shot. I had a reduced enthusiasm after that for the remaining films – but not by much.

A month later, Empire was re-released in February (because rebellion is for lovers), then Jedi followed to close it out in March. None of the other films had anything nearly as jarring as the Cantina Shooting, and I could deal with most of the remaining edits (I loved some of the edited shots of Cloud City in Empire). A lot of people are glad the original Yub Nub Ewok ending was pulled from Jedi and replaced by shots of a Victory Celebration on Coruscant (the home base of the Empire). I’m not one of them – I felt the original ending was okay, but I don’t really care about the location so much as how they’d later put in young Vader (Hayden Chrstiansen) next to Ben Kenobi.

But, Greedo. Greedo is still a sore spot for a lot of people. Followers of the Scoundrel did not take kindly to Han Solo being reactive. The original Han was not exactly a good guy. Le was a Lancer (per the definition at TVTropes.org). He was a smuggler in illegal goods, and he had a dangerous reputation. He was the dark to Luke Skywalker’s light. You need that dynamic, because Luke eventually pulls Han Solo up from the pit of criminal ambiguity and into the cause of the just. It works that way, and we grew up with that version. Even if you couldn’t have voiced it then, you can certainly see it now. At least that’s how it worked for me.

George Lucas instead claims that Solo was always meant to be John Wayne, but if that was the case… why didn’t you have him act like that before? It would have required near to zero effort to shoot it that way in 1977. Just one more blaster shot. It feels more like Lucas made a change to satisfy a film rating issue (a shooting like that would probably bump them to PG-13 in 1997), or to soften his image for the benefit of children. Regardless of the case, we’re stuck with it. It is now almost impossible to get the original cut of the film, particularly on DVD. Darth Lucas declared the scene as canon. He has altered the deal, and we should pray he does not alter it further.

Thankfully, he’s unlikely to make any further changes. Disney now dominates the destiny of the franchise. Rumors continue to circulate though that we’re going to get un-Lucased prints of the original trilogy soon from the Mouse House, but they always prove to be unfounded. Lucas himself claims that the remaining original prints are too old to be salvaged… but I find his lack of faith disturbing).

Now, on the side of the Devil’s Advocate, I also understand one thing as a creative. My work, my vision. Technically speaking, we don’t get to judge him. This was his baby, his magnum opus. In 1997, Disney wasn’t telling George to do anything. He owned it, lock, stock, and barrel. And honestly, if I go to make changes in my work, I’d feel justified too. Art isn’t something you ever feel is complete so much as you abandon it. This is a paraphrased sentiment of not only Lucas, but from others in the past as well. He felt there was room for improvement – even though, in many people’s opinions, he’s wrong.

It’s a thorny quandary for any aspiring nerd looking to make great fiction. Maybe someday, I’ll have to make it too.

A Report Card of Change

So, we all know that there were changes to the original trilogy, but what of them? How did they rate? Well, let’s look at the highlights, shall we? I’m sure we missed some stuff. And, I’m sure I’ll hear from you to let me know what I missed.

Star Wars Changes

  • Expanded entry into Mos Eisley (Good) – More everything! More Jawas, more weird stuff! This was all pretty cool! I was really taken with this great montage of Mos Eisley in its full strangeness.
  • Jabba In Docking Bay 94 (Indifferent) – Some people trash this edit, but it’s not a big deal for me. You can make the claim that the scene is dramatically unneccesary, or that the scale of Jabba is obviously off. And, yeah, the squeak shot where Han steps on Jabba’s tail is a terribly obvious edit given how video editing can be done now. But, at the time, it legitimately seemed like magic. If somewhat imperfect magic.
  • The Cantina Shooting (Bad) – We covered this. This is an abomination to both me and any gods that may or may not exist. Han. Shot. First.
  • Yavin IV Updates (Good) – You can see more of the rebel base on Yavin when the Millennium Falcon lands, which I thought was cool.
  • Biggs Darklighter and Luke Skywalker Reunion At Yavin IV  (Good) – I can see why the footage of Luke and Biggs meeting up before the Battle of Yavin was dropped. It’s not needed, but it adds a little flavor. It shows that Luke is connected to the larger world around him, no matter how isolated he was on Tatooine. It doesn’t mess up the film’s pacing for me, which was the reason it got dropped in the first place by my understanding.
  • Battle of Yavin X-Wing Update (Good) – They beefed up the number of X-Wing Fighters and gave them a bit of a retrofit using computer animation techniques. More was better in this case.
  • General Dialog and Audio Tweaks (Indifferent) – There’s all sorts of re-edited audio – not just in Episode IV, but all of the re-releases. Some of it comes from alternate takes or even different actors according to the research I did on this. Ultimately, they’re all so minimal that I never noticed.
  • General Explosion Updates (Indifferent) – I’m okay with these. The original effects were a bit dated, but I’m really fine with either way the Death Star (or anything else really) blows up.

The Empire Strikes Back Changes

  • The Wampa (Good) – Wampas gotta eat, so go ahead and change some footage to show a little more of the grisly details. There’s a few minor changes where the wampa can be seen and where he can’t, and a reaction shot was added when Luke saws his arm off. Plus you get to see the leavings from other critters the Wampa managed to down, giving him a bit of a morbid trophy room. I’m okay with all of this.
  • Transition Updates (Indifferent) – Some of the wipe transitions are a little cleaner, or they’re switched to jump cuts. Personally, I didn’t think anything was wrong with the old ones, but… sure. Why not? Doesn’t affect me.
  • Cockpit Corrections From Hoth (Good) – In the original cuts, the battle scenes shown through Snowspeeder cockpits were imperfect. If you look closely, you can see through the black frames of the cockpits. They touched this up in Empire. Good change, because once you realize the error in the original, you can never unsee it.
  • Bespin Touchups (Good) – I seem to remember a few scenes in Bespin where the formerly flat and smooth corridors of Bespin were replaced to show sweeping vistas of the clouds through long windows. I thought it was a nice touch.

