Tag Archives: the 90s

Searching

Searching Pie

1999. It was the summer that I graduated high school, started preparing for CEGEP, and took my first trip across the country without the parental units. If ever there was a summer that felt like I had my whole life ahead of me, that was the one and- even though it was that same summer that I saw The Goddamn Matrix for the first time, the movie that really brings me back to that feeling- the movie that I saw four times- was American Pie.

Looking back on that scene where three teens repeatedly scream “MILF” at a picture of Stiffler’s Mom, I’d call it misogynist. But 19 years ago, that didn’t stop my friends and I from laughing our asses off. And to this day (and I’m sure this would make him so happy) I can’t look at John Cho without thinking of “MILF’ Guy #2. (Wait, who was “MILF” Guy #1 then?).

It’s almost depressing to think about how long ago that was. Times have changed and a lot of those changes are good. Jason Biggs doesn’t have to watch scrambled porn anymore and Cho can find work without having to lick a framed photo of Jennifer Coolidge. And I’m proud that my sense of humour has gotten a little more sophisticated and hopefully a lot less sexist. Still, I don’t know many people who love thinking about how many years have passed since high school while they weren’t looking and in his new movie John Cho is back to remind me of just how old I’ve gotten by playing the father of a 16 year-old girl.

Searching 1

That Cho is now old and mature enough to carry a tense thriller about a father’s desperate search for his missing teenage daughter isn’t even the most obvious way that Searching reminds us of what a strange and different world we’re now living in. First-time director Aneesh Chaganty shot the entire movie from the point of view of a mock computer screen. So as Cho’s David Kim talks to his daughter’s friends and searches for clues on her laptop, the whole story is told through Google searches, text history, Facebook posts, Skype, and YouTube videos.

Searching 2

My first response to Chaganty’s experimental approach during the first few minutes of Searching was “Alright. I’m impressed so far and am on board for now but can easily see how this can get old pretty quickly”. It’s a testament to Chaganty’s storytelling that the novelty never wears off and is rarely distracting. It’s not a perfect film. I’m not sure all of the laughs it got at my Fantasia screening were entirely intentional and as a thriller one or two of the twists may be a little too far-fetched.

Not all of the changes since 1999 are great and Searching is at its best as an exploration of what a double-edged sword the internet can be. It shows how it can make it easier both to reach out and to retreat into our. How easy it is both to reveal and conceal our true selves. And, most importantly, how useful a tool the internet is for concerned parents and stalkers alike.

Despite its flaws, Searching is a much more gripping and emotionally satisfying experience than you’re probably imagining and Cho nails what I can only imagine must have been a challenging role. I highly recommend it.

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Alien Invasions of Earth!

TMP

One of the most iconic Hollywood images of the ’90s was, well…

independence day

I was 15 at the time and loved every minute of Independence Day. It was, if not the first, the most impressive alien invasion of earth that I’d ever seen. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the aliens lose. There are smarter aliens out there (and smarter writers than Dean Devlin) who know that if you attack us from the sky with lasers, it’s just going to piss us off. Hiding in plain sight and attacking us from within? That’s just crazy enough to work and it’s a theme in all three of my picks this week.

invasion of the body snatchers

Invasion of the body Snatchers (1956)– Some of the scariest movie aliens I’ve ever seen are plants from space that take control of a human hosts body. The catch is that, once they’ve got a hold of you, you need to fall asleep for the snatching to take effect. When I first saw this when I was in high school, I couldn’t imagine anything more scary or more relatable than having to fight off sleep to stay alive. This has always been one of my favourite sci-fi movies and, rewatching it this week, I couldn’t believe that I had visited one of the filming locations when I was in LA last month without even knowing it!

the faculty

The Faculty (1998)– The modern-day king of B-movies Robert Rodriguez teams up with Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson in this nearly perfect union between witty and silly. A Breakfast Clubish mix of students from different walks of student life must fight for their lives and their community when they start to realize that their teachers are being controlled by body snatching aliens. Usher is the star quarterback. Jon Stewart is a nerdy science teacher. Salma Hayek is the nurse. This is the perfect movie to treat yourself to after sitting through…

under the skin

Under the Skin (2014)– The alien doesn’t exactly hide in plain sight here. After all, there’s nothing plain about Scarlett Johansson. She cleverly uses her appeal though to lure men into her clutches though, with graphically aroused men continuing to walk towards her even as they are already starting to sink into her black pool of doom. Under the Skin is creepy as hell (check out Jay’s excellent review of the score) and not much fun. Alien invasion here is more a metaphor for… what exactly? I’m only about halfway there in figuring that out.

