"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Worm on a Hook

(read the rest of this shit…)

Night on Earth

“Like Popeye says, ‘I yam what I yam,’ right?”

 

On May 1, 1991, Fine Line Features released Jim Jarmusch’s NIGHT ON EARTH on a mere 40 screens. By comparison, LEAVING NORMAL was released to 362 screens on the same day, and nobody ever heard of that one. But this was a well marketed limited release – I knew NIGHT ON EARTH existed, and in fact went to see it on one of those 40 screens, specifically the one that was upstairs at Seattle’s Harvard Exit Theatre (1968-2015).

This is Jarmusch’s fifth film. It’s possible I’d seen STRANGER THAN PARADISE and DOWN BY LAW already, but I suspect I rented them after seeing this. (I know I’d never heard of PERMANENT VACATION and saw MYSTERY TRAIN later.) So I may not have realized that by his standards it was kind of commercial: in Winona Ryder (who had BEETLEJUICE, HEATHERS and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS under her belt and was about to do BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) he had his biggest movie star to date, and despite its simplicity it sure seems to have a bigger budget than his previous films, since it’s filmed on location in four different countries. (read the rest of this shit…)

Leaving Normal

“I didn’t choose any of this, you know? This chose me.”

Friday, May 1st, 1992 was day 3 of the L.A. riots. The day Rodney King said “Can we all get along?” President George H.W. Bush invoked the Insurrection Act, so California Army National Guard and federal troops were activated under the newly formed Joint Task Force Los Angeles. In L.A. and San Francisco, NBA and MLB games were moved or postponed. Van Halen, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and the WWF all cancelled events. Tension and shock spread across the country.

But also some people went to see movies. Mostly BASIC INSTINCT, which was still #1 in its seventh week. And a very small number of people must’ve went to see LEAVING NORMAL, a perfectly sweet little comedy-drama about white women. Maybe it wasn’t the best time for it. It was not a big enough release to make it onto the box office charts, and I honestly don’t remember ever hearing of it before researching this series. But if I’m gonna do Weird Summer I better cover a movie about leaving normal.

Actually it’s about a young woman named Marianne (Meg Tilly, PSYCHO II) and an older bar waitress named Darly (Christine Lahti, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS) deciding to leave a small, boring town called Normal. But I think we all get the implication. (read the rest of this shit…)

Boris and Natasha

BORIS AND NATASHA, a.k.a. BORIS AND NATASHA: THE MOVIE, went straight to Showtime, but I’m counting it as a Weird Summer movie because it first aired on April 17, 1992, and presumably kept playing in subsequent months. And yes, it’s a live action movie centered on the villainous spy characters from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which is a pretty weird idea.

That beloved Jay Ward cartoon was 30+ years in the past at the time, but still showing in reruns. I know I watched it in the ‘80s. I remember having a t-shirt with Rocky and Bullwinkle parodying the ENDLESS SUMMER poster, even though I didn’t know what that was. It was a great show, so I’m not complaining, but my parents’ generation gave us their nostalgia as hand-me-downs, and we took it. I had Gumby shirts too. I never got Showtime, though, so I never saw BORIS AND NATASHA: THE MOVIE, and couldn’t exactly picture how you’d make a movie about them.

Actually it’s not a terrible comedy premise: what if Boris and Natasha were given a mission where they had to pretend to defect to the U.S., but then they started to like being American? This isn’t as common anymore, but they used to make these movies based on old TV shows but with some high concept way to set it in the modern world. They did it for DRAGNET and after this THE BRADY BUNCH and FAT ALBERT and much later 21 JUMP STREET. CONEHEADS was another one that actually has a premise pretty similar to this one.

Wait – isn’t that kind of what The Americans is about too? Is The Americans a remake of BORIS AND NATASHA: THE MOVIE? (read the rest of this shit…)

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse

WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE is a very fun Australian zombie movie that just came out here on blu-ray and DVD. It’s the long-awaited sequel to the 2014 film WYRMWOOD (released here as WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD), once again directed by Kiah Roache-Turner and written by Kiah & Tristan Roache-Turner. I don’t think you’d have that much of a problem understanding it without the first one, but I recommend watching both.

When I caught on to ROAD OF THE DEAD it was one of those situations where I assume I’ve run out of reasons to watch new zombie movies and then I see it and think “Okay, never mind. That’s a good reason.” The main gimmick that differentiates this apocalypse from others is that the meteor that caused the zombie outbreak also changed the earth in such a way that combustible engines no longer work. But then some guys figure out that the green fumes exhaled by the zombies can be harnessed as fuel. So this is a world where road warriors attach tubes to zombies’ mouths, strap them onto the back of their vehicles and burn rubber (or dirt). (read the rest of this shit…)

The Player

“It’s an art movie. Doesn’t count. I’m talkin about movie movies.”

April 10, 1992

I have enjoyed some of Robert Altman’s movies over the years, but never became a full-on “he’s one of my favorites” convert like so many film buffs a little older than me. In fact the only ones I’ve ever reviewed are MCCABE & MRS. MILLER, POPEYE and NASHVILLE. POPEYE was definitely the first Altman movie I saw, since it starred my biggest childhood hero (not Robin Williams – Popeye). THE PLAYER was the first one I watched as a grown-ish person trying to see good movies for adults.