Return of the Jedi Changes

  • Jabba’s Palace Band Edits (Indifferent) – The musical number at Jabba’s Palace got switched up a little bit to showcase even more alien band members. I liked the old music better, but the change wasn’t offensive.
  • Expanded Twi’lek Rancor Sacrifice (Good) – This added emphasis that Jabba was a bad mofo. Plus it gave you a little more Rancor footage to work with when it comes in to eat that poor dancer.
  • Expanded Sail Barge Content (Indifferent) – Much like the Mos Eisley additions, these were inserted to expand on the setting when the heroes are on the way to the Sarlacc. But, this was mostly little stuff that I don’t really remember a lot of. Not as cool as Mos Eisley was.
  • Yub Nub Ending Swapped With Victory Celebrations (Indifferent) – I’m kind of torn on this. We’re looking at a decent enough original ending in my opinion. I know – most people hate Ewoks. But… I kinda like ‘em. Might have helped that I was five when I saw Jedi (I was the target Ewok demographic). But, I also really liked the added footage from Coruscant. The music change is what really bothered me, but the trade off of seeing a statue of Vader come down is pretty cool. It sucks that in further re-edits, they put in Hayden Christiansen to replace Vader’s original actor.

1994: The Cutting Room Floor

A Change In Format

Forgive me for the brief interruption, but I’m feeling like The Cutting Room Floor is shaping up more like a series of lists and one-liners than something more insightful. I’ll still be giving you the content you remember: the good, the bad and the indifferent won’t be going anywhere, nor will my cinematic sins that fell by the wayside. I’ll be trying to expand content in the lists a bit more, but mainly I want to include a couple articles about my experiences and realizations with cinema generally during the nineties and beyond. We’ll get to my topic for this post just after we get through…

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent.

1994 True Lies


Cabin Boy (Bad) – Chris Elliott is Chris Elliott in this largely forgettable movie about a man-child brought onto a ship as – you guessed it – a cabin boy. At least his pipes are cleaned.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Bad) – Sorry, this was too much of Jim Carrey in a ninety-minute period for me. A Wacky guy with a knack for working with and retrieving lost animals goes after yet another animal quarry. Courtney Cox falls in love with this idiot along the way. Points given for the bit where Carrey’s butt asks for Binaca.

Blank Check (Indifferent) – This film has something to do with Miguel Ferrer trying to get a lot of dirty money back from a kid who he has paid hush money to in the dumbest way possible. Smart criminals don’t write blank checks, dumbass.

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (Indifferent) – No O.J. this time given the Trial of the Century. It’s probably not the only reason the movie is forgettable though. After a while, all of this franchise’s films feel like they’re just the same movie on repeat. Leslie Nielsen does variously dirty and humorous things while fighting crime.

Clean Slate (Indifferent) – Dana Carvey is not Garth in this ho-hum comedy about an amnesiac detective. I think. It’s hard to remember. And I paid theater ticket price too. Lesson learned.

The Flintstones (Bad) – It’s okay to leave some properties alone, Hollywood. We can just watch the old cartoons. They’re better. Put your money into something more innovative next time. I honestly can’t remember anything about this movie other than wanting to escape despite the presence of John Goodman and Rick Moranis in the film.

City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (Indifferent) – I can only tell you that this involves Jack Palance not being around anymore and something about his supposed hidden gold which Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern look to find. I don’t think they went for a City Slickers III after this one. Yet. Give the studio time though.

Speed (Bad) – Whoa. The bus can’t stop. Whew, I stopped the bus. Kiss me, leading lady person. Where is my paycheck? This must be what it was like to be Keanu Reeves in the nineties. Sandra Bullock also features as leading lady person.

Wolf (Good) – This wasn’t a bad film really. Had a good cast between Jack Nicholson, James Spader, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Nicholson gets bit my a werewolf. Spader gets bit by Nicholson. Then, they fight over sexual access to Pfeiffer. But… that’s really kind of it.

The Lion King (Good) – You can crib worse plots than Hamlet (you can also rip off worse series than Kimba the White Lion). The technical work was good between the rotoscoping and the shading technologies emerging at the time, but this film doesn’t get me back to watch it too often. It’s a definite highmark in terms of technique. Hakuna Matata will always be better than YOLO.  Oh, and Disney, you might pay for the songs you use in your soundtrack too.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Indifferent) – Where it’s cousin, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) had a conversion that moved the dial for me in my inexperienced youth, this just… didn’t. I may also have finally seen this after actually reading Frankenstein… which kinda ruined it for me since adaptations don’t frequently scratch the itch the same way a novel can.

The Santa Clause (Indifferent) – By the time I saw this, most kid movies had lost their charm. Tim Allen plays a guy who gets roped into becoming the real Santa Claus. Tim Allen’s not bad as a comedian or an actor – I loved Home Improvement (1991 – 1999) – but… eh.

Leon: the Professional (Good) – I saw this one late. Like, last year late (2016). So a lot of the stuff that was over the top for its day didn’t have the punch I suppose to make it one of my higher rated films. It is however definitely worth a watch, not only for Gary Oldman’s performance, but also that of a very young Natalie Portman. Additionally, anything with Jean Reno is worth watching. It’s about a little girl who loses her family to some very crooked people and wants her neighbor – an assassin – to train her for a path to vengeance.