 

Movies: A Personal History

Ben over at Views From the Sofa recently reviewed the first film in the Mission: Impossible franchise. For those of us in denial, that one came out back in 1996. 1996! This franchise is nearly 20 years old, and that makes me feel ancient. Remember how that recognizable Mission: Impossible music actually played on the radio for a while? That was bizarre. His post reminded me that I’d watched it at the home of one of my friends, who by the second film, in 2000, had become my boyfriend, and by the third film in 2006, was my husband, and by the fourth in 2011 was my ex-husband.

A lot of movies, the good and the bad, are loaded for us with what was going on in our lives at the time. Some movies we remember more fondly, some are guilty by association. Here’s a little look at some of mine, and if you wanted to jump in with some of yours, I’d be tickled pink. Particularly if you had nice memories that could usurp some of my ex-husband ones.

Night at the Roxbury: Matt and I had a laugh recently about this one when our coworker suddenly asked us, seemingly out of the blue, whether we’d heard of this one. Like it was a new movie we might not have seen yet. No indication that it’s a throwback from 1998. She’d come across it on Youtube, because she’d been listening to that head-nodding song from the soundtrack. Now, Matt and I happen to be the exact same age, which means we idolized SNL at the same time, and saw many of the same movies as a result. I remember seeing this one with a big group of my pothead friends at an ancient movie theatre called The Port in my hometown, a one-screener with a red velvet curtain and a balcony that was mostly condemned due to a drooping\flaking ceiling. The ticket taker complimented me on my feather boa (I know, all shots to the head right now would be totally deserved) and remarked that in 42 years of taking tickets, I had to be the first to prance in wearing one. And I probably had been prancing. Anyway, we laughed uproariously, as a bunch of kids who’d recently learned about putting shrooms in McFlurrys will do. Two or three years later, I was respectably employed by our federal government, which was hosting a “ball” to thank its dedicated employees. My friend Caroline and I watched as our respective boyfriends did the head-nodding thing to this song and agreed that this was bliss. We have both since ditched these boyfriends, thank fucking Christ.

(Also, I believe I owned that exact jacket that Will Ferrell is wearing. I may or may not have worn it with a feather boa.)

Mission to Mars: I cannot say that I saw this is theatres, but I did buy a ticket for it in 2000 and was sitting in a theatre while it played. It is the first and only movie I’ve fallen asleep at. I felt awful. I think I remember some weird stuff happening, but that could have been my fever dreams. I went home and puked up a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich, the first and only time I’ve eaten Wendy’s. It turns out I had Mono. I was very, very sick, and I have held a grudge against this film, and against Wendy’s, ever since.

Shrek the Third: I was on a date and attempting to see this movie when fire broke out in the Scarborough cinema. I believe it was a grease fire at the concession stand Burger King. We were evacuated and made to stand about the parking lot for what felt like eternity before being given vouchers so we could see the movie again, elsewhere. Not only did I not see that movie ever again, I didn’t see the guy again either (he evacuated in an every man for himself kind of way, without so much as a glance over his shoulder to see if I had succumbed to the flames). I did however see Spiderman 3 with another guy that very night in Toronto, and guess what? That one wasn’t any good either. I have never revisited either movie.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: My best friend and I had meant to treat her young daughter to this movie but custody issues arose at the last minute, so Rachel and I saw this one by ourselves, wearing dorky 3D glasses. I think the movie was okay but what I remember most is seeing a preview trailer for Up. We thought it looked amazing and made plans to see it as soon as it hit theatres. Rachel passed away before that could happen, so its release really felt like a lesson in life goes on. Some plans never come to pass. It was difficult to watch and still is, but it’s actually about going on after the death of a loved one, and continuing to embrace life and its many adventures. I have, but I still hold that movie close to my heart, and it serves as a bit of a talisman.

ellie

 

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

You may have heard that one of your favourite Assholes is about to celebrate his 20th high school reunion – I recently lamented the fact that he expected me to accompany him in my Grosse Pointe Blank review\rant.

