Archive for the ‘1990s films’ Tag

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)   2 comments

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I first watched this film with my daughter in 2001.  She was four and I couldn’t watch THE WIZARD OF OZ one more time. My cousin, who’s a horror film fan and art school guy, had recommended the film to me years before, but I just never got to it.  What a revelation!  It’s such a joyous film.  Everyone in the film is trying his hardest all the time.  It’s honest and sweet and it even has a love story and a dog.  Wonderful.  I can remember watching my daughter’s face as she looked at the Halloween Town residents. “They scare for fun.  They’re not mean.”  Exactly.

mummy

“This won’t hurt a bit.”

No one creates a spookier Halloween than the Pumpkin King.  All the goblins love him.  Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) is at the top of his game. After a particularly successful haunting one Halloween, Jack returns to his home in Halloween Town and mopes.  The ghosts and vampires and creepy-crawlies have lost their charm.  Jack is bored.  Something’s missing.

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“What’s missing?  Is it an eye?  Oh, I hope it’s an eye!”

On a long, doleful walk in the woods, Jack comes upon a circle of trees.  On each tree is a door and a picture which represents a different major holiday.  Intrigued, Jack opens the door marked with a Christmas tree and is sucked into Christmas Town. Clean, white snow, music, and smiling faces greet him as he ambles through the jolly village.  Charmed, Jack decides Christmas sounds like a capital idea.

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“You…light up my eyes.”

He sprints back to Halloween Town and regales his ghoulish friends with tales of the mysterious Sandy Claws, who rules over Christmas Town.  This year, he promises, the denizens of Halloween Town will run Christmas and give Sandy a break.

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“I have a headache.”

 Jack assigns tasks to each spooky group.  Dr. Finkelstein (William Hickey) will bring to life some skeletal reindeer to drive Jack’s sleigh.  The creatures of Halloween Town will make ghastly toys.  Sally (Catherine O’Hara), Jack’s friend and a talented seamstress, will make Jack’s Sandy Claws costume.  Devilish juvenile delinquents, Lock, Shock, and Barrel will kidnap Mr. Claws so Jack can take over.  

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Lock, Barrel, and Shock have something to hide.

While the industrious townsfolk make hats out of dead turtles and stuff killer snakes into gift boxes, Sally tries to remind Jack he’s making a mistake.  Halloween is his true calling.  Ignoring Sally’s warnings, Jack takes off to deliver his weird toys to the unsuspecting boys and girls.  It doesn’t go well.  

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“But I already have one!”

Danny Elfman, former Oingo Boingo front man and composer, wrote some killer tunes for this Halloween-y/Christmas-y story. They’re creative, sweet, dramatic, and thoroughly singable.  They’re also complex as hell.  Elfman threw himself into this soundtrack. Elfman also sings the part of Jack Skellington and Barrel.  The multi-talented Catherine O’Hara sings and acts the Sally part along with that of Shock.  Ken Page plays the infamous Oogie Boogie and Ed Ivory is Santa/Sandy.  Glenn Shadix plays the typically wishy-washy mayor of Halloween Town.  Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) is Lock.  Tim Burton, Michael McDowell, and Caroline Thompson wrote the story and screenplay and Henry Selick directed.

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Tonight on 50 Shades of Christmas

It’s hard to know where to begin with this film.  I love it so much.  The music, animation, story, and talents of a wonderfully talented cast gang up and whack you.  It’s impressive.  There’s no wasted space.  In every scene, you see something fascinating. It looks so cool.  The creatures of Halloween Town look so different from the goblins of other films.  They’re spunky and fun and they clearly have relationships.  I’m still waiting for a behind-the-scenes documentary showing the vampires smoking between scenes and Zero, Jack’s ghostly dog, in a robe, signing autographs.  They have so much personality, you want to meet them.  A combination of the sophisticated stop-motion animation, the original story, and the fantastic soundtrack sung by a great cast make THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS the awesome film it is.  Happiness.  

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“Mom!  You might want to come down here.”

haunty

             

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Ravenous (1999)   2 comments

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After serving in the Mexican-American War, disgraced Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is exiled to the backwater post of Fort Spencer in the Sierra Nevadas.  Soon after, a man stumbles into camp saying he came from a lost wagon train.  F.W. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) claims the leader of his group, Colonel Ives led the pioneers to a so-called shortcut through the mountains where they got lost and quickly ran out of food.  Colqhoun recounts that Ives then convinced the party to eat each other.  “The day that Jones died I was out collecting wood, and when I returned the others were cooking his legs for dinner.”

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Bon appetit!

Upon hearing that there might still be survivors at Colqhoun’s camp, the small contingent from Fort Spencer set out to rescue them from the wicked Colonel Ives.  As they explore the pioneers’ digs, the men realize they’re up against a lot more than an unbalanced man.