Star Trek: Generations (Bad) – Another Star Trek plot that bring the original series and the Next Generation cast together. I’m assuming that what left a bad taste in my mouth was the thing that kind of gets me with all television-to-big-screen adaptations: it’s just another episode and Trek isn’t really my go to sci-fi franchise. This is just a longer episode with better special effects, a couple tacked on big names, and a mild crossover from the original series. Features William Shatner, Malcolm McDowell, and the Star Trek: the Next Generation(1987-1994)  crew, including Whoopi Goldberg.

Junior (Indifferent) – Another foray into comedy for Schwarzenegger. This time, he’s carrying a baby inside of him! Not as funny as it sounds.

Dumb and Dumber (Bad) – Is there something wrong with me? Maybe I just don’t like comedy?Two idiots embark on wacky adventures in their dog grooming van. While I don’t really like Carrey all that much (as you can probably tell by now), Jeff Bridges is kind of awesome. He at least should have moved the dial up to indifferent but… no.

Maverick (Good) – This western, focusing on gambling and riverboat casinos, didn’t quite move the dial as much as Tombstone did. You do, however, get great performances by Mel Gibson, James Garner, and Graham Greene.

True Lies (Good) – I remember this film clearly. My cousin and I took my dad to go see this as a surprise for his birthday I think. He’d helped my cousin and I a lot that year, and Dad loved it – especially the bits with the Harrier Jet. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an undercover agent. His line of work gets in the way of his marriage with Jaime Lee Curtis though. She feels alone and wants some excitement in their romance again. Unfortunately, this gets her tied in with his work, which both she and he are totally unprepared for. Good supporting cast in the form of Bill Paxton and Tom Arnold.

Music To Outshine the Movie

Let’s take a moment before we get to my cinematic viewing failures to discuss something that’s been on my mind for the past couple of nineties posts: music.

You’ve no doubt seen music come up in the notes for a lot of my favorite films already. It goes to say that most movies that grip you in your very soul have some musical accoutrements going on, even if you may not be consciously aware of it. Graeme Revell is one of the best guys at doing this, though I’d also credit Trevor Jones and James Newton Howard. You also get the household names who ubiquitously stand out for their significant melodic contributions, such as John Williams or Danny Elfman.

But, there’s another kind of soundtrack that comes up again and again: the ensemble soundtrack. These are performed by the famed and justly popular ‘Various Artists.’ This leads to a weird phenomenon that I’ve noted when it comes to the ensemble soundcast. Their collected artists blend to form exactly what the movies need, above and beyond a score (soundtracks and scores being very different).

But, sometimes. Just sometimes… you get a lackluster or even terrible film that has a great soundtrack.

I have a couple of these in mind, but the one I’m going to use as an example is the movie Mortal Kombat (1995). This movie is pretty awful. While some video game franchise adaptations have gotten big (Tomb Raider 2001, Resident Evil, 2002) this was not the era for that kind of outcome (though Mortal Kombat did spawn several, equally awful sequels – so they must have done something right). Video game adaptations were more likely to come out like the much maligned film, Super Mario Brothers (1993). Mortal Kombat wasn’t quite that bad, but when you cast Christopher Lambert as the Japanese God of Lightning, you have failed spectacularly. Even with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung, they still had a lot of explaining to do.

The soundtrack, on the other hand, is amazingly good. If I’m sitting down to write or to get work done, I am very likely to have Mortal Kombat’s soundtrack on hand. It’s high energy and features a lot of great acts like KMFDM, Juno Reactor, Gravity Kills, Orbital, Fear Factory, and Type O Negative. These are not mainstream acts either. Most of these guys are hailing from the school of electronic and industrial music. But good goddamn do they put on a hell of a show.

1994 MK Soundtrack

Not only bombs get stunning soundtracks, though . There are other good films whose soundtracks really outshine or perfectly compliment the film. Empire Records (1995) comes to mind as a good example of this. While it was a great film at the time I watched it, it’s impact has lessened over time – but the soundtrack has not. It’s not a bad movie per se, but the music definitely outshines it, at least for me.

There are also great movies that get even better soundtracks. Stuff that gets watched again and again, but you listen to the soundtracks way more frequently. A great example of this is Grosse Pointe Blank (1996). It’s soundtrack is like a love song to New Wave and the eighties in general.

Here’s a couple more examples (from both good and bad films) of nineties soundtracks that get listened to more than the movie gets watched. I think you can figure out the good from the bad:

  • Batman Forever (1995) featuring Seal, U2, Massive Attack, and the Flaming Lips.
  • The Crow (1994) featuring The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.
  • Judgement Night (1993) featuring mashups such as Biohazard with Onyx, Cypress Hill with Pearl Jam, Sir Mix-a-lot with Mudhoney, and Run D.M.C. and De La Soul.
  • Demon Knight (1995) featuring Pantera, Ministry, the Gravediggaz, Rollins Band, Megadeth, and Filter.
  • Dangerous Minds (1996) featuring Coolio… and surprisingly little else, but I listen to that song way more than I watch that film (I don’t think I’ve revisited it since the first watching).
  • Romeo + Juliet (1996) featuring The Cranberries, Garbage, Everclear, Radiohead, Butthole Surfers, and the Cardigans
  • The Matrix (1999) featuring Rammstein, Rob Zombie, Rage Against the Machine, Rob Dougan, Spybreak, Ministry, the Deftones, Marilyn Manson, and the Propellerheads.
  • Space Jam (1996) featuring R. Kelly, Seal (by way of Steve Miller), Tommy Chong with Cheech Marin, and Salt-n-Pepa
  • Clerks (1994) featuring Bad Religion, Stabbing Westward, Soul Asylum, and Alice in Chains.