I don’t hear people talk about it that much these days, but it has an 86 on Metacritic, which they quantify as “universal acclaim.” And it has a Criterion Edition. I remember it being viewed as a major cultural event in the film coverage I read in magazines and alternative weeklies of the time. In his review, Roger Ebert brought up Wall Street scandals and said the movie “uses Hollywood as a metaphor for the avarice of the 1980s,” but in my memory people enjoyed it as a satire of Hollywood executives. My most specific memory about it was a certain cameo in a movie-within-the-movie meant to parody the “pat Hollywood endings” joked about throughout the movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (and the weird animation of summer ’92, part 1)

“This ‘weird creature’ is a human!”


FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST is a well-meaning but not so great movie that was more successful than most of the non-Disney animated features in this very strange early ‘90s period. It didn’t make a ton of money, but it seemed to capture the imagination of some kids, and even got a DTV sequel in 1998. I would venture to guess it will be the most normal animated feature of summer ’92, but like most of the movies that were trying to compete with Disney without doing something drastically different from them, it feels kinda off and out of touch.

It reunites PUMP UP THE VOLUME couple Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis, this time with Mathis as the lead and Slater as the jealous secondary boy in her life. Mathis (before SUPER MARIO BROS.) plays a hummingbird-sized fairy named Crysta, and Slater is her shirtless male friend Pips. They fly around and can turn into blue and green (respectively) light and they live in a rainforest that’s supposed to be in Australia and has kangaroos and platypuses living in it. Also there are little goblin guys voiced by Cheech and Chong who fly around on large beetles, but I was a little distracted that they sit on top of their wings, so the beetles seem to just magically float. (read the rest of this shit…)

I think they call this a shoot interview

I was recently interviewed on a podcast and this is a little different from any I’ve done before so I wanted to say something about it.

As you may or may not have heard, there’s a podcast called Downlowd: The Rise and Fall of Harry Knowles and Ain’t It Cool News. Kind of like a documentary about a websight I once wrote for. I don’t know if the podcast is popular or not – much like Ain’t It Cool News itself back in the day, I mostly just see people talking shit about it. The first I heard of it was a while before it came out, when someone who had once been harassed by Harry Knowles posted negatively about having been approached for an interview. I had not been asked and felt relieved not to have to make a moral decision about it. I figured this guy making it, Joe Scott, didn’t know who I was, and that I didn’t have much to say anyway. I was only involved via e-mail.

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Thunderheart

April 3, 1992

“We choose the right to be who we are.”


THUNDERHEART is not a weird movie like some of these other 1992 releases, but it’s a pretty unusual one: a procedural thriller that attempts to shine a light on real life injustices taking place on tribal land in the U.S. An opening title says “This story was inspired by events that took place on several American Indian reservations during the 1970’s.” From what I’ve read it’s largely inspired by the Wounded Knee Incident of 1973, but director Michael Apted (COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER) also released the documentary INCIDENT AT OGLALA later in the summer, and that was about similar clashes between traditional and Americanized Sioux and a shootout with the FBI on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. I assume those events influenced it as well.

After the murder of tribal council member Leo Fast Elk (Allan R.J. Joseph, later a stuntman on DESPERADO) on a South Dakota reservation, FBI Agent Ray Levoi (Val Kilmer following his MTV Movie Awards nominated role in THE DOORS) gets called to Washington DC by his boss (Fred Dalton Thompson, who had ACES: IRON EAGLE III coming out in June). They know from his file that he has mixed Native heritage through his biological father, but he’s so out of touch with it he has to be told it’s Sioux and that his father died when he was 7 (he says it was when he was a baby). It’s just not a part of his life, but they make it very clear that they’ve chosen him for this case so they can tell the locals he’s one of them. “You’re going in there as who you are— an American Indian federal officer.” Should go great. (read the rest of this shit…)

Delicatessen

“Just like you said, the wind’s shifting. Everyone’s gonna get it.”


At the 65th Academy Awards, the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar went to a French film – the historical drama INDOCHINE. I’m sure it was great, but people like me didn’t know to pay attention to movies like that. We paid attention to the French film that we heard was really cool looking and darkly funny and had something to do with cannibalism. That was DELICATESSEN, the feature debut of directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, which Miramax released in the U.S. on April 3, 1992, a year after it came out in France.

I don’t know how many screens it played on, because it didn’t make enough to show up on the box office charts, but I think it traveled around for a while. I remember seeing ads for it at the arthouse theaters – it was a much discussed cult movie of its time. Since this is maybe the most interesting of the April releases that kept playing into the summer it seemed like the best way to kick off this 1992 – Weird Summer series. (read the rest of this shit…)

Prelude: 1992 – Weird Summer (featuring Check Your Head)

It doesn’t seem like it yet in my part of the world, but summer is almost here, and that means that I will once again be starting a summer movie retrospective. This year I’ve decided to look back at the summer of 30 years ago in a series I’m calling 1992 – WEIRD SUMMER. ‘Cause it was kind of a weird summer, you know? The overall selection of films was unusual, and a bunch of the movies – even the big blockbuster sequels – were not exactly aimed at the normal people with the normal tastes. I’ll try to review most of the major movies of interest, and when applicable I plan to zero in on the theme of weirdness (both intentional and unintentional), the artists who managed to push weirdness into major movies, and how people reacted to it at the time. (read the rest of this shit…)