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“You don’t like it?  Fine.  All the more for me.”

Antonia Bird (FACE) took over as director of RAVENOUS after shooting began on the recommendation of Robert Carlyle.  She does a great job of keeping up the tension.  The story, written by Ted Griffin (MATCHSTICK MEN) keeps you guessing and the performances by Guy Pearce, John Spencer, Jeffrey Jones, Jeremy Davies, and especially Neal McDonough and the utterly wonderful Robert Carlyle make the film fly by.  The script, full of dark humor and references to cannibalism and the Wendigo legend is witty and dry and the cast is well up to it.  The Wendigo, by the way, is a part man/part monster legend of the Algonquian people who say that once a man has eaten human flesh, he absorbs the strengths of those he’s eaten.  Of course, now he’s evil and is consumed (See what I did there?) with finding more men to eat.  Nummy.

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You can’t eat just one!

RAVENOUS was a neat black comedy which dipped into one of my favorite historic tales.  I’ll watch pretty much anything about the Donner Party and the shortcut referred to in Colqhoun’s story sounds a lot like Hastings Cutoff to me.  An unpredictable story, terrific acting, sharp direction, and a creepy Morricone-ish score by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman all work to make RAVENOUS a wonderful watch.  I can’t believe it took me so long to see it.

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“Alas, poor…oh jeez.”

haunty

Fight Club (1999)   3 comments

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Ed Norton can’t sleep. He goes through the motions at his mid-level executive job traveling from crappy airport to crappy airport and back to his cookie cutter condo where his big fun on a Saturday night is sitting alone ordering from the Ikea catalog. Something has to change or he’ll lose his mind.

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“Did he just buy a vowel?” 

 Sleep deprivation drives him to his doctor for sleeping pills. His doctor isn’t buying it though and makes an offhand remark which leads Norton to a series of support groups which meet in hospitals and church basements. Each group deals with a specific disease that Norton does not have. Despite his relatively disease-free body, Norton continues to go to these meetings which he finds oddly comforting. He’s no happier, but at least he can sleep. Just as he thinks he’s found dull, soulless peace, Norton meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). Crude, brash, and inappropriate, Marla crashes Norton’s pity party sending him back to insomnia-inspired sessions of mind-numbing channel surfing. Norton figures he’s doomed to spend eternity alone in a haze, neither awake nor asleep.

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This is NOT the smoking section. 

 Then he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden is a smart-ass who says everything Norton longs to. Norton’s whole life changes. His condo blows up so he moves in with Durden. They live in a dilapidated mansion in the abandoned industrial part of town. Norton stops caring about acquiring the perfect collection of dress shirts. He also stops caring about electricity, what anyone thinks of him, and personal hygiene.

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“PC Load Letter?” 

 He stops caring about all that because he develops a new priority…Fight Club. Started because Tyler Durden believes the only way young males can become men is by finding out what they’re made of, Fight Club’s bare-knuckle boxing clubs thrive in the basements of bars all over town.

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Leto’s not gonna like this. 

 Apparently they’re not the only ones who think there has to be something more than consumerism and trudging slowly up the corporate ladder. Others long for an idea of who they are inside, too. Accompanying all this self-discovery is some terrific dialogue. Durden asks if Norton knows what a duvet is. When he says yes, Durden asks,”Why do guys like us know what a duvet is?” After Norton mentions Martha Stewart, Durden says, “Fuck Martha Stewart! Martha’s polishing the brass on the Titanic! It’s all going down, man.” In the same conversation, Durden poses the question that gets the Fight Club ball rolling. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

As Norton becomes more involved with Fight Club, he changes.

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Well who wouldn’t? 

 No longer the quiet guy who lets people walk all over him, Norton even walks differently. He has a swagger. He walks with confidence; like a guy who knows where he’s going. He walks like Durden. He says what he thinks and stops putting up with all the petty crap people deal with every day. He’s alive. Just when he thinks he knows what he wants, everything changes. Other young men Including Jared Leto and Meat Loaf, in a terrific small role, start showing up at their house looking to join the movement. Baffled by this talk of movements and missions, Norton stumbles through his own house, hopelessly out of the loop. At first, it was Norton and Durden and Norton felt happy and part of something. Now other recruits and the missions performed by Operation Mayhem threaten Norton’s place beside Durden. Durden’s even sleeping with Marla. As Fight Club and its original idea spiral out of control, can Norton rein Durden in or at least decipher his master plan?

I’ll never tell.

