Category Archives: 80’s

Thirtieth Anniversary Review: Aliens


Happy Thirty Years to one of the most important summer blockbusters ever released, a film vastly more inspired than anything you’ll find at the cinema this weekend. 

Alien vs. Aliens isn’t going away. Much like The Terminator vs. T2, the vested interests on either side are nerd-encampments that have ballooned into nerd platoons with full hierarchies and codified handshakes, but at least there aren’t any palisades blocking the channels between the first and second entries in either franchise. Most of the cases are not exclusionary, but merely preferential – “Alien is better than Aliens, but Aliens is a close-second”. We aren’t dealing with the Red Sox and the Yankees here; fans of any of these films can still lay down their arms and bond over their relatively evolved blockbuster taste. And they’re correct; all four films are, at minimum, very good science fiction showcases that toe and in some cases dance around the line between action and horror. Continue reading


In Memoriam Review: Labyrinth

LabyrinthThis being the first of two reviews of David Bowie’s most prominent on-screen roles. 

With The Dark Crystal now under his belt and not necessarily proving the financial blockbuster its backers had hoped for, the forever animated Jim Henson was undeterred. His audience, accustomed to the felt pop-post-modernism of The Muppets, was unsure of what to do with the film, a threatening and often nihilistic puppet fantasy that was, at the time, by far the most ambitious undertaking by Henson and friends. Luckily, even if his audience didn’t “get” The Dark Crystal, Henson was exactly aware of what to do with his audience: namely, appeal to them without necessarily sacrificing his own personal infatuations as a filmmaker looking to cram his Germanic fairy tale fixation into a quintessentially post-Disney world. Continue reading

Back to the Future Day (from the Future)

The title being my fancy way of saying I wrote these reviews of Back to the Future II and III but didn’t upload them until now, a full six days after the proper day of 10/21/15. Oh well. You get to read them now, I suppose? 

The mortal coil of Sequel-dom reached its original apex in the dark days of 1989, with seemingly every major tentpole blockbuster of the decade facing the doldrums of another franchise film. Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Indiana Jones, Lethal Weapon. And, of course, Robert Zemeckis had to return to his darling overnight love bug and gilded moneymaker after a sabbatical redefining the possibilities of cinematic animation with Who Framed Roger Rabbit (his best film to this day). The thing about Back to the Future II, the thing that separated it from every other Hollywood blockbuster of the year , is that it was to be followed by Back to the Future III, to be released one summer later and filmed concurrently with its predecessor. Continue reading

Why Hang Ten (on the Waves) When We Can Hang?: Dazed and Confused


This post in honor of Richard Linklater’s impending Oscar win for Boyhood, much deserved for his commitment to cinema over the past twenty years. 

Dazed and Confused is a vigorously imperfect film, by which I mean it dives head first into its imperfections and renders them successes. On many levels, its imperfections are precisely its point. It essentially lacks a narrative, and above all, it has no real three dimensional characters – normally, these two things, especially the latter, are a killer for any ensemble film, but young writer-director Richard Linklater, in what was something of his big league coming out party as a shining star in the early ’90s American independent film explosion, knows his characters too well to miss the point. His film doesn’t bring us into the minds of his teenage characters by commenting on what they do, but by becoming them, expressing who they are as a film in itself. It’s a slacker of a film for slacker characters, and in doing so it reveals more about the mid-’90s slacker film craze than any more formal “commentary” ever could have.
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Universal Waves, Man. Universal Waves: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

splash_780-1741-720x340If one looks back on the halls of early ’90s cinema, a few trends emerge, but none stands more idiosyncratically than the sudden 50-years-late splurge of Universal horror films unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace, most of which are not, in all honesty, worth discussing in any serious capacity today. Mike Nichol’s Wolf is uncommonly interesting as a reflection of its time period and a commentary on gender and power in the modern world, even if it less of a film than it is a discussion piece. Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein is somewhat stodgily uncomfortable and beset by Branagh’s stilted reductionist theatricality.

