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Posts Tagged ‘movie mania’

My past, and present.

With one exception, every movie I’ve seen in 2022 originally debuted in 1997.

It’s part of my New Year’s resolution, which was to build a virtual time machine and travel back to my lazy, hazy days behind the counter at Videoville.

I ate a kajillion Reese’s Pieces, was rightly described by my boss more than once as a “gossipy old church lady,” and injected cinema into my veins at a staggering rate between 1994 and 2006.

Even got paid more than a few bucks to do so.

Life hasn’t been the same since, as future jobs in the dish pits and out on farms beat the crud out of my back — something later made worse by lounging on too many butt-eroding bleachers while writing about prep sports.

If one thing has remained constant over the years, it has been my habit of mainlining movies into my cranium.

Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot of good to great films, and a LOT of bad to worse ones.

And yet I endure.

How I watch them has changed over the years, with video stores sidelined, streaming systems taking over the world, and the act of going to the theater having irreversibly changed.

Not just by Covid, though, as ever-present cell phones, in all their annoying glory, ruined the live cinematic experience long before anyone worried about being coughed on in the dark.

Why should I go out of my way to arrange a six-movies-in-a-day marathon at the nearest mall — complete with squares of light popping on and off around me — when I can spend the same day buried under blankies on my recliner?

Especially now that I’ve chosen to spend a chunk of 2022 living in 1997.

So now I’m 38 flicks — 34 features and four short films — down the movie memory hole, and a few things already stick out.

Batman and Robin is not only still the worst superhero film ever made, but it’s somehow gotten worse in the 25 years since I ruined a Friday afternoon watching it in a theater on opening day.

The only good thing to come out of it is that George Clooney has been so willing to ridicule the film (and his own performance) every day since.

Meanwhile, Speed 2, thoroughly lambasted at the time for not being a carbon copy of the awesome first film in the series, is NOT as bad as you think it was.

Sandra Bullock is both adorable and a butt-kickin’ heroine, Willem Dafoe is reliably bonkers playing with his leeches, and the cruise ship crashing through town like Godzilla is still a hoot.

Also, it’s interesting what the passage of time will do.

I loved The Spanish Prisoner the first time around, and loved it this time too, having forgotten all the intricate surprises waiting to be sprung.

With other revisited thrillers like Switchback, Cop Land, Scream 2, and Jackie Brown, the twists were still lodged in my brain, but other than the basic outline of David Mamet’s con man caper, the rest had filtered away.

Then there’s Hercules, which I saw 17,808 times in the first few years after it hit home video, thanks to my oldest nephew — who was very young at the time.

Eventually, he moved on to new things, and there was a big enough time gap before nephews #2 and #3 arrived, that they never got hooked on the film.

Coming back after all these years, I found Hercules — with its hero channeling the nerdy charm (and vocal stylings) of Christopher Reeve in Superman — to be one of the best of the new-era Disney animated films.

Not to the level of Aladdin, certainly, but personally I prefer it to The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast.

Yes, yes, I’m a blasphemer.

Meanwhile, I Married A Strange Person, with its super-horny animated birds, is still a hoot — if you’re not watching it with other people. Then it gets awkward fast…

Snow White: A Tale of Terror with Sigourney Weaver is an underrated story perfect for those of us who wanted to see Prince Charming get thrown out an upstairs window, while Princess Mononoke remains a pristine gem.

And Jurnee Smollett, at 11 years old, knocked it out of the park in Eve’s Bayou, which, like other hidden gems such as Traveller, never had a chance come Oscar time. Which is a pity.

What’s still ahead to revisit? A lot.

All-timers like L.A. Confidential, The Sweet Hereafter, and Boogie Nights, plus more middling fare such as Anaconda, Good Burger, and Leprechaun 4: In Space.

The good. The godawful.

The ones I remember. The ones I don’t.

Even a few which, horror of horrors, I somehow never saw the first time around.

I’m stuck in 1997, and I’m not coming back anytime soon.

 

To follow my journey, pop over to:

https://letterboxd.com/davidsvien/list/we-have-to-go-back-rewatching-1997-in-2022/

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We have to go back … to the “good ol’ days.”

Everyone needs a good, irrational New Year’s resolution.

You know, the sort where other people hear it, then they nod and slowly start backing away, looking for a convenient exit. That kind!

So, instead of going with the pack and picking something normal like losing weight, or committing to never, ever comment on anyone’s inflammatory Facebook posts, I’m doing my own thing.

Which is to pretend like it’s 1997 again, and I’m back snug as a bug in the first part of my 15-year video store “career.”

I started at Videoville in ’94, and by ’97, things were humming.

My first nephew popped into the world, and we were well on our way to a (brief) time when a store in a cow town, in the middle of a rock in the water, would be renting 500 VHS tapes almost every Friday and Saturday.

