There are precious few directors that know how to wield a single scene quite like Michael Mann. His single greatest moment behind the camera belongs in Heat, a mid-film bank heist that overflows into a stuttery shootout that mashes together the rhythms of an urban jungle, the pageantry of an urban carnival, and a geometric fascination for odd, cutting edits and fascinatingly counter-intuitive visual storytelling. The shootout is one of the most perfect action scenes ever filmed, one of the most perfect scenes of 1990s cinema, and a startling showcase for a director who defines life as a collection of people (usually men) wallowing in their own danger until those men overflow onto each other and bubble till they erupt.
Because when I finished this series on 1995 I totally forgot to review two of the biggest films from that year, and I wanted to fill the gap…
The criminally conservative Braveheart is a tough sell in 2015, although it plainly isn’t so tough for director-star Mel Gibson. For all the damage he has done to both his own reputation and, more importantly, human progress in the ensuing decades, he is a passionate filmmaker, and in all three of his directed features, his love for cinema shows through. Questionable, problematic love that tends to hurt his films as much as it helps them, but a bastardized form of love nonetheless. In Braveheart, you find love in the luminous, misty myth cinematography by John Toll – which captures Scotland as it exists in myth more than reality and does the lion’s share of the work to overcome the film’s relentless problems with historical accuracy. You find love in Gibson’s grossly fetishistic, awestruck joy to observe men in the primal ballet of hacking limbs away from one another. You find love in his bald, open-hearted treatment of the Wars of Scottish Independence through the lens of a grandstanding 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama, where any and all emotions are excuses to lose oneself to inhibition. Mel Gibson is many things, but he is not a cautious man, nor a cautious director. A Mel Gibson film goes big, or it goes home. Continue reading
Ahem…A scientist (Dylan Walsh) with a monkey he has taught to speak via a machine needs to return his money back to Africa and teams u inadvertently with a corporate electronics executive (Laura Linney) who also has to go to Africa in hopes of finding her ex-fiance who may have been killed there by a pack of genetically mutated or hyper-learned gorillas. And Tim Curry wants to go to Africa to from some vaguely mysterious reason, and he helps you fund your trip.
Now this, my friends, is a genuine Grade-A Bad Movie plot, and the makers of Congo do their damnedest to earn every second of it. It’s terrible, sure, but in a deliriously magnetically idiotic sort of way, down from the inklings of whispy, broad thought introducing the film to a producer’s mind (something like: Michael Crichton wrote this, lets get to work!) up to the trickles of specific camera gestures and the unbridled moronic drunken stupor of the special effects tickling their way toward the film’s fingertips. Trapped in 1995, everything about the film straddles the line between the unrepentant ’90s cynicism that would form the backbone of late ’90s and 2000s blockbusters and the loopier variety of early ’90s blockbusters toeing the matinee thrills of the atomic ’50s and the heftier brawn of ’80s blockbusters themselves owing almost everything to the teenage mumbo jumbo of the hokum sci-fi of the 1950s. It dares us to see what fever-induced nonsense will pop into its mind next. Continue reading
For the ’90s were also a great decade of personality-heavy American independent directors finding themselves awash in a Hollywood positively chomping at the bit to ingest them and feed their every whim. Sometimes, and only sometimes, the results are inarguable…
Desperado really ought fall apart within minutes, but in merrily saunters our old friend “cinematic passion” saving the day with its hands tied behind its back like it’s no ones business. Desperado is at least a fourth too long and a touch too episodically giddy for its own good, but it has in spades what other films simply dream of: an incorrigible, infectious love for itself. As ungainly as the script my be on the surface, Desperado never plays out as anything other than what it is: second time director Robert Rodriguez, a haphazard mess of a director if ever there was one, thoroughly in love with the fact that he had just been given a boatload of Hollywood money to update his debut release El Mariachi with all the toys the big leagues can afford. That is what the facts of Desperado’s release tell us, and that is exactly what unfolds, often wonderfully, on screen.
But 1995 was not merely a year for corporate excess and nihilism crawling out from the woodworks; it was also a year of magic and wonder, and a childlike work of supreme, effervescent joy the likes of which cinema had long forgotten…
Most reviews of Babe focus almost exclusively on some aspect of cinema related to maturity, championing Chris Noonan and George Miller’s 1995 childhood fable for its maturity relative to other movies “for children”. They posit, essentially, that it works for “adults” as well. A fine point, but it also misses quite a bit more than it hits. For Babe is a lovely film for adults, yes, but that could not be the case if it were not so wholly committed to being a children’s film to begin with. What is more germane, I think, is that is a rare breed of children’s film, a work which takes children as its subject rather than its object, and sees the world from the perspective of a child without seeking to reveal some layer of ironic detachment or self-serious maturity to comment on and critique this child’s mind. It is, instead, wholly dedicated to the emotional dream-logic of children, and for precisely this reason, it exists at a right angle to just about everything you can find in the film world this side of 1939. Continue reading
Yet 1995 was not simply a year of corporate indulgence; it was also a period where the rampant nihilist streak inherent to much of the cinema of the late ’90s and the 2000s and still running wild today came to fruition in the eyes of one music video director…
You don’t get too far these days without a David Fincher film tying up the woodworks of fall with a Gothic gloom a mile wide that it hides nothing but (briefly) its own self-boredom. Fincher’s aesthetic is so wound-up and ready for battle that it’s hard to remember a time when his way was a new arbiter for the sort of caustic, nihilist, curdled noir not seen since the Atomic Age. Once upon a time, he was one of many young upstarts responsible form the gloomy, grim ’90s – back when gloomy and grim were actually artistic statements rather than cynical cash-grabs. Moving from the music video world to the gaping hole that was the solemn sigh of Alien 3 without much distinction, Seven was a whole other beast, capturing the baroque loss of his previous film and using it rather than abusing it. And what use! Seven is among the finest American films of its decade, bruised and hurting but always nervous and fighting back, thriving on a tension between lively pugnaciousness and mournful wistfulness that never ceases to sting.
With America, always thinking twenty years back, in full-on transition from early ’90s nostalgia to late ’90s nostalgia, I’ve decided to take a quick look back at the state of the cinema world in the middle year of that decade, 1995, fittingly a time when films were really just a curious mix of the past and the future, stuck with one foot chaining them to the rotting corpse of the ’80s and another leg stumbling over itself to reach the 2000s while that decade was still a glimmer in the eye.
A Bond film released in 1995, a shocking and unprecedented six years after the previous film in the franchise, had to be something. It had to be an event, spread by rampant corporate ’90s chic advertising and the pungent aroma of word of mouth. It had to be a success, even if future films in the franchise weren’t. The filmmakers had to prove themselves once. 1997, 1999, and 2002 brought future Pierce Brosnan Bond films before things were rebooted yet again, and they were all dismal affairs, among the worst in the series. But, as it turns out, once was enough. Martin Campbell’s Goldeneye is a gas of an action thriller, spoken with brash candor and a superfluity of styyyyyle to spare. It’s not great cinema, but it understands Bond more than any film released since the Connery era. And it knows that to understand Bond, it has to move forward with Bond, to take him in new directions, to adapt him without losing his essential essence. Continue reading