There is one exception however: Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (a much better title than the ungainly Bram Stoker’s Dracula, despite the undeniable similarities between this film and the source material upon which it is based), now this is a film worth discussing, whatever you think of it. Gaudy and oppressive, garish and lurid, feverishly sexual and unwieldy and broad and blunt and devilish and all manner of other unholy, batty adjectives, it is undeniably the work of its auteur. It is, if nothing else, the most Coppola of Coppola’s films released in the past thirty years, and considering that this man was at one point one of the great filmmakers of the modern era, this is worth discussing. After a decade of artistic sycophancy on his part, and a decade of artistically aimless American genre cinema mostly playing ball with conventional Hollywood style, Dracula is Coppola’s phallus-waiving gambit to cinema-goers: watch my film, enjoy or don’t, I don’t care because I’ve bested you and you will be felled by its gigantism one way or another. All patchwork nonsense and scenes dripping sweat and blood from every unstitched seam unfurling and falling apart by the minute, this film is ironically not his Dracula but his Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s not a work of a filmmaker but a mad scientist, a film so committed to its own vision of life at any cost that it is willing to fall apart in front of you just to make its point. In oppressive lunacy and effervescent, exultant, unmitigated cinema, Coppola’s Dracula sacrifices everything at the alter of pursuing cinematic zest.
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The Waves of the 80s Crashing into the Shore of the 90s, AKA Okay this is Actually the Last Wave Pun: The Crow

1019268-weekend-s-film-festival-remembers-actors-who-died-too-youngJurassic Park
saw classic ’80s blockbuster entertainment give way to the even sheenier, crisper branch of corporate ’90s filmmaking (very similar to ’80s blockbuster filmmaking, but much more interested in pushing the intersection of destruction and technology to its limits). For this reason, we find ourselves at a particularly strange place as we float on by 1993 and into the dark depths of the mid-90s. Cinema was only growing more indulgent, but the strain of American indies that had given light to the darkness of 80’s dramatic cinema was now entering its brightest stage of popularity and ubiquity. With corporate genre tentpoles and the distinctly dirtier world of ’90s indie filmmaking rattling around in a sort of cesspool, the two streams couldn’t but be crossed sooner or later.

It is with this that we arrive at 1994’s The Crow, an unlikely candidate for a ’90s blockbuster, but an important cult film nonetheless and a work which reveals the presence of a particular strain of ’90s filmmaking for all to see: the intersection of indie style/indie awareness of film history with the monetary aspirations of a blockbuster and the general desire to be things like “entertaining and actiony” to teenage males. If anyone needs more evidence as to this film’s peculiar placement in film history: it was released by Miramax films, the independent cinema distribution studio operated by the Weinsteins, right at the cusp of their becoming the film distribution company du jour throughout the back half of the ’90s. Indie cinema was being re-purposed into something corporate, and danger was assimilating into safety.  Continue reading

I Really Need to Cut it Out With These Waves Puns. This Might be the Last: Jurassic Park

For Steven Spielberg, 1993 was his real coming out. Before-hand, he was one of the most important filmmakers in American cinema, one of the few bright spots of the turgid ’80s. But after 1993, he was a god among filmmakers, and a clear genius of intent, if not necessarily execution, for striving to cover all bases in the world of populist directing. He took advantage of the year to stake out a personal trend for himself, releasing one would-be pop cultural touchstone and, perhaps prefacing any concerns that he was too focused on special effects and teenagers and not making “serious” films, a hearty, honest-to-god crippling drama to go with.  In fact, he’s taken up this path time and time again (monstrous success also breeds complacency and getting stuck in a rut of one’s own release strategy and production style). Most recently, 2011 brought us the schmaltzy Oscar-bait of War Horse and the animated The Adventures of TinTin. 2005 saw the criminally underrated expressionist nightmare of a disaster movie War of the Worlds and the politically ambiguous morality tale Munich, and in 1997 came stuffy  historical drama Amistad  and a serious case of sequelitis in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World. Still, expectations beget expectations, and gifts give way to curses; what he accomplished in 1993, at least in terms of pure commercial and critical success, he never equaled again. Continue reading

Sound Waves? I Don’t Know. A Lame Pun About How Bats See with Sound: Batman Returns

In 1989, a little would-be blusterous rabble-rouser who fell deeply in love with classic genre film history made a little independent film about an inconsequential twerp of a hero named Batman. And he just about conquered the world in doing so. Problems aside – namely the fact that it wasn’t much of a Batman film – it was a competent bit of Gothic blockbuster fluff and well-deserving of a sequel by the same filmmaker. And, with the sheer quantity of money the film brought in, Warner Bros. wasn’t about to go and deny the opportunity for another several hundred million dollars their way.