I am positive that I haven’t even hit a fraction of the soundtracks that are going to push peoples buttons. These are just mine. But the fact that the byproduct of the film can be just as engaging or even better than their films boggles my mind sometimes given the difference between the cost of making a film and finding suitable music.

Cinematic Sins

1994 Natural Born Killers

As always, there were some films that were explicitly blocked by parents, others that came and went too quickly, or that I was too limited in personal growth to see the potential value of. I’d like to think that by the age of seventeen that I’d have something resembling sense, but… nope. No such luck.

Blink – I vaguely remember this title pinging the radar at some point, mostly because it was about a person who through medical advances gets their sight back. Further research showed it features Madeleine Stowe, which is a plus given how much I like 12 Monkeys (1995).

The Getaway – Mostly this would be good to watch just for the basis of its cast. It didn’t have robots, zombies, aliens, or anything ‘weird,’ so it failed to draw my attention. With Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Michael Madsen, Jennifer Tilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and James Woods, it probably wouldn’t be a waste of my time.

Reality Bites – Sullen and single me wouldn’t have been down to see this at the time. I’m glad I’m not such a moody shit anymore. This was Winona Ryder in her prime. Plus Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, and Janeane Garafalo before she really got famous.

Sugar Hill – Another gritty portrayal of people involved with the drug trade. So you can imagine this one didn’t pass muster for parental funds. Also at that time I hadn’t really got into the genre of crime movies yet. That’d change in the next year with The Usual Suspects (1995). It’s got Wesley Snipes before he went batshit crazy too.

The Hudsucker Proxy  – I like Tim Robbins. Let’s give it a go. I’ve heard you either love this film or you hate it. Not a lot of middle ground.

Threesome – See Reality Bites above for the reason and replace the actresses and actors with Lara Flynn Boyle, Stephen Baldwin, and Josh Charles.

Surviving the Game – I don’t remember this one coming around but it came up in my research for this year. It’s Rutger Hauer and Ice-T. I’m down for that.

Brainscan – I can hear my friend Nick tutting at me for not having seen this. I shall have to reach out to him for a viewing. I would not be surprised at all if he has this on DVD somewhere.

PCU – This film is another example of what I call ‘The Shawshank Factor’. It is a movie that I have seen bits and pieces of, multiple times, but have never watched in total. I am unsure as to whether or not I have seen all of this film. It’s got some great work by Jeremy Piven and David Spade, so I’ll need to get back to this from start to finish.

Crooklyn – Another Spike Lee Joint. He was a voice for both my generation and the one before it. And, arguably for today’s as well. I really need to catch up on his work. Plus one of my favorite actors. Delroy Lindo, is in the cast.

Renaissance Man – I like Danny DeVito. Sure, why not?

Wyatt Earp – I like the lore of the men and women involved in Tombstone’s history, but I never had the three hours and ten minutes to sit down and watch this film on one of the most famous of those people, the titular Wyatt Earp.

The Client – Maybe if I like The Firm (1993) I’ll watch this one too. Lord knows I can’t seem to sink my teeth into Grisham’s novels, so movies are probably the better way to go.

Clear and Present Danger – There are so many Tom Clancy adaptations that this one just became another in the mix. I don’t typically go out of my way for Republican ideology in my fiction either. But this is Harrison Ford. I can trust him, right?

Natural Born Killers – This is where my parents drew the line in 1994. I may have gotten away with Pulp Fiction. I may have snuck in Clerks on VHS. But they were not putting money into my hands to go see a movie that they felt glorified serial killers. It didn’t matter how cool Oliver Stone might have seemed after JFK. I just never got back to this one, not even with its great lineup: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr, Tommy Lee Jones, and Tom Sizemore.

Quiz Show – So many people have talked this one up and at the time I couldn’t have cared less. Now that I know a little bit more about its background, I think I’d probably enjoy it.

Ed Wood – Given my leanings, I have no idea why I wouldn’t have gone immediately to the theater to watch Tim Burton’s biopic on Ed Wood, starring  Johnny Depp.

1994: The Dream of the Nineties In Film

So, Where Was I In 1994?

This was a year where I started to come together as a human being. I’d been in my high school music program for two years. Along with my visual arts training, this was where I’d finally started to feel like I had a place of refuge. I’d risen to a section leader in the marching band, was swapping in and out of first chair positions between me and a friend of mine who, no shit, was named Tom Jones. This marked a two year period where sometimes, just sometimes, high school could be fun. The bullies got a new target somewhere (I didn’t care where), I wasn’t an underclassman any longer, and I felt strangely in control of where things were headed for once.

This was also the year where the movie theaters couldn’t keep me out. I turned seventeen this year – old enough to show an ID to someone in the ticket booth and validate my presence there. This didn’t mean my folks were always pleased with my viewing habits. It was a push to get in to see Pulp Fiction that year (a film my mother would later see in her sixties and love).

While the internet had been something I’d used for a while, this was the year it really started to gel for me personally. We were still on dial up, using the much maligned AOL service. Squelches and beeps were a part of every day life, as was the vocal shouting of “MOM! I’M ONLINE! DON’T PICK UP THE PHONE!”

The world continued to move along. NAFTA got barreled through congress and was signed by Slick Willie. Congress flipped to Republican control, which set the stage for an impending impeachment. The PowerPC was released by Apple, and the blurring of platforms started a short time later as the internet brought rival operating systems a bit closer together in terms of compatibility. Rodney King got a shit ton of money in reparations for the violation of his civil rights, further blackening the eye of the LAPD’s public image. To add to the mix of crazy in Los Angeles, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman are found dead at Brown’s home, resulting in the ‘Trial of the Century.’ The nation plastered itself to the television as Brown’s and Goldman’s suspected killer – football hero, OJ Simpson – took off in a low speed chase with one of his former teammates, Al Cowling.