Romy & Michele is the second high school reunion movie to come out of apparently nostalgia-crazy 1997, and I’m starting to see an alarming trend here. These reunionites are dressed like romyit’s the second coming of the prom. I’m picturing Sean’s classmates as more the cutoffs kind, maybe denim accessories, vests without shirts.

Also super duper alarming: how EVERYONE goes back to track down their lost loves. Can you really be lusting after your high school crush a decade later?

This movie is so incredibly dumb, but it does prey on my worst fears about high school reunions.

“What’s the point of going if not to impress people?” they ask. Cue a goddamned helicopter. I mean, who, Sean, out of your graduating class, will arrive and\or depart by helicopter?

“All I ever wanted was for people to think we are better than we were in high school” they say. Um, right. Is this whole thing going to be one big circle jerk where they all compliment each other’s middling jobs and average offspring, or are they all just measuring each other’s metaphorical penises to see who wins most successful?

Speaking of which. Romy & Michele manages to get right down to the obvious with an award: Most Changed for the Better Since High School. Everyone is there to compete. Everyone hopes it’s them. But only one can win!

Does this sound super fun or what?

Grosse Pointe Blank

I dug this old DVD out from our shelves recently because one of the Assholes (coughSeancough) is just old enough to be attending his own high school reunion. It’s impractical to tease him about it 24 hours a day, so I took a 107 minute break to watch this movie.

John Cusack is attending his own high school reunion in this movie – his 10th – and going back to grossepointeGrosse Point, Michigan means confronting the feisty prom date he stood up a decade ago (Minnie Driver) and his tenacious feelings for her. Oh, and did I mention he’s a hitman? You’d think ‘professional assassin’ would be a card you kept close to your chest, but actually Martin Blank plays it frequently, confessing to anyone who will listen, only no one ever believes him. I mean, would you, Sean, take the kid who repeatedly forgot his geography homework seriously if he told you he killed people for money? Or would it take finding a bloody corpse with a Bic pen sticking out of his neck crumpled by your old locker to think “Gee, this guy might be a psychopath”?

Going back to your old haunt after so many years away is never easy, and to be honest, I believe that high school reunions are for two types of people: 1) the geeks and nerds who have grown up to be either hot or rich or preferably both 2) the popular kids who ruled and peaked in high school and now, having gone down hill, want to relive their glory days. Not my cup of tea.

And for spouses, it’s even more awkward. This is not your school. These people are not and never were your friends. I liken it to being in a grocery store full of strangers, only for some reason you’re required to shake everyone’s hand and stand around making chit-chat with them as if you care. And you don’t care. You don’t want to see pictures of their stupid kids. You’re there for one of two reasons: either 1) you’re a trophy wife to show off or 2) you’re a crutch for when your spouse’s old high school insecurities start to flare. And now you’re obliged to stand around in uncomfortable shoes for hours while people you don’t know reminisce about things you weren’t there for. And it’s pointless to get invested – these people haven’t spoken to each other for 20 years and will go back to ignoring one another until their 40th. No one really cares, they just want to see and be seen. They hope that their social standing will have improved. They hope their successes will compare favourably to their peers’. But they don’t really care. If they really cared, they wouldn’t have lost touch. I mean, hello, it’s the age of Facebook. Aren’t high school reunions kind of obsolete now? What’s stopped you from Facebook-stalking any of these losers? They’re just somebodies that you used to know.

Okay, you can see that I’m hard on this whole high school reunion thing. I don’t get it. Have you been to yours? Would you? Was it terrible? I’m watching movies to prep myself, because that’s what I do. Next up: Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. That should be educational, right?

