Saturday, July 30, 2016


Since I STILL had quite a few movies from the 90's left on my 1001 list, I decided to re-watch ten this month that I've seen but haven't seen for awhile.

Thelma and Louise
Thelma and Louise is a sort of 90's feminist Easy Rider about a pair of women whose unfortunate circumstances lead them to be on the run from the law. The movie is a bit of a fantasy ride, yet still rings true more often than not. Mark this one down as one is even better than I remember. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are both excellent and Callie Khouri won a well-deserved Oscar for her strong screenplay.

The Sixth Sense
Another from the if you know what is going to happen it might not be as good a movie experience files, The Sixth Sense is a supernatural story that never pulls it's punches enough for you to figure out exactly what is going on underneath the surface until close to the end. That was true the first time I saw it and I still feel a bit dense about not figuring it out sooner. It's been hard for director and M. Night Shyamalan and star Haley Joel Osment to top their respective contributions here. Maybe some day.
Clueless is one I'm less sure about. What is the connection to Jane Austen's Emma again? But I can see that this has a similar appeal to a later generation to the appeal that I have to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I honestly didn't know both films were directed by Amy Heckerling until I watched Clueless again. I also got the opportunity to watch this one with my niece (she's a big fan of the film), which is always a plus.

Boogie Nights
Boogie Nights is the complex and funny character study of the pornography industry during the 70's and 80's. I liked writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's flair and style in this film as well as his subsequent film, Magnolia. And where is my old Betamax copy of Debbie Does Dallas, anyway?

Short Cuts
After finally reading Raymond Carver's collection of stories on which it is based, I was looking forward to watching Robert Altman's adaptation of Short Cuts again after many years. Not of all of what Altman's fly by the seat of your pants filmmaking worked during his career, but it really works for Short Cuts. He takes Carver's stories and changes them where he needs to, has the characters interact with each other in ways they never did in the short stories and puts it all together as a cohesive whole. Some Carver purists may not approve, but I'm not among them. I think it's a brilliant film.

Magnolia is a film I also compare to Short Cuts because of multi-character nature of the piece. I like this one almost as much as Short Cuts, though the second half, where all the characters break into song for no reason and are attacked by a shower of frogs, doesn't quite live up to the first half. Still highly recommended with a fine cast headed by John C. Reilly as the world's nicest cop and Tom Cruise, who plays a cross between Tony Robbins and Andrew Dice Clay.

I have to admit, I liked Wes Anderson's Rushmore seeing it now more than when I first saw it. Teenage overachiever Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) and millionaire businessman Herman Blume (Bill Murray) vie for the affection of teacher Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams). It's a movie with a great deal of charm and warmth. Probably (now) my favorite of Anderson's movies.

The Crying Game
Part of The Crying Game game is watching it with someone who hasn't seen it before and see if they can guess the radical plot twist that happens about half way through the movie. Spoiler: My wife didn't see it come it and failed this test. Sorry, dear. Overall, the film works well as a thriller and as a social commentary on human sexuality as well. I also really like the scorpion/frog joke and try to use it in my own conversation where applicable.

Jurassic Park
Yes, dinosaurs are cool, I've always thought they were cool since I got those little dinosaur booklets at Sinclair stations when I was a kid. But maybe I'm just Jurassic Park'd out. I've read the book...seen all the films...seen Michael Crichton's Westworld, which is definitely a forerunner of Jurassic Park. Maybe I'm taking the special effects for granted and know how the plot is going to go and was a little bored by it this time out. I will say the triceratops was always my favorite dinosaur too, Dr. Grant! In fact I always rooted for him in my imaginary battles against T-Rex as depicted in the colorful picture from the Sinclair Dinosaur booklet below.

Saving Private Ryan
Who can forget that long and horrifying opening of Saving Private Ryan, which depicts D-Day in an unglorified and violent way that few war films had done before. We also get on board for an epic journey following the squad led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) that spends most of the movie searching for the elusive Pvt. Ryan (Matt Damon), who gets to go home because his brothers were all killed on Omaha Beach. And Spielberg won his second Oscar for this and a lot of people think it should have won Best Picture, too.  So, we can pretty much put this in the war classic category and move on, right? 

Not so fast.

I wanted to read famed screenwriter William Goldman's essay on Saving Private Ryan after I saw the movie again because I heard he dishes out some tough criticism on the film.

Goldman's major problem with Saving Private Ryan #1: The movie starts with an older man in modern times and his family visiting a veteran's cemetery in an emotionally charged scene. We fade to a close up of the man and cut to a flashback to the story which begins with the D-Day invasion. The logical assumption is that it this Captain Miller's (Tom Hanks) story until we discover at the end of the film that Captain Miller is killed and the man in the opening scene is Pvt. Ryan himself. The problem Goldman sees in this is that Ryan only comes into the movie at well past the half way point. How can he be recounting the story if he wasn't even there for most of it?

Goldman's major problem with Saving Private Ryan #2: The squad (minus two who have already been killed) finally locates Pvt. Ryan to take him back. However, Ryan stubbornly wants to stay with his squad and help his brothers in arms fight in the upcoming battle with the Germans. However, the ridiculous part for Goldman is the fact that Captain Miller's squad decides to join the other squad and fight the oncoming Germans! What? Now they are going against their mission after rigidly sticking to it for almost three hours of film time? Goldman points out that there would have been an easier out if they had just let Ryan stay and tried to get back but were blocked in by oncoming Germans and forced to stay and fight out of necessity.

Goldman's major problem with Saving Private Ryan #3
 Here is Goldman's direct quote.
The other disgrace of this storytelling is this: there is no pregnant moment to the story. (I'm not going all intellectual on you—remember, the Zipper scene and Matt Dillon trying to electrocute the dog back to life were my happiest moments this year in a theatre.) But all stories do and must have them. They are the reason the story is being told. The pregnant moment of Shakespeare in Love is this: Will has a block. We do not tell of Joe and Gwyneth after he's written King Lear—the whole point is the guy can't write anything. Armageddon happens when it happens because the meteor is on its way.

There is absolutely no reason for this story being told now since Matt has no specific reason for visiting the cemetery.

Goldman also has problems with the film's patriotic over-sentimentality during the modern day scenes (I disagree with him here. I find those scenes effective). He also hates Ryan's one long speech (the girl hit by an ugly stick one) which is the viewer's one opportunity to know something about Ryan and doesn't put him in an overly positive light. (I think he's right about that one.)

Anyway, food for thought from the always interesting Mr. Goldman.

Glad to revisit these films from the 90's, but there are plenty from this list that I've never seen....I'll take a look at some of those next month.