Director David Fincher (SE7EN, GONE GIRL) keeps the camera moving and the pace brisk. He shows us just enough of each scene to make us want more. There’s a knack to that. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who works with Fincher a lot, manages to make a film shot mostly in basements and poorly lit rooms look perfect. It’s appropriately gritty, but you can still see the players. The soundtrack which includes music by the Dust Brothers and the Pixies is appropriately cynical and dark. Michael Kaplan designed the costumes for FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN, and BLADE RUNNER. He has a talent for combining vintage edginess with reality so people don’t look like they just stepped out of a pricey hipster boutique.

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“Yeah, I’m a Viking. So what?” 

 Other than the direction, which is stellar, and the acting which is perfect, the writing stands out. Jim Uhls wrote the screenplay based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel and it’s cool. The dialogue crackles and the little touches make this film stand out. The bit based on some biology texts Norton finds in the basement of the house written from the point of view of an organ runs throughout the film. I AM JACK’S MEDULLA OBLONGATA. I AM JILL’S NIPPLE. When Norton get’s jealous of Durden’s affection for Jared Leto’s character, he says, “I AM JACK’S INFLAMED SENSE OF REJECTION.” Later he says, “I AM JACK’S SMIRKING REVENGE.” after getting back at his boss. It works. The elaborate pranks Durden and his followers pull entertain as well. Busting the headlights of pretentious cars, degaussing videotapes, blowing up window displays all serve to advance Durden’s anti-consumer agenda and make the audience laugh. Even the pranks we don’t see play a role. Press clippings of the group’s exploits read Police Seize Excrement Catapult and Missing Monkeys Found Shaved.

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I did not know that. 

 Of course the concepts behind FIGHT CLUB involve something deeper than some goofs setting fires and flinging poop. Themes of consumerism, complacency, the feminization of men, and isolation run throughout the film and Durden and Norton get into some deep conversations after a few beers.

FIGHT CLUB works as a comedy, an off-kilter buddy film, and a modern love story. The production team, cast, and especially the writers created a clever and thought-provoking film that stands repeated viewings without diminishing its impact.

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I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF SURPRISE.

Under Siege (1992)   5 comments

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Under Siege is the well-executed tale of a disillusioned former government operative Stranix (Tommy Lee Jones), an inside man Krill (Gary Busey), a crew of mercenaries, and their plan to steal the nuclear missiles from soon to be decommissioned Naval ship the USS Missouri and sell them to foreign terrorists.

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Steven Seagal stars as Casey Ryback, the ship’s cook who has the skills to make more than bouillabaisse.

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C-4 anyone?

The film has all the usual suspects; the nutty revolutionary, the turncoat, and their enemy, the underestimated former Navy Seal who battles the baddies to save the world. It’s Die Hard on a boat. As John McClane would say, the good guys throw a few monkeys into the wrench. Seagal, a few loose seamen, a visiting WWII veteran, and Jordan Tate (Erika Eleniak) who boarded the ship to jump out of a cake band together to foil the evil Stranix and company and save the free world.

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Is that trig? I hate trig.

I like Under Siege. The veteran character actors including Patrick O’Neal, Colm Meaney, Andy Romano, Nick Mancuso, and Bernie Casey give believable performances.

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Say what again!

Written by J.F. Lawton, who also wrote Pretty Women and Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (?), the dialogue and situations work and there’s enough military terminology to convince you he did at least a little research. Andrew Davis (Above the Law, The Fugitive) directed Under Siege as a solid action film with some fun moments. Through the witty dialogue and skillful acting of the company we learn enough about the characters to care about them or hope they die violently depending on what side they’re on. This is my favorite Steven Seagal film followed closely by the sequel Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. They’re both quality popcorn flicks.

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Leaving Las Vegas (1995)   Leave a comment

I almost reviewed this film for my 31 Days of Horror because the idea of a once successful man divesting himself of all his worldly goods to move to Las Vegas and drink himself to death might be more horrifying than any axe-wielding maniac.

Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage), a Hollywood screenwriter, has burned all his bridges. His bosses and co-workers acknowledge his talent and charm, but they’ve grown tired of his excuses and drunken scenes. His wife and family are gone and Ben decides to die. He burns his belongings and converts everything to cash which he will live on until he no longer lives.

While in Las Vegas, he chances upon Sera (Elizabeth Shue) and the two form an unusual alliance. Their romance of sorts depends on neither’s interference in the other’s vocation. Ben won’t stop Sera’s prostitution and Sera won’t keep Ben from drinking. Sera, a hooker with a heart of gold, rationalizes that she’s in control much like Jane Fonda’s character, Bree in Klute (1971). Cage plays Ben as a depressed but literate character and he makes you like him. You really don’t want Ben to die.

Eventually, a life on the street and drinking gallons of booze take a toll and we watch the downward spiral with hope, then resignation. Leaving Las Vegas is hard to watch. Suicide and self-abasement are. Stick with it because of Cage and Shue. They make it hard to look away.

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