Showing posts with label 1990s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1990s. Show all posts

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oscar Wilde, Jude Law's prettiness, and working on my English-Lit degree

Repost from 2010. I think people just like the Mean Girls meme.


While it's a Wilde-meets-Mean Girls LOL image thing, this isn't too far from the truth, if you've seen Wilde or have read Wilde's "De Profundis." Jude Law was kind of brilliant as Bosie, who was basically a beautiful man, but a godawful boyfriend. Considering how many Jude Law movies I've almost inadvertently taken in these past few months, it's the only role where his prettiness fit perfectly with the role, whereas with eXistenZ, it was really distracting, and not helping the fact that eXistenZ turned out to be the only Cronenberg movie I've ever hated.

This is perhaps my long-winded way of saying that for the next 2-8 weeks I'm going to be too busy writing papers on Oscar Wilde and other 19th century writers to blog much. Any posts will likely be short and/or video-based.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (II) (1997)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Steven Spielberg || 1997 || USA

According to Wikipedia, the reason why there has yet to be a Jurassic Park IV is because Steven Spielberg has yet to find a script he is satisfied with. One wonders why he did not use the same discretion for The Lost World: Jurassic Park II and I am assuming Jurassic Park III as well. The Lost World is a sequel that sort of chips away at any goodwill one has towards the first Jurassic Park film. It worst of all suffers from plotholes and having so many characters that one is never sure of some of the secondary character's names, nor why they are there to begin with.

In The Lost World, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is forced into a Ripley-like position of having to head a second exposition to the "Plan B Island" of the original Jurassic Park. His only reason is to save his paleontologist girlfriend, Sarah (Julianne Moore), who fancies herself a Diane Fossey amongst dinosaurs; and who wants to prove that dinosaurs, T-Rexes in particular, did take care of their young instead of leaving them to fend for themselves not too long after birth. Along for the ride is a documentarian (Vince Vaughn), a beardless Toby from The West Wing (Richard Schiff); and inexplicably, Malcolm's pre-adolescent daughter, Kelly, because there always has to be at least one child in supreme danger in the Jurassic Park films. Kelly sneaks into a high-tech caravan in California, which is put on a boat that I am assuming was at sea for at least three days. Why Malcolm did not make sure his daughter did not get in a car or taxi with the nanny he wanted her to stay with while he went to the islands, I do not know. By the end of the film, she does get to kick a raptor through a window using her skills as a gymnast, so she fills that absurd purpose besides being the endangered child.

Not too long after arriving at the island, they do find Sarah, who is nearly killed by a stegosaurus while trying to photograph them. Malcolm is failing at trying to convince her to leave the island, and we learn more of Malcolm's bad boyfriend and fathering skills. Much like the first Jurassic Park film, Jeff Goldblum does not do much; but in The Lost World he is not even allowed to be funny or charming. I guess PTSD does that to a man. Then helicopters arrive bringing a group of hunters to the island, courtesy of the new head of InGen, who I will call "British Bob Balaban". I do not know why this happens, but the hunters immediately proceed to hunt dinosaurs. Pete Postlethwaite is there to hunt a T-Rex, although no one ever considers how the hell you are supposed to haul a T-Rex back home. They capture some dinos, including a baby T-Rex. Vince Vaughn is there not only to document the island, but also serve as a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs, so that night, he and Sarah free all the captured dinosaurs who then wreak havoc at the hunter's camp, destroying their equipment. He and Sarah can also work as Dinosaur Veterinarians, because they then take the injured baby T-Rex back to the caravan where they try to repair its leg until mama T-Rex arrives, knocking the caravan over a cliff after they give her the baby back. It's like a bad, overlong version of the Land Rover in the tree-scene from the first film. It's nice how Sarah proves her theory that T-Rexes cared for their young, but simultaneously forgets the damage it would cause to herself and others if she decided to treat an injured baby T-Rex. She also wears her jacket that is stained with baby T-Rex blood for the rest of the film, leading the mama T-Rex to the path of where her team and the hunters are going to try to get off the island since everyone's high-tech equipment is destroyed. Many deaths ensue. She really is no Dr. Grant or Dr. Sadler. We also learn that the Island B raptors do not know how to open doors, unlike the raptors in the original Jurassic Park. But they can dig holes under the doors like dogs!

The baby T-Rex is captured and brought to San Diego to be a part of a Jurassic Park exhibition at the San Diego Zoo, because British Bob Balaban never saw King Kong. Inexplicably, mama T-Rex manages to hijack a freighter ship and makes her way to San Diego just in time for the unveiling. Crappy jokes ensue, such as a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in MacBeth, Asian businessmen running down the street away from the T-Rex, and the 76 gas station logo ball careening past Malcolm's bitchin' vintage Cadillac.