I kid you not.

Movie studios loved video stores in ’97, and the free stuff, from advance screener copies of movies to autographed star photos, t-shirts, leather bomber jackets, and a whole lot of candy, cascaded down.

And to make things even better, it was a glorious year for movies. Or, at least that’s how I remember it 25 years later.

I mean … L.A. Confidential. Boogie Nights. The Fifth Element. Ulee’s Gold. Con Air. Grosse Point Blank. Men in Black. Austin Powers.

Even some film about Kate Winslet letting Leonardo Di Caprio freeze to death cause she wouldn’t share her rather ample hunk of floating wood after that iceberg punched out the world’s snazziest boat.

That one made a few bucks, I think.

But 25 years is a fairly long time. Toss in the additional 34,602 films (estimated…) I’ve seen since then, and who knows whether I can accept my Swiss cheese memories as fact.

So, I’m going back. Sort of.

My plan for 2022 — my resolution, as it were — is to watch as many films from 1997 as possible, to see what has held up, and what should have been chucked on the recycle pile.

Back then, we lived in a streamlined VHS fantasyscape, where a solid video store would have pretty much everything you were looking to find.

In this blighted streaming world, where “everything,” which often means nothing, is a click of a remote control away, it’ll be interesting to see how much of ’97 is readily available.

But what the heck, it gives me a mission.

I mean, how else will I know if the moment in Anaconda where the snake swallows an EEEEEVILLLLLL Jon Voight whole, barfs him out, then re-swallows him, is still a banger?!?

Sort of doing God’s work over here, is what I’m saying.

Want to follow along throughout the year? Pop over to:

https://letterboxd.com/davidsvien/list/we-have-to-go-back-rewatching-1997-in-2022/

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Nicolas Cage, restrained.

Nicolas Cage, bonkers.

We live in weird times, so why not embrace 2021 as the Year of Nicolas Cage?

The Oscar winner, who once anchored big-budget action epics like Con Air and The Rock, has remained the hardest-working man in show biz, while not always getting a whole lot of respect for it.

Cage has churned out a LOT of movies in recent times — 17 in the last three years, to be exact — but he’s not just stumbling forward, grabbing a paycheck and mentally checking out like other former big screen icons like Bruce Willis.

Some of the movies have been great — Mandy, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Color Out of Space — and some, well, let’s hope they at least had good craft service.

But Cage, unlike a lot of other A-listers who have landed in the hazy world of what used to be called straight-to-video movies, fully commits.

He brings it each time out, often going to vintage levels of weirdness, and his name on the poster is a guarantee he’s going to be in there swinging for the fences, always.

Cage may never regain his ’90s headliner status, but he’s still The Man, something on full display in two of my favorite new films from the year about to end.

Pig and Willy’s Wonderland, both available to watch on Hulu, couldn’t be more different, and yet they both scratch my movie junkie itch.

In the former, Cage is ultra-restrained, a man plumbing the horrors of lost memories as he tries to reenter society while in pursuit of his kidnapped pig, who had a nose for finding tasty, and expensive, truffles.

The duo lived a quiet life off the grid, with the human half of the pair still able to cook a mean risotto, but also so scarred by his past he can’t bear to play a cassette tape recorded by his now absent wife.

A former chef of great renown, Cage’s deeply-hurting hermit is spurred to action when a pair of tweakers burst into his cabin and make off with his only companion.

But, if you’re expecting a John Wick-style revenge movie, this ain’t the one.

Instead, it’s a melancholy journey, with some bizarre side touches and a profoundly sad finale, as Cage burrows deep into his character.

Slouched at a table in an ultra-ritzy restaurant, blood staining his face and grungy clothes, he completely breaks the owner/chef — a man he fired for constantly overcooking pasta back in the day — by asking him, “Is this really what you wanted?”

It’s not, and the ensuing conversation, quiet and emotionally-shattering, is as powerful as anything on screen in 2021.

If, and it’s a big if, Oscar voters actually see Pig, Cage should reclaim his front-row seat at the awards shindig.

And then, just because he can, the man who memorably wailed “Not the bees!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” delivered another winner with the low-rent horror comedy Willy’s Wonderland.

In which he plays a drifter stuck in a small town, forced to clean up a broken-down Chuck E. Cheese style restaurant … in which the animatronic robots are possessed killing machines looking for their annual sacrifice.

And did I mention Cage never says a single word in the entire film, despite being the lead?

Oh, it’s true. It’s all true.

Slamming back energy drinks at a dizzy rate, demonstrating primo white boy kung fu moves while wielding a mop like a katana, he’s a silent killing machine.

Now, you probably could have made this film with any actor, since there’s no dialogue, and yet, without Cage, I swear it wouldn’t have worked.