As always the films of the year continued to mold and shape me. This was a great year for film. This year still informs a lot of my writing and creative sensibilities. Some excellent storytelling came to me, and no doubt 1994’s films will continue to shape me in years to come as my fiction continues to grow.

The Schlock

The Shadow

1994 The Shadow

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: Pulp Tropes, A Furthered Love For Art Deco
Rating: ★★★

My music courses were not limited to school hours – practices were both before and after the standard six-and-a-half hour school day. Dad would drive me to practices while we listened to audio dramas. One of the dramas was, of course, The Shadow. Sometimes the titular character was voiced by Orson Welles, other times by William Johnstone and Bret Morrison. This time, we’d get to hear Alec Baldwin perform not just the voice, but the man’s visage – provided alter ego Lamont Cranston would let us see him. I remember being really worked up to see this film.

The movie was okay. It lacked the punch of the other year’s films, mostly because of it’s moderately campy leanings. They overdid it a little, particularly with Tim Curry who plays a patsy for the main villain. It’s hard to overuse Tim Curry – but he put in a little too much extra it might have been better to tuck it back.

What remains with me from the film though was the presentation of Manhattan in the forties. Much like with The Rocketeer (1991), there was a heavy deco leaning to the set that lingers with me, informing me (for better or worse) of the motifs of the times. It also gave me more lead in the pencil for describing and setting the stage for that particular era. It also helped to cement a lot of the tropes and plots of that time: two fisted goons working under shady manipulators versus the one man with special abilities that can stop them.

The Mask

1994 The Mask

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: 2D to 3D Effect Transition, A Little Carrey Goes Too Far
Rating: ★★★

I am not particularly a Carrey fan (we’ll get into this a bit more in 1994’s Cutting Room Floor). His signature ability in the 1990’s was to be completely and totally off-the-wall. I’m not certain how he got more energy than Robin Williams had (though one might suspect illicit substances which were also Williams’s forte), but he put it to good use in the Mask.

I liked the concept of this piece, though I’m told it did veer from the canon according to fans of the original Dark Horse Comic from the 80’s and 90’s. It’s the story of an everyman guy, Stanley Ipkiss (played by Jim Carrey), who finds a mask that basically turns him into a nigh-invulnerable, green-skinned trickster so long as he wears it. The Mask comes with some unfortunate complications though, and soon Stanley can’t really keep up with all of the things the Mask gets up to when it’s in control – and it manages to get Stanley into binds ever more frequently the longer he wears it. When Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz’s first appearance), hits up Stanley’s bank to open an account. She’s really there get info on banks to rob for the mob. Stanley falls in love with her, and soon The Maskis all over her, and the mob doesn’t like this one bit. Slapstick violence and Jim Carrey being Jim Carrey ensue.

This wasn’t a particularly great film, though for its time its effects were remarkable. Additionally, it was the goal of the team to bring the manic energy of not only Carrey, but the well-respected and talented animator, Tex Avery. Tex is regarded as one of my gods in my pantheon of art, so it was no big surprise that I liked at least that part. They more or less got it down in these clips.

Somewhere In the Middle

No Escape

1994 No Escape

When I Saw It: Circa 1996
What It Taught Me: Complex Dystopia, Better Than Lord of the Flies
Rating: ★★★★

I’ll admit that my recollections of this film are somewhat hazy, but I remember really liking it. As far as I am concerned, the plot is easily explained thus: Escape From New York (1984) on an island. Ray Liotta is Snake Plisken, but there’s no President to be rescued. Liotta just wants off the island to clear his name and expose the corruption that landed him on a remote prison island in the pacific.

I mean, really, framing any movie as ‘Escape From New York, But…’ will pretty much get me to watch it (Escape From New York has been a favorite since I watched it in 1993). I love movies like that portray fantastical societies bred by human nature left to its own devices in strange places. I shouldn’t like movies like this based on my reception of Lord of the Flies (see my Disastrous freshman year in an earlier post). All William Golding really needed to say was ‘the fat kid with glasses dies first when society’s rules go away.’ I knew that because I was a fat kid with glasses. Social dynamics weren’t lost on me. But, what Escape From New York and No Escape had was the set dressing and cool toys on occasion. That and a bad ass guy at the center who had the right antihero tropes.

I really want to revisit this now to see if it still holds up well. It had a pretty good cast with Liotta at the center, and a good array of B-listers surrounding him: Lance Henriksen, Ernie Hudson, and Kevin Dillon.


1994 Airheads

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: Soundtrack Love
Rating: ★★★★

So, you have a floundering band that can’t seem to get a break. No one is listening because you’re not on the radio. All doors are shut. How do you open one?

Take a radio station hostage.

Of course the guns are fake – these guys don’t have the stomach for real violence. They figure they’ll use plastic (but real looking) uzi-styled water guns, a little bravado, and get the station playing their new single. What could go wrong?

This is a pretty stupid plan so things go wrong almost immediately. From there on it’s a heartwarming tale of rock and roll revolution, the magic of music, and obligatory Stockholm Syndrome.

What I remember though were two things: Harold Ramis’s appearance, and the Soundtrack. In particular the song ‘I’ll Talk My Way Out of It‘ by Stuttering John. Yes, that Stuttering John.  Yes, you may question my good taste.

Additionally, this was around the time that the three lead rockers were all getting big. I knew Adam Sandler from Saturday Night Live and his comedy CD ‘They’re All Gonna Laugh At You’, Steve Buscemi was becoming a favorite after seeing Reservoir Dogs (1992),  and Brendan Fraser had a string of successes. All three were on their way to big things during this movie’s filming and release.