Frightfest 2015: Scream

scream 3With its three progressively implausible sequels and the always idiotic Scary movie franchise which it inspired, I find it easy to forget that Ghostface’s journey began with a modest and self-contained horror comedy back in 1996. It was the only movie in the Scream franchise to manage to be genuinely scary while it sumultaneously pays homage to and pokes fun at the conventions of the slasher genre.

scream

Casey (Drew Barrymore) is home alone making some popcorn and getting ready to watch some scary movie when she gets a phone call from a mysterious stranger. The phone call begins as a wrong number but soon becomes a flirtatious discussion of horror movies. Before long, though, the conversation turns to threats (“What do you want?” Casey screams. “To see what your insides look like,” he replies) and Casey may need to rely on her knowledge of horror movies to survive the night.

If you need me to tell you what Scream is about, to tell you any more would spoil the fun. Yes, people die in this movie and when they die they bleed. A lot. But there’s so much fun to be had here. Watch it for the kids of Woodsboro High, who are having way too much fun knowing that there’s a killer on the loose. Or for the bumbling Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) who is always being publicly undermined by his kidsister (Rose McGowan) while he’s on the case.

And, if you find yourself double-checking your locks at night after watching it, just be thankful for all the Rules for Suriviving a Horror Movie That You’ve Just Learnt.

Frightfest 2015: The Blair Witch Project

In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary.

A year later their footage was found.

blair witch 2

So begins one of the most puzzling horror hits of the 90s. So effective was its marketing campaign that it had many convinced that they were watching a documentary even after the closing credits. Actress Heather Donahue later revealed that her mother received condolensce cards from frends who honestly believed that her daughter was genuinely missing and presumed dead. The Blair Witch craze was so strange and so devisive that it managed to earn an Independent Spirit Award for Best Feature Film and a Razzie nomination for Worst Feature Film.

With over 15 years of hindsight, it’s all too easy to take The Blair Witch for granted. Within months of its release, the impact of some scenes had been diluted by way too many Blair Witch spoofs. The film’s unexpected success went on to inspire so many imitators that Sean recently called for an end to the “found footage genre”. To be 17 though, as I was, when the movie first hit theaters was a truly terrifying experience that took me days to recover from. Watching it today, its barely lost even a bit of its initial impact.

blair witch

For those who haven’t seen it, The Blair Witch Project follows three student filmmakers who spend a weekend in the woods to make a documentary about the legendary Blair Witch, who supposedly haunts the area. The poor kids soon find themselves hopelessly lost in the woods and stalked and psychologically tormented by unseen forces (presumably the Witch). Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez rely entirely on the hand-held “documentary” footage to capture the horror.

In fact, Myrick and Sánchez really did rely on their trio of actors to be their camera operators. Spending eight days in the woods alone, the actors improvised almost all of their dialogue and rarely knew what the unseen crew would throw at them next. The unorthodox approach pays off. The three lead perofrmances were convincing enough to fool so many audiences into thinking they were watching a real doc, after all. The Blair Witch may not be real the the tears and fear often are. It would even be compeelling just as a story of three students lost in the woods. Of course, it’s their tormenter who makes The Blair Witch Project a horror classic. Unseen by the audience, we have only the reactions of the tormented and our own worst nightmares to rely on. The Blair Witch is whoever you want her to be, whoever you are most afraid that she is. The film works every bit as well as your own imagination does.

Good Will Hunting

Good-Will-Hunting-01-4This movie is worth watching if just for Ben Affleck’s matching windbreaker and tear away pant outfits alone. He has the EXACT wardrobe of my Catholic school gym teacher\music teacher\ librarian, who accessorized hers with orange lipstick, a popped collar before they were cool, and faux-black curls that reached at LEAST three inches in height.

Matt & Ben, god love em. I love how these two high school drop-outs laboured to make the college classroom scenes authentic, but couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use a mop. I love Hollywood for that. Actors can learn to box and DJ and make a béarnaise sauce, but they can ben-affleck-and-matt-damon-owe-everything-to-good-will-hunting-co-star-robin-williamsnever convincingly fold laundry or pump gas. Why is that?