It’s grungy, gross, darkly funny, always-entertaining, and gets off the stage in less than 90 minutes, just like a quality B-movie should.

In a year where the pandemic continued to throw release schedules haywire, our TV’s largely replaced movie screens.

Heck, even Hollywood heavyweight Warner Brothers put its entire theatrical output — from Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie to Dune and Matrix: Resurrections — directly onto HBO Max.

Pig and Willy’s Wonderland, so different in style and content, yet anchored by the funkiest star still blazing across the cosmos, fit perfectly into that re-sized world.

From beneath my blankies, while nestled into my recliner, thank you, Mr. Cage.

 

Some other good 2021 films (and where to find them):

 

Disney+:

Cruella
Far From the Tree (short film)
Jungle Cruise
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

 

HBO Max:

The Little Things
No Sudden Move
Reminiscence
Suicide Squad
The Super Bob Einstein Movie

 

Hulu:

Boss Level
Censor
Shadow in the Cloud
Summer of Soul

 

Netflix:

Fear Street: Part One – 1994
The Guilty
I Care a Lot
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Power of the Dog

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Oscars 2021 — what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Welcome to the only holiday which truly matters.

I speak, of course, about Oscar night.

And morning, and afternoon, and …. yes, we’re taking the whole day here.

It has been ever so for me, at least back to the Oscars held March 25, 1991, the first I remember celebrating here on Whidbey.

We lived out off of Frostad Road back then, and I walked my happy butt several miles to the nearest convenience store so I could purchase four or five newspapers and do my pre-broadcast Academy Awards research in those days before everyone had the world at their fingertips via computers and cell phones.

Then I argued all night with the uncaring TV, approving of some wins, while bitterly disagreeing with others.

Nick Park, a Claymation genius and the father of Wallace and Gromit, had two of the three nominees in Best Animated Short Film, with Creature Comforts grabbing the little gold man

Good show, old man.

But, while I enjoyed Ghost, Whoopi Goldberg winning Best Supporting Actress over Annette Bening in The Grifters?

Utter blasphemy!

The passage of time has also shown Goodfellas was brutally robbed, beaten 7-1 by Dances With Wolves, continuing a trail of tears for Martin Scorsese.

And sure, the master would finally win Best Picture and Director 15 years later for The Departed, but swinging and missing for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas?

Oof, Oscars, oof.

In 1991, I had seen my share of nominated films prior to the show, thanks to Oak Harbor’s movie theater and my trusty, overly-abused VCR.

But it was a time when any hopes of seeing the foreign films, documentaries, or shorts in advance was fairly firmly stuck on not-gonna-happen-if-you-live-on-a-rock-in-the-middle-of-the-water.

Things took a swing for the positive when I landed my golden ticket and started a 12-year run at Videoville in 1994, however.

Living behind a video store counter, with the ability to whine, plead, and make deals with movie studio reps at far-flung outposts increased my chances of nabbing nominated films pre-Oscars.

Add in Videoville’s annual Oscar contest, an event in which customers Val Flack-Jones and Julie Landau showed an uncanny knack for picking winners while I tried not to embarrass myself, and things were humming.

Jump forward to April 25, 2021 — the latest in a year any Oscars telecast has gone down — and the world is a vastly different place.

Cushy video store life is long gone, all the pre-show news stories are available online, without the walk to the quickie mart, and the pandemic has severly altered the movie landscape.

Largely unable to show their films in theaters this go-round, the movie studios sold their wares through streaming services and stashed them on obscure web sites, and David was all over that.

As I write this, mere hours before the Oscar pre-show kicks off at 3:30 PM, I have seen 52 of 56 nominees — my best pre-awards showing yet.

That includes every foreign film (though the category is now known as Best International Feature), every doc, and every single freakin’ short.

Booya.

The four which have evaded me? Minari, The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Roberto Benigni’s live-action Pinocchio.

The absence of the first three, all Best Picture nominees, galls me, but none of them have landed on a streaming service, or come down in price as a video on demand purchase.

I ain’t paying $19.99 for a film. I choose thrift over completeness.

Pinocchio, nominated for Makeup and Costume Design, is available to rent at $5.99, but the 275th (at least) version of the tale is not rousing my interest.

Though, I almost said the same for the newest version of Emma, which is up for the same two awards, and boy am I glad I tracked it down.

It might be the 544th version of that story to be put on film, but it’s impeccable and drop-dead gorgeous, done with wit and style, and featuring a sublime lead performance from Anya Taylor-Joy.

Frankly, it should be up for Best Picture and a whole lot more.

Quick, do a Best Supporting Actor write-in campaign for Bill Nighy, who conducts a master class in delivering deep sighs and subtly arched eyebrows.

Emma, like Wolfwalkers, The Man Who Sold His Skin, A Love Song for Latasha, or The Letter Room, are all nominees which will endure long after they find out the whims of Oscar voters.