1994 Stargate

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: Diaspora
Rating: ★★★★

A fringe Egyptian Linguist (James Spader) is brought into a top secret project initiated by the Unites States Government by an aging scientist who believes his work will unlock a great mystery. He accepts and finds himself under the command of a high ranking military man with a haunted past (Kurt Russel). Russel’s project is related to an ancient artifact found in Egypt and taken by the US military. They have no idea what it does, but they have a couple ideas. Once Spader joins the team, they realize the artifact is a portal – but to where they have no idea. So, they get volunteers led by Spader and Russel to go through the portal and into a world that seems very much like Egypt. The locals at the other end of the portal are shockingly human, they have their own language derived from Egyptian… and they are brutally oppressed by alien masters who appear to have been the architects of the entire ancient Egyptian societal structure. The aliens were, in fact, their gods. Spader and Russel then go on to liberate the oppressed world and to presumably exploit the hell out of the gate system they’ve discovered after the credits roll (the film even got a set of spin off shows on The SciFi Channel).

The idea of extraterrestrial human societies as the norm appealed to me. That humans were not unique to earth or might even be the ‘typical’ species found in space due to a forgotten diasporas in the ancient past really took seed and sprouted story ideas for years to come. The film’s visual effects also served as reference for me  years later in college – a lot of FX heavy films did, though this one sticks out due to the rippling water effect of the gate.

The Ref

1994 The Ref

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: Stretching the Concept of a Christmas Movie, Escalation
Rating: ★★★★

Denis Leary hit me like a lightning bolt with his comedy disc ‘No Cure For Cancer’ in 1993. It got listened to a lot, so when he had top billing in this dysfunctional family comedy, I leaped.

Leary plays a career thief. He decides to pull a job on a millionaire’s house on Christmas Eve. He’s caught up by a trap in the house that identifies him.  This sends him on the lam, looking for a place to go to ground and wait out the dragnet. To accomplish this he kidnaps a couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) who have been at each other’s throats for years. He coerces them into keeping him hidden under the threat of violence against their juvenile delinquent son. This gets Leary embedded in Spacey and Davis’s own family problems when he realizes the best story he can use as a cover for the arrival of their relatives is to pretend that he’s their marriage counselor. When the extended family arrives, things get much, much worse for everyone and things escalate to a spectacular breaking point.

This is not only a great comedy, but it’s a movie I watch around Christmas every year, along with Die Hard and Gremlins. Much to my mother’s disappointment.

Personal Blockbusters

Forrest Gump

1994 Forrest Gump

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: A Deeper Sense of a World Before Me, What Special Effects Could Really Do
Rating: ★★★★

This was easily the hit of the year for most audiences (though not my personal favorite if the title banner of the article didn’t give it away). Tom Hanks really showed his chops with this one, and sent his career down a notably different path from most of his past performances.

Hanks portrays Forrest Gump, a good natured man of lower-than-average intelligence. He has a storied and exceptional life despite his many challenges. He starts from humble origins, the illegitimate son of a hard-working mother who does anything she can to raise him right. The story goes from his early years, through adolescence, through his time in the military and Vietnam, and then an improbable celebrity that comes after. Throughout the film, he traverses several high mark moments of history that have been emblazoned into the Baby Boomer experience. It’s an amazing work that encompasses so many themes and emotions that it’s difficult to catalog all of them. It really did deserve its critical acclaim.

One of the (many) things that it won awards for though was its special effects. Up to this point, effects from the computers of hard-working FX staff was on the purely fantastical. We’d seen Jurassic Park, which gave us some of the most realistic looking dinosaurs that have ever been set to film. Space battles were looking cooler. Lava was flowing without causing a hazard to people on sets. No one had yet though to start using computer generated effects to replace what might feel like mundane practical shots. Things like say… a wandering feather. This film showed that you could do the impossible, and make it look practical. The feather wasn’t the only thing though. The film manages to place Hanks in existing and modified footage with known celebrities and politicians; to set an olympic class ping pong game up without having to do take after endless take to get it right; and to get the weather to cooperate on command. It really opened up the boundaries of what was possible.

Additionally, it started to put a lot of what I’d only read about in my history classes into context. I knew that there was a world before I came into it, but no one had really sat me down to show how it affected everyone else – or at least no one had for many of the film’s moments (I actually had wonderful US and World History teachers in my public school, plus my Dad to fill in some blanks). This opened up my understanding on things like the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Era, and the Fifties and Sixties in general.

The Shawshank Redemption

1994 The Shawshank Redemption

When I Saw It: 2017
What It Taught Me: Layers On Layers
Rating: ★★★★★

You read that right – I just watched this movie this year. It’s hard for me to believe I never saw it sooner. Truth be told, I’d seen the back third of the film many times. The movie airs on cable on the regular. It’s one of those movies I have a theory about: you can watch twenty-four hours of television a day and have it all be either The Shawshank Redemption or Law and Order just by flipping through multiple channels. There’s no period of time when those titles are not playing. They’re that popular.

Having had the ending blown for me, I just never really got around to the beginning, which is a shame because the movie is that fucking good. My girlfriend and I sat down to watch it about a month ago after she properly chastised me for not having watched it earlier in life. I am quite pleased with it. The movie deftly performs acts of cinematic magic.

The story opens with the trial of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) who very well may have killed his wife. He is sentenced to life imprisonment in Shawshank Prison where he has a great struggle adapting to life inside of the prison walls. He does however make friends, notably another lifer named Red (Morgan Freeman), and begins to ease into the life of a convict as much as one can. He suffers a great many indignities. He is beaten and raped; brutalized in mind, body, and spirit. He is often at odds with both his jailers and his fellow inmates. He not only perseveres – he retains his humanity while working toward his elaborate liberation.