Anyway. The interesting thing about this movie is that it fools you with its quirkiness and quick wit into not seeing the incredibly predictable story arc. Sad, abused, troubled kid is actually a genius and he just needs someone to provide the Armour-Piercing Statement: “It’s not your fault” enough times to crack through his tough-guy veneer and get some healing on. Despite the basic cliché upon this film is predicated, the film succeeds in its smaller bubbles of truth. The defense mechanisms feel true. The relationships are charismatic. And blessed be, it avoids the gift-wrapped perfect ending. I like the ending of this movie so much, I’ve written about it before:

Like every other morning, Ben Affleck pulls up to Matt’s house with a product-placement cup of coffee, and jobs up the front stoop in his latest sport-douche look. This time, though, the last time, he knocks on the door, and no one answers. We already know that Ben has always secretly hoped for this very thing: he has said that his favourite part of the day is between his knock and Matt’s answering, that length of time where he can imagine that his brilliant friend has left his desultory life behind to chase the starsbenny. So we know that Ben is happy, but we also know that he will inevitably also be sad, having just lost his best friend, and having no such escape route himself. It’s a very bittersweet moment where not a single word is spoken, but so much is said. All of this is communicated with just a slight grin, but the script and the director have set this moment up so perfectly that it plays on the audience’s emotions for all it’s worth. Love it.

 

As Good As It Gets

tumblr_m1ehh5O2Z81rra86mo1_1280It’s impossible to tell if it’s this movie that’s not aging well, or if it’s me. Maybe I’m just getting more curmudgeonly with every passing year, but this movie seemed better in my memory than it did in the re-watching.

Jack Nicholson, who is superb, plays Melvin, an obsessive-compulsive gentleman who lives an extremely regimented life until two things stop him in his tracks: a diner waitress, and a mangy dog.

The first: Helen Hunt is, playing a martyr named Carol, or you know, just doing the Helen Hunt thing. I’m immediately annoyed with her character. Being a single mom is so hard, guys! And article-1350653-000B108A00000258-682_634x481asthma: the worst! She got an Oscar for this, so I guess I’m just being hard on her. She plays the only waitress that will serve Melvin at the only restaurant he’ll eat in. When she doesn’t show up to serve him his usual three eggs, over easy because her son is sick, he shows up at her house hungry with a doctor in tow.

The second: Greg Kinnear plays Simon, Melvin’s arty neighbour. Melvin is not what you would call a sociable man anas-good-as-it-getsd has no love for any of his neighbours, or their acquaintances, or their pets. In fact, Simon’s pup Verdell takes a trip down the trash chute early on because Melvin can’t stand the sight of him. But once Cuba Gooding Jr. brow-beats Melvin into caring for the dog while Simon recovers from a vicious attack, certain aspects of pet ownership start to feel enticing – particularly when little Verdell starts to imitate some of Melvin’s idiosyncracies.

Always worth a mention: Jack Nicholson was also awarded an Oscar for his work on this film, and this one I can get behind. Melvin’s only communication with the world is a series of as-good-as-it-gets-41-4degrading insults – racist, sexist, homophobic, you name it, he spits it out. And yet we love him for it, almost. We certainly forgive him. Just a lift of his bushy eyebrows and we’re his. The fact is, there’s great dialogue between these players, full of irony and thoughtful observation. It really makes you wish the plot didn’t follow such a conventional path. If only the film makers were brave enough to follow the characters down their authentic, quirky paths instead of playing it safe.

The dog, by the way (played saucily by “Jill the dog”), never received an Oscar for her stellar work on the film, but did pick up a UK Shadows Award, presented to the best dog actor, and I think a imagescase can be made for hers being the most charming role of them all. Technically Verdell was played by 6 dogs (Timer, Sprout, Debbie, Billy, and Parfait) but Jill was undoubtedly the star – Greg Kinnear (who was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting) describes being “upstaged by Jill”: “She’s got these lashes and big eyes… and when she walks onto the set everybody just says ‘oooh’.” Jill and company are Brussels Griffons and terribly cute. I’m sure she could melt the heart of any obsessive-compulsive, and I don’t know that there’s a higher compliment I can pay than that.