Of course a film that I highly disdain brings me out of my blogging break. I think the only reason this film was made was because Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum needed to buy new vacation houses. I guess this film made Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Stormare into slightly higher profiled actors, but that is not saying much. I think it would have been more interesting to watch how a T-Rex hijacked a freighter ship, including lowering itself into a cargo hole. Or watch Vince Vaughn work as both a Dinosaur Veterinarian and a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs (PETD).

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Repost from 2011. This really is the most fucked up film of the series. I think I refused to re-watch it during my research two years ago, it was that bad.

Dir. Sally Mattison || 1990 || USA

Somewhat mercifully, we come to the last film in the Slumber Party Massacre series. John Carpenter once said that Halloween was not intended to become a series of films, but if he had had his way, each film would have been a different story with different characters, not just Michael Myers, Dr. Loomis, and an occasional Strode family member (granted, the one attempt to do this, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, failed and only since the late 90s or early 00s has it been praised). Slumber Party Massacre is proof that sometimes having the constant presence or link to the original film is for the better, because the only thing that links this series together is girls and large drills. Much to my sadness, the third film does not focus on a math and science team full of teenage girls, just so the series can tackle one more area where girls and women are under-represented. Slumber Party Massacre III also suffers from the inverse problem of the second film: awful first 50-60 minutes, decent last 20-30 minutes.

The basic story opens with a group of teenagers who look like they have not seen the inside of a high school for 5-15 years playing volleyball at the beach. A grungy, gothy Swede watches and the girls decide he is creepy; a clean-cut med student watches, and they decide he is cute. Such are the days before Alexander Skarsgard. The girls plan a slumber party for that night apparently because one of the girls is moving away soon. The boys plan to crash the party. There is also a creepy neighbor. If you think at least one guy sees the girls topless through the window and this all ends in a showdown inside the house, you would be correct.

This movie is very big on red herrings and Chekov's Gun. However, it fails on both and especially the latter. I almost wish this movie was about a girls' math and science team that could figure out how to rig a gigantic swordfish from a fixture within 30 seconds to maim the killer as soon as he enters the room. Otherwise, why mention and show the gigantic swordfish? This could almost be forgiven, because someone is killed with a realtor's post and a plug-in vibrator. There is a harpoon shot to the leg, but that's not as awesome as the possibility of swordfish through the gut. Someone just needs to write an adaptation of the Teen Girl Squad cartoons, where I do believe someone was "swordfish'd".



Is this film feminist? I guess it gets points for implied cunnilingus and the appearance of a vibrator*, and girls lasting longer than the boys in the fighting the killer department, but that's about it. This film also has the most useless cops since Black Christmas, the awful joke being that they ignore the calls that the girls make throughout the night, even after the first murder. But as soon as the creepy (white) neighbor dude calls, the police say they'll be right on it. Nevermind the fact that the killer in this film is just as psychotic as the one in the first film, killing one girl in the middle of the street, and one guy on the front porch fairly early on in the film. I guess slashers are supposed to mystify the notion that the suburbs are safer than the city, but this is a bit much. I find it a bit hard to believe that on any given Friday or Saturday night, all adults or parents on the block are out of town or having a date night. Of course, this film has some points against it as to why it might not be a feminist film afterall.


[SPOILERS AHEAD]

I mentioned in the post on the first Slumber Party Massacre film that in Carol Clover's book, she mentions in the afterword that the screenwriter of Slumber Party Massacre III changed the script  a bit after reading an early release of the first chapter of Clover's book. The film does go into psychology a bit more than the other two films, but in the offhand way that the first film does. The killer, Ken the med student, is the nephew of a cop who recently committed suicide. It is implied by one of the stupid cops that he may have committed suicide because he was gay. Perhaps not to make the film seem too homophobic, the second cop responds something along the lines of "that's not a reason to kill yourself." Like the rest of the series, sex is a psychological issue. Ken is either 1) impotent or 2) a eunuch...like a Ken doll. It's implied that Ken was molested by his uncle, who raised him after his parents died. Or something. But if that's the case, it's a homophobic line to take, equating homosexuality with wanting to molest children. There are a lot of gaps because Ken is psychotic, but he is more verbal than the killer from the first film. He says odd things to the girls as he attacks them. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film (or ever), the skinny girl with the Elvira hair, Maria, tries to appease him and get him to talk about what happened to him while he starts molesting her. The other girls just watch, although Ken has been blinded by bleach and has frequently been brained by lamps and other glass objects in the house. Maria does try to reach for a weapon while he's on top of her, but meets her death because she grabs for his crotch, thinking that it would appease him more. The surviving girls only use his blindness to their advantage after Maria is dead. Throughout the course of the last 20-30 minutes, the girls go out of their way to try to save or help one another, even if this usually means braining Ken with a large glass object while he looms over one of the other girls. So why the hell could no one help Maria while Ken was seriously looming over her? Is it because it is sort of implied that she's barely out of high school and working in seedy joints (either as a waitress or a stripper), being picked up by 50 year old men? Because she takes her clothes off? What? If the makers of the film went so far as to keep her alive until the last 5-10 minutes of the film, have her be clever enough to actually use some psychology on the killer, why not have her friends try to save her too? It tends to undermine the running theme of the series, which this film takes on more than the second film, which is girls helping each other in times of danger or need. Granted, the helping is futile in the series, but at least for Slumber Party Massacre III, the girls seem to make a better go of fighting and surviving longer than most.