The drama is amazing – but I expect that from most Morgan Freeman films. What really got me with this was the depth of the plots. Most good films have subplots – stories that weave in and around the main one. Usually there’s one or two. This one has many. They’re layered in so that the subplots seem to have subplots. It adds to the length of the movie, but in such a gripping way that you won’t mind sitting through 142 minutes of film. Time just melts away. You simply take in all of the layers as easily as breathing. It just takes your breath away.

Interview With the Vampire

1994 Interview With the Vampire

When I Saw It: 2017
What It Taught Me: How To Build a Relatable Monster
Rating: ★★★★★

When I look back at it, this was what started the trend of vampires starting in my youth until my second bout of college. We’ve had zombies in the mind for the last eight years (barring a sudden outbreak of vampirism in the form of Twilight (2008) but we can expect vampires to come back due to a weird kind of political phenomenon. Let’s hope they can get more Anne Rice and less sparkling.

The film opens with a man who has nothing left to live for. Louis (Brad Pitt) has lost both wife and child to a tragic pregnancy. Lost and without purpose, he puts himself in harm’s way, begging for something to put him out of his misery. The vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) takes this as an open invitation and preys on him, eventually taking him on as his child of darkness, transforming Louis into a vampire. This begins the extended life of Louis the vampire. The two quickly find themselves at odds: Louis will not kill with the glee of his father of darkness, but must lest he waste away and molder in some forgotten crypt.

The film essentially is about Louis coming to terms with his nature, learning to walk the fine balance between man and beast. He suffers great trials of emotional fortitude, navigates moral quandaries, and ultimately suffers terrible consequences for his actions (such as the making of his own child of darkness, an actual child turned vampire named Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). The film is an emotional rollercoaster punctuated with horror and despair. I am a fan of morality pieces and situations where there is no wrong and right. It creates an environment where you’re never really sure what’s going to happen, and this had that effect.

This is also one of the rare cases in which the movie outshone the original book in my opinion. I’ve tried three times to read the book and never finished – yet I’ve seen the film dozens of times.

Pulp Fiction

1994 Pulp Fiction

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: Non-Linear Storytelling, Making The Horrific Hilarious
Rating: ★★★★★

It was a fight to see this movie. I mean, I tried like hell to get in. This film was released just a short time before I turned seventeen. The movie’s reputation and outrage of parent groups had ticket sellers checking for IDs. I’d gone to see R-Rated films at the theater before. Even a couple without parents present. But this film. Oh man.

On my fourth try, I finally got the money, the available time, and a license I could slap on the counter that no one would deny. My cousin and I chose one of the oldest, seediest theaters in the area. The last time I’d been there was to see The Jungle Book (1967) when I was a kid. And, oh boy, did we not see anything family friendly when that curtain opened.

This movie was transformative in terms of not just content, but also in terms of storytelling. It covers a couple of different stories: one about two robbers deciding to rob a diner on impulse; another about a pair of hitmen trying to get a suitcase back to their boss; another about a boxer who refuses to through a fight for a crime boss; and another about a crime boss’s goon who’s given the task of taking his lady out on the town so she doesn’t get bored. Each is broken up into its own vignette, and each story ties into each other story in ways either trivial or of great consequence. They’re not told in any order either. In fact, they’re totally shuffled. It’s the kind of film where the end is the beginning is the end. Everyone has read the story where you start in media res and you jump between now and then. But this took that idea to a higher plane of existence. It was masterfully done. Tarantino outdid himself with this film, and it’s the one that made me follow his career for good or ill over the next decade.

It also transformed careers. John Travolta had been in a slump, as had Bruce Willis, but this film got them rising from the ashes anew. Samuel L. Jackson had been working steadily, but this was the film that I feel opened bigger doors for him. Uma Thurman definitely took off, and Tim Roth graduated from quirky roles in unexpected gems to helming films as a lead role. You also got Eric Stolze as a scummy LA drug dealer, Christopher Walken as a family friend I think no one would want, and then you got Ving Rhames, who definitely took off after this film cemented itself into cinema history.

The thing that stuck with me most though was the Car Scene. I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about, but I’ll spell it out for you. After Travolta and Jackson finish up a job in which they should have died in a hail of unexpected gunfire, they are taking a man to their boss in the car. Jackson claims epiphany, that god had directly intervened on their behalf, resulting in Jackson’s belief that this is his last day working for crime boss Marcellus Wallace. Travolta isn’t having it and an argument starts. Eventually, Travolta, looking for support for his side of the debate, turns to their passenger in the backseat, gestures his gun at him to emphasize his point… and the pistol goes off accidentally, resulting in a spectacular spray of gore and blood as the passenger’s head disintegrates.

That’s a pretty shocking thing to have happen. It’s the kind of thing that if it happened in front of you in real life, you’d be absolutely horrified. There’d be years of therapy. Lots of neuroses. Total breakdown.

I could not stop laughing.

Neither could the rest of the people in the theater. But, me especially. I was laughing four minutes later, out of breath. People were staring at me. They must have thought I was a psychopath (I wondered this too driving home from the film).

There was just something about it. The suddenness and the fact that after it happens, Travolta and Jackson just continue to bicker with almost no pause. And while they are both upset, they never stop to deal with the morality of killing a dude by accident. Travolta doesn’t hardly even raise his voice. To him it’s like discussing the price of weed. They just argue about how they’re going to finish the job and what to do about having a car filled with blood and brains in the freeway. It was such a shock, followed by an incredibly inappropriate response that the absurdity of it lit up every humor circuit in my head.