Now. There is an old saying about what happens when you give hungry, passionate directors too much money and they become stagnant and bored with their success. That happened with Tim Burton, just as it always happens with unique voices of his sort in the all-devouring Hollywood machine. But it didn’t happen with Batman Returns. Correction: it absolutely did not happen with Batman Returns, one of the dreariest, gnarliest Hollywood blockbusters ever released, and dare I say one of the most anti-blockbuster.
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The Waves, Man, The Waves: Point Break

Point Break - 1991Edited July 2016:

In a sane world, Point Break would have been released, forgotten, and then rediscovered and mocked for years on end as an early ’90s curio of archly-’80s action film types hyperbolically peacocking in a most philharmonic register, pushed to near-aneurysm limits of male moodiness no ’80s film ever dared to threaten. It should be terrible, simply put. Like, really really terrible. But then we do not live in a sane world. And Point Break is a pretty terrific barnstorming action monstrosity the likes of which the ’80s proper produced only a handful of times.

Even stranger: why it absolutely should have been horrible and why it is undoubtedly successful are inextricably and forever bound together in a Frankensteinian brew of knuckle-dusting, live-wire, allegro kinesis and full-tilt, pulpy bafflement. Director Kathryn Bigelow was infamously labeled a sell-out, a  woman playing in a man’s world and joining the testosterone rat race to achieve success at the cost of her own soul. In reality, she turns the mirror on the rats and lets them bask in their roided-out bodies until they drown in the pungent masculine sweat. This inferno of action is actually a purgatory of caricature, a self-conscious orchestration of action movie types maddened and stirred to the realm of outright nonsensical hysteria. Parody not by distancing itself from the genre’s adolescence but by fulfilling the genre’s wildest, most adolescent fantasies until they puncture themselves with their own self-importance, Point Break is murder by flattery.  Continue reading

Brain Waves: Barton Fink

If the Coens had fiction and the intellectual dents of the anarchic human brain on the mind with Miller’s
Crossing, they doubled-down with Barton Fink. Probably the Coens’ strangest and most esoteric piece, Barton Fink is both a wry exploration of the “troubled artist” trope and a purposefully artificial construct to throw a kvetch Hollywood’s way. It’s a formalist’s dream, but it uses formalism to shoot formalism in the kneecaps and poke the wound a few hundred times. It’s no Sunset Blvd, but it’s one of the few Hollywood parables with the chutzpah to dive into the cynical stew of a Wilder and never come up for breath.

We’ve all heard this sort of story before, because Hollywood loves to self-aggrandize even in the negative. Barton Fink (John Turturro), an NY playwright, goes to LA to break into screenwriting. In the midst of seemingly trying his hardest to do everything but that, he meets Charlie (John Goodman), a neighbor whose local haunt happens to be Barton’s room. Along the way, Charlie teaches Barton a little about Hollywood living (namely that it ain’t). But the fact that we’ve all heard this story before is exactly what the Coens’ are preying on, for if we’ve heard it before, we’ve never heard it from a two-headed soothsayer.

Barton Fink begins with Barton Fink, and what the two authors who’ve created him want to do to abuse him. He’s one of the Coens’ finest characters, a fascinatingly neurotic loner ably played by consistent Coen Brothers collaborator John Turturro (by 1991 knee-deep on his way to becoming a stand-in Coen Brothers version of Alvy Singer, albeit more sniveling). However, there’s a key difference: here, the filmmakers don’t have sympathy for their lead character. They only find pity. He rants and raves about his writer’s block and the difficulties he has selling a story to the immolating, hollow, bogus Hollywood machine, but the film subtly undercuts his character by rendering him almost inconsequential, nothing short of a phony himself, an eternal victim without the backbone of the true New York underdog he claims as an identity. Ultimately, he is as artificial as the Hollywood cronies he has to deal with, or the famous Faulkner-esque writer he, and the Coens, admire, who is here rendered deranged fool. If the Coens are the most literate director-writers working in America today, they aren’t above tearing so-called literate Hollywood sell-outs a new one, and implicating themselves in the process. Continue reading