And what about Love and Monsters, up for Best Visual Effects?

I went in expecting just another reheated slice of YA adventure, and was blown away by how much the filmmakers achieved.

The tale of a young man (and his good boy dog) outrunning assorted giant squishy bugs in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s funny, unexpectedly touching, often surprising, and deserved to be a blockbuster.

If Love and Monsters upsets Christopher Nolan’s visually-dazzling (and often brain-numbing) Tenet and wins an Oscar, Penn Cove will be treated to me screaming like a ninny.

It’s just how I’ve rolled these past 30 years, whether screaming in joy for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby (someone likes Clint Eastwood around here…) or jeering as Titanic shanked the far-superior L.A. Confidential.

I was, and still am, a Babe super fan (it wuz robbed!), and want to see Glenn Close get her Oscar. Just not for Hillbilly Elegy.

It’s easy to slag on Hollywood’s annual over-heated tribute to itself, and claim you never watch it. Good for you, skippy.

Me? I’m all in.

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You should be watching movies like Wrestle, and you can if you take advantage of Kanopy, a free film streaming site offered by your local library.

In an ocean full of movie streaming options, Kanopy is that odd lil’ island tucked off in a far corner of the map.

Most travelers settle for the relatively swanky, easy-to-reach sites like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, or Amazon.

But, for the price of a library card (so … free), Kanopy offers a heady mix of high class and (sometimes very) grimy low class.

The site’s front page marinates in documentaries, foreign films, and art house gems.

Go down the wrong alleyway, however, and you can have a grand old time with scuzzy ’80s slashers like Blood Rage, modern-day gagfests such as The Greasy Strangler, or, and I’m serious here … Cannibal Holocaust.

Yes, your library system offers the official place to stream one of the nastiest horror films to ever be banned in multiple countries, in all its uncut “glory.”

Kanopy … where Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon shares space with I Drink Your Blood, and where you can create your own wildly mismatched double features, like Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and Ralph Bakshi’s Coonskin.

All for free.

Your move, Netflix, and you already lost.

As you wander through Kanopy, a lot of big-name classics will catch your eye, but you also want to look out for small gems such as Wrestle.

A 2019 documentary about four grapplers, and their hard knocks coach, it’s set at a failing Alabama high school, and it offers something for everyone.

You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to sink deep into their stories, which offer some hard-earned hope, along with the frequent cold slap of reality.

As in the best sports doc ever crafted, Hoop Dreams, not everyone in Wrestle emerges a winner.

This is real life playing out in front of the cameras, and the student/athletes at J.O. Johnson High School in Huntsville face a myriad of obstacles.

There’s life on the mat, repping a school which gets little respect from the wrestling powerhouses in the region, and is on the list of failing schools in the state.

Then, there’s life at home, which offers its own challenges.

Directors Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer offer an unflinching look at their subjects, not shying away from drug use, teen pregnancy, racial strife, and mental health troubles.

There are no easy answers to some of these problems, and the filmmakers, to their credit, realize this and allow life to play out in all its messy contradictions.

The relatively new team at J.O. Johnson is primarily made up of Black students, while coach Chris Scribner and Teague, one of four featured wrestlers, are white.

Scribner, a teacher who has been clean and sober for 10 years, carved out his own path of destruction in younger days, and has to face the reality he got second (and third and fourth) chances many of his current athletes won’t be given.

He seems to deeply care about his wrestlers, and wants to be a father/big brother figure to them in his own rough-and-tumble way.

At times, Scribner succeeds.

At other times, even those with the best of intentions can misread things or try to force something that’s not meant to be.

Of the four wrestlers we see the most, Jailen and Jaquan both endure run-ins with the police, made more tense by the difference in power held by white cops and young Black men. Even with cameras present.

Jamario, who is about to become a father, struggles with mental health as his relationship crumbles, while Teague, who endured abuse from a now-absent father, begins to spend more time chasing drugs rather than pins.

As the wrestlers and their coach pursue state tourney dreams, and try to find balance in their real lives, they do so in a world where it’s the moms who try and hold things together.

In a film full of moments which punch you in the heart, one in particular stands out, as Jaquan’s mom, with not an ounce of self pity, lays out, in quiet, concrete terms, how her son’s arrest for marijuana possession will upend all of their lives.

Against this backdrop, the positive moments, and there are some big ones near the end, resonate even more.

Things do not end well for all involved, and the fate of the school itself offers a particularly hard dose of reality.

But there are second chances, on the mat, and, more importantly, off of it.

You exit Wrestle, one of the best sports docs I’ve seen during a looooooong career of watching movies, believing in the power of hope and hard work.

It’s a movie to see, on a streaming site to get familiar with.

 

To take a gander at a whole new world, pop over to:

https://snoisle.kanopy.com/

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