I guess that makes me a pretty bad person.


1994 Clerks

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: Irreverence, Timing, An Appreciation of Black-and-White Medium In a World of Color
Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve noted before that my parents were extremely restrictive on what I could watch. They might lose in the battle of films on the big screen, but they could police what came into the house. They weren’t always consistent though, and they couldn’t watch me all the time. Public school teachers pretty much work all day, so sometimes I could sneak in a little something.

I missed Clerks in its entirety for it’s film run. This was no big surprise – it was an indie film from Miramax that didn’t get a huge run. I finally saw it on video later in the year when a student of my dad’s brought it over during our weekly comic book run.

Denis Leary had paved the way for comedy that would get me in trouble for listening to it at anything louder than a whisper’s volume, but it still didn’t quite prep me for Clerks level of brutal honesty and total vulgarity. This punched up my obscenity meter by leaps and bounds. Considering I grew up in a school district where the word ‘fuck’ almost could replace birdsong, this was no mean feat. I could swear like a sailor before I was nine and this opened up whole new vistas of foul mouthedness and wholly inappropriate behaviors.

Along with that, it also gave me another great foundation on how to execute timing. Timing is everything, but especially so with comedy. Smith has a great sense for it, and would go on to use it to great effect in further endeavors in the Askewniverse such as Mallrats (1995) and Dogma (1999). It’s timing is almost Sorkin-esque, but with a little more room to breathe.

The thing that really gets me though was that this film was so low-budget that it had to be filmed in black-and-white. I kind of held black-and-white television and film in low regard back in 1994. Mostly, it was because I was stupid – I had this idiotic belief as a kid that newer is always better. Kevin Smith wasn’t from the fifties or sixties, and there was no excuse for outdated film options when you could get ‘better.’ This was a film which set me on a path of being older and wiser.

I don’t think Clerks would have been as powerful if it had been shot in color. As someone who’s had the experience of working in a crap retail job, it kind of robs the color out of your life. Sure, it’s there, but you’re not feeling it. The only thing you feel is the click of the keys at the register, the crying of someone’s baby, throwing a chronic masturbator out of the store, or the complaining of someone who feels ill used (rightly or not) by capitalism. It takes the film’s nature and starkly puts it in front of you. It’s not the only film to have made this deliberate choice in a world of color (The Mist, which showed in color ultimately, had a special cut of the intended black-and-white version in the BluRay edition), but it’s one of the better ones.

The Crow

1994 The Crow

When I Saw It: 1994
What It Taught Me: Everything
Rating: ★★★★★

If you ask me what my favorite book is, I’ll tell you Neuromancer without thinking. If you read that book and then read any of my science fiction stories for just a couple of minutes, it’s likely you’ll see how deeply the book informs who I am as a person and an author.

I mention that book not out of an inherent plot connection, but because The Crow is my cinematic counterpart to Neuromancer. When I write horror in an urban hellhole, you might catch Eric Draven wandering in the alleys, watching.

The Crow is about Eric Draven (Brandon Lee): a man returned to life after he and his fiancee are murdered on Devil’s Night by a gang of arsonists and killers. He finds that he has not only cheated death, but that he is granted powers from a great crow that seems to accompany him everywhere he goes. He seems to be invulnerable to any kind of physical punishment. He has the ability to get psychic impressions from the past by holding objects or touching people. He is stronger and faster, and has a newfound capacity for great violence. He can see through the eyes of the crow. He can vanish without trace. But, lastly, he possesses an eerie knack of being in the right place at the right time to set things as right as they can be set.

He instinctively knows that he will never be able to bring his love back to life – but he can make sure that the men who killed his bride-to-be will never kill again. He will make sure that every last one of them get exactly what they have coming to them.

With his supernatural talents, he goes on to avenge the deaths of his fiancee and himself, cutting a murderous swath through a city infested with darkness and depravity. One by one, he takes on his killers, leaving a trail of fire, blood, and crow symbology in his wake.

This movie drips with all of the dark horror conventions I like to work with in my fiction: The merciless world that often seems to actively work against you – not in some abstract way, but rather a city that attacks you like it’s personal; despair in alleys; dark recesses of urban blight that are best avoided; crews of criminals in an organized nightmare court who will do anything, knowing no restraint; supernatural forces that move within light and shadow; uncaring parents and drug abuse; ubiquitous and callous violence; all-encompassing vengeance; doing the right thing the most wrong ways; moral ambivalence; hope, false or otherwise.

This is fear countryThis is the ultimate in revenge.

It’s also visual poetry. The stage is set, and the actors going through it make it sing. The fights are well choreographed (it helps that Eric Draven is played by Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son). The lighting is just so. Fire and darkness mix to create long shadows and a gothic feel. The performances are solid. It feels real despite the supernatural elements. I have watched it over and over again. There’s not a shot shown, not a line of dialog, not an action cue that I do not know like the back of my hand. This is my toolkit, by bible for portraying darkness – and also redemption.

Because, amongst the other things the film embodies, The Crow is also a romance. Draven doesn’t kill out of some kind of personal vengeance. He does this for Shelley. For his lost love. He has returned, but she has not. What he does, he does for her. All of it. Be it guarding over their local street kid, Sarah; be it connecting with Officer Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) to thank him for staying with Shelley in her final hours; be it taking out not just their killers but the man who stood behind them and ordered it- it is all for Shelley Webster. Once the job is done, he fades with her into the afterlife, her personal angel of vengeance come home for his reward.

It chills me to think about it. It thrills me to write something as in vein. It has been an inspiration, and is easily at the top of all of my film loves.

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