The only other thing that could at the very least, link it to the first film is how absolutely devastated and shocked the girl who kills Ken looks after the other survivor girl stops her after she's driven the large drill into Ken's torso at least a dozen times, only to see that her best friend who was barely alive after Ken stabbed her, pass on next to him. It's not unlike Valerie in the first film. The irony is that the cops arrive after she has killed Ken for good, also not understanding that Ken managed to lock the girls inside the house so that they couldn't get out (save for one girl who threw herself through a glass patio door, only to injure herself before her murder). These films are not known for having stellar acting, but the lead actress does well in the final scene. You understand that this girl is not going to be all right ever again.

I say the last 20-30 minutes of Slumber Party Massacre III are decent because it's interesting, but almost interesting in a bad way just for all the messed up stuff that goes on. It really is a run-of-the-mill slasher film until the last half hour, then it drops one dude's disturbing psychological issues on you. Most other slasher series just dumped it on you in the first film, then stayed mindless for the rest of the series, however long it went on. Since there is very little consistency between the three Slumber Party Massacre films (other than how the second film is weakly linked to the first), it was as if the makers of each sequel was trying to re-invent the wheel in a slightly different fashion. Or they were just told by Roger Corman "I don't care as long as it has girls, tits, and a really big drill that serves as a metaphor for penises!"*

* What are words that are not going to help with the current onslaught my blog has gotten lately from porn site (spam)bots?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dolly Dearest (1992)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Maria Lease || 1992 || USA

Apparently made in the post-Child's Play glut of killer doll films, Dolly Dearest tends to fall flat and become quite dull when we're not watching the doll wreak havoc on the family or the Mexican people employed at either their house or the small rundown doll factory that the father owns and runs. Maybe this film is a metaphor for keeping work in the US instead of going to another country to take advantage of cheap labor and factories.

Much like Child's Play, the dolls are possessed, but not by a serial killer. They are possessed by the spirit of a child devil worshipped by a group of ancient Satanists.* Archeologist Rip Torn (sporting a weak Mexican accent until he has to forcefully yell at someone) investigates the tomb neighboring the doll factory after his friend and co-worker dies in the tomb. His death unleashed the spirit of the child devil via sub-Ghostbusters technology, and the spirit found its way into the doll factory, where the last owner left a dozen or so set of dolls that all looked alike. The family of the new factory owner settles into their house. Jessica, the daughter, is given a doll from the factory and becomes immediately attached to it. Then she starts displaying weird behavior. The film can never quite settle on whether Jessica is possessed or not. I get the feeling the child actress was hired primarily on her resemblance to Drew Barrymore when she was a child. The mom is the only one who notices the change. Poor mom is forced to stay at home all day and unpack their belongings.

Like I mentioned before, there is not enough crazy doll action to make this film worthwhile. The doll contorts her face and yells to surprise all her victims before attacking. It's funny. Also funny is that the doll's giggle sounds like the noise of blowing bubbles into a drink. Unfortunately, Dolly Dearest is too caught up in subplots for there to be much doll action at all.

At least the mom had some nice clothes:




*March is not only Women's History Month, but apparently Satanists month here at the blog. I'm going to have to create a tag before March is over.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tank Girl (1995)

Dir. Rachel Talalay || 1995 || USA

I remember liking Tank Girl as a teen in the 1990s, but looking at it now, it's easy to see what a mess this film is. It's not an odd or even fully enjoyable mess, and it's only occasionally amusing. It can't be chalked up to inexperience or disinterest in the source material, qualities that tend to factor into the better comic book films; because Talalay was an experienced director at this point and did like the material. But by all accounts, there was a lot of studio interference with the film because up until this past decade, very few people knew what to do with comic books or graphic novels as source material. The film is live action, but it also has clips from the comic books and animation sequences.

Most post-apocalyptic films tend to have a timeless quality to them, no matter what decade they were made in. Tank Girl is so 90s it hurts. The situation that the film takes place in is timeless - where a comet hit Earth and it hasn't rained in 11 years, so water is high in demand and only a select few has access to it. But everything else is 90s. Considering that one of the first places I was introduced to Tank Girl was an article in Harper's Bazaar, the fashion magazine (yeah, I read this as a teen, what?), the film is very high on costume changes (IMDB counts 18 for Lori Petty as Tank Girl) and it's all very punk-grunge-pseudo-riot grrrl. Even The Rippers dress in 90s clothing (flannel shirts and t-shirts, one Ripper looks like a half-man-half-kangaroo member of Color Me Badd). It's funny that in the comic's revival in the mid-2000s by IDW Publishing, Tank Girl was drawn as wearing a lot of 1980s power suits because the reasoning was along the lines of "a lot of people still dress like Tank Girl from the 1990s, it's no longer edgy." The soundtrack, supervised by Courtney (Love, Love-Cobain, whatever she's calling herself now) is sort of a mix of good 90s music and music that never made it past that decade, along with some bizarre covers (like Devo covering Soundgarden's cover of Devo's "Girl U Want", or something).

Tank Girl is an overwhelmingly cartoon-y film. And yeah, Tank Girl is a cartoon character even in the comics, but on film it's ridiculous. The film just meanders. The sense of urgency towards saving the little girl that lived with Tank Girl is never there because of all the side missions that are jokes and costume changes. It would almost be a parody if the film could settle on anything whatsoever, other than being a valentine to Tank Girl as a fashion icon of sorts, and occasionally her other positive attributes; like being a good friend or being a loud-mouthed and brave woman.

The one thing that I will give the film is that for much of the film, Tank Girl and Jet Girl (Naomi Watts!) have realistically post-apocalyptic water shortage greasy hair. Do you know how rare that is in post-apocalyptic films? Although Tank Girl's makeup rarely smudges, even when being in a torture chamber for what seems like a couple of days.



Thursday, May 1, 2014

Notes on Shulie (1997/2000?)...


Originally posted in December 2011. I actually read The Dialectics of Sex shortly after writing this, and used it as the critical basis for an insane paper I wrote my last semester of grad school concerning the Twilight films.

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Dir. Elizabeth Subrin || 1997/2000 (?) || USA

I am in the process of making up the viewing and work for my Experimental Film class this past quarter. It was the only class I had to completely stop attending because the films tended to cause relapses with bad headaches and nausea. Since my professor tended to show films that were actual film prints, some of the films I will never be able to see. So she gave me an alternate list of sorts for anything that was not on VHS or DVD. Shulie was one of the alternate films. In this class, I have tended to enjoy the films made by women or LGBT people more than the other films. Looking at my journals I had/have to keep for this class as apart of the coursework, I occasionally made or make the correlation between some experimental films and my old medium of zines. When I made, read, and distributed zines I tended to prefer ones made by women and LGBT people. Both mediums tend to be done as art for art's sake, and not to make money...although some experimental film makers like Kenneth Anger wanted to be mainstream and never totally got there. Not too different from some people in zines, although those people tend to be frowned upon, if not downright shunned. Both have their own distribution networks or similar set-ups. Another theme of my journal entries tended to be varying levels of indifference towards the films, which is basically my attitude towards zines for the past five or six years to the point where I rarely read them now. I owe a lot to (post-riot grrrl) zines for helping me develop critical thinking skills, but it's those same skills that kind of make me unable to read zines much now.

Anyway...

[SPOILERS AHEAD...although you can probably only find this film at university libraries...which are open to the public, I might add]

Shulie is an odd film. Its set-up is that it is a found-footage documentary on feminist Shulamith Firestone that was shot in Chicago in the late 1960s while Firestone was about to receive her BFA in painting. This hearkens back to the idea that a lot of women's creative work has to be found or re-discovered, which was a big part of the second wave feminist movement that Firestone was a part of. In turn, at least in literature and sometimes in art, this allowed  more women to become a part of the canon. This film may also be pointing out that this needs to be done with Firestone...which while I have heard of her occasionally, I admit to have never read her work. After watching this film, I would like to, but her most famous book is out of print and used copies on Amazon cost anywhere from $35-500. 

But eventually, the found footage concept has some holes poked into it. When Firestone is being asked about being apart of the "Now" (NOW? Is this a play on words/later organizations, perhaps?) generation, and she gives an indifferent answer about how she only occasionally stops by protests; there are shots of people in the park putting on facepaint and they look somewhat modern and a bit crust punk-y. Subrin then has a shot of a kid playing basketball in a very modern Chicago Bulls jersey. I am not totally sure what this scene is supposed to convey. Firestone never speaks of feeling alienated from the protests in the film, so I am not sure if this a commentary on the romanticizing of the 1960s that went on in the 1990s or what. I cannot think of or remember much of what people would protest in the 1990s except the WTO...but then again, I was a teenager in the 1990s.

Another issue as that time goes on, you notice how charmingly, then oddly self-aware Firestone is. Like any young person, she kind of hates where she currently lives. She speaks early in the documentary about wanting to move to NYC to live with the other outcasts. She speaks of art school making her more inarticulate at the age of 22 than she was at the age of 18 (I strangely feel the same way about grad school). But there edges of radicalism that likely became more pronounced when she published The Dialectics of Sex at the age of 25. So perhaps this is an attempt to make her more human and relatable, since there is this tendency in feminism to mistakenly think that the more popular or famous feminists are not really human or to treat them as if we own them (not too different from any fandom really). I had an English professor who freaked out when Gloria Steinem got married. Ten years ago, people were more freaked out that Kathleen Hanna* of Bikini Kill/Le Tigre** was dating a Beastie Boy because the Beastie Boys second album was sexist. But anyway, self-awareness was a 1990s thing, no?

Then there is the scene where Firestone's artwork is critiqued by a group of her (male) professors. There is something odd and uncomfortable about this scene, and it hearkens back to the scene earlier in the film where Firestone explains her current inarticulateness. Part of me wants to claim that this scene is over the top, but perhaps it is not, given the time period. Another part of me is sympathetic to Firestone in this scene just because well, similar scenes are in my future as a grad student.

And then there's the twist...that this entire film was a recreation of that documentary. I still have not decided how I feel about this. Subrin does a remarkable job with making much of the film look like it was shot in Chicago circa the late 1960s (all hail the Super 8!), and if it was on purpose, gradually pulling the curtain behind the fact that it was a recreation. It is only in the last 15-20 minutes of this 37-minute film that the issues start to pop up. But I am still trying to work out this "twist"...

* Kathleen Hanna is given a shout out in the credits of this film.
** Sadie Benning, ex-Le Tigre band member, makes experimental films as well and worked on this film. I consider her the Matt Sharp of Le Tigre, since the band suffered on a few levels after she left, including music-wise.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Riddle me this: What are Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers exactly?

Image by Szoki.

Since it was somewhat settled this week that my graduate thesis work is going to be on slasher films, PTSD, and whether or not the same people who are frequently attacked throughout a series can be considered empowered (that's a mouthful), I want to discuss one of the things that has been bothering me this summer as I read through the gamut of books on slasher and horror films. While there are series of films where the killer is human, what are Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers exactly?

Freddy appears to be the only one who does not shift in his existence, even if it takes almost the entire series of Nightmare on Elm Street films to settle on the fact that he is essentially a dead body possessed by demons. Jason, forever the product of a revolving door of writers, changes in his existence. Human, Frankenstein's monster-type, (a zombie, according to some people), and by Jason X, just plain unkillable to the point where he has to be cryogenically frozen. As of this posting, I am still waiting for Halloweens II-V to come in the mail so I can watch/re-watch and study them. But roughly based on parts I and II, Michael is pure evil that cannot be killed.

The second part of this question is, in one or two words, how can these three characters be defined as a group? Since the majority of books I have read this summer are from the 1990s, they all seem to be reluctant to define Jason, Freddy, and Michael as monsters in the sense of Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman, i.e., the classical Hollywood monsters. "Supernatural killers" seems to be the most popular definition of the three characters, although I am now re-reading Adam Rockoff's book and he calls them "heroes" in the introduction, which does not really settle well with me.

I am interested in hearing opinions, because I think that fans of these series are more likely to have a better grip on this topic. At this time, I do not have access to the one or two books actually centered around the Friday the 13th series, so I would also be interested book recommendations past the 90s standards of Noel Carroll,  Vera Dika,  Carol Clover, and Isabel Pinedo, or newer books from this past decade by Adam Rockoff and Jason Zinoman.

Postscript, April 2014
I ended up not writing a thesis due to 2-3 months of grinding gears and various other issues, and opted to take the comprehensive exam that my program was offering for the first time. As for what Michael Myers is, I think I have forgotten, if I ever knew to begin with. The Halloween series, despite starting off the strongest, falls and fails rapidly before retconning itself to the point where it was just rebooted. It is definitely the worst series to watch in a marathon.