December 31, 1997

1997 Year-End Wrap-Up

My Top Five of 1997: The Fifth Element, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, Men In Black, and Titanic.

December 20, 1997

Titanic

I think a lot of people went to see Titanic expecting it to the a bloated mess: even in 1997's infancy of the Internet age, the word of mouth on James Cameron's latest movie was all bad. Titanic went over schedule and over budget, and the Hollywood gossip fiends were happy to draw metaphorical parallels with the ill-fated titular cruise liner. DiCaprio and Winslet were not movie stars. A big James Cameron fan, I went to see Titanic because it was too big and expensive to ignore. The result: an amazing, moving, spectacular film... with some of the worst dialogue ever.
It screened in US theaters for a ridiculous 39 weeks, the theaters played their prints to tatters with repeat business, and the final US box office totaled over 600 million dollars, a total unrivaled, even as ticket prices have increased 43% in the following decade. All this for a 3 hour movie, which by definition only received half as many screenings per day as a 90 minute movie. (Flagship Falmouth Cinemas)

November 8, 1997

Starship Troopers

I continue to enjoy this slick, entertaining, satirical sci-fi dystopia.
2013 Update: Saw a half hour of Troopers on IFC last night. The 1997 alien effects are still terrific, and the movie's internet propaganda framing device aptly predicts our cultural migration to the Web. Casper Van Dien is perfect, Denise Richards is totally vacant (I forgot she was once married to Charlie Sheen!) and Patrick Muldoon is hilarious- he's the only officer who never puts his cap on- don't want to mess up his hair!
Jake Busey can't seem to close his mouth over those giant Chiclet teeth
This movie is what it would be like if you were a Nazi, but you didn't know you were the bad guys. I was reminded of a sketch on the British TV show The Mitchell & Webb Look where two German SS officers debate "if we're the good guys, why do we have skulls on our caps?" NOTE: To find that YouTube clip, I Googled "british sketch comedy nazis"

November 1, 1997

The First New Mix Tape In A While: No.47

Originally a 90 minute cassette tape; later converted into a mix CD, as follows. The cover image is from the Exile In Guyville booklet, the back image is from Wilco's Being There:
  1. "Come To California" Matthew Sweet
  2. "Navy Bean" Tracy Bonham
  3. "Downtown Venus" PM Dawn
  4. "Show Me" Pretenders
  5. "Here's Where The Story Ends" The Sundays
  6. "Rhiannon" (live) Fleetwood Mac
  7. "C'mon Billy" PJ Harvey
  8. "Outta Mind (Outta Site)" Wilco
  9. "Lawyers In Love" Jackson Browne
  10. "King Of Pain" The Police
  11. "Hell" Squirrel Nut Zippers
  12. "So Quero Um Xodo" Gilberto Gil
  13. "It Is Time" World Party
  14. "I'm Not Your Mother" Blake Babies
  15. "Fuck And Run" Liz Phair
  16. "Criminal" Fiona Apple
  17. "All At Once" Bonnie Raitt
  18. "Joy Of My Life" John Fogerty

October 10, 1997

Seven Years in Tibet

sevenyearsBrad's first line in the film (with bad German accent): "I am goink to ze Himalayas!"

L.A. Confidential

laI love this movie, the best detective movie since Chinatown. I just watched it again on DVD and enjoyed picking up some nice details- In the first scene, Dick Stensland sits in the back seat of the police car, drinking rum from one bottle and Coke from another. Academy Award winner Kim Basinger is good, but Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey are both terrific. I love Jerry Goldsmith's score too. Detectives Breuning and Carlisle are working for Captain Smith all along. Their performances reveal all sorts of hidden layers when you know what's really going on.
I do have one small problem with the ending: they bring back the Bud White character from the dead! At the end of the Victory Motel gun battle, Captain Smith shoots Bud two or three times before finally shooting him in the face. He should have remained dead, but he gets to ride off into the sunset, in the back of Lynn Bracken's seafoam green sedan, jaw wired shut, and a disgusting tube taped to his cheek. Bracken and White escape to Bisbee, Arizona, where we would find Russell Crowe ten years later, in the film 3:10 to Yuma.

September 19, 1997

In & Out

inI don't remember loving this movie. This was my last-ever visit to the Maine Mall Cinema. I moved to the other side of Portland, much closer to a much nicer theater in Falmouth.

August 31, 1997

My All-Time Top Ten Movies

It's a tough job to narrow the field to ten movies, so I tried to pick movies of all genres: Two comedies, a scary movie, a thriller, an action-adventure, a sci-fi, a romance, a musical, a Scorsese, and Citizen Kane. In alphabetical order:
  • Blade Runner
  • Casablanca
  • Citizen Kane
  • A Fish Called Wanda
  • GoodFellas
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Rear Window
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Singin' in the Rain
  • Young Frankenstein

Excess Baggage

excessWhy did I go and see this? (Maine Mall Cinema)

August 15, 1997

Conspiracy Theory

conspiracyThey messed up a good ending (as usual)! (Maine Mall Cinema)

August 8, 1997

Spawn

spawnJohn Leguizamo and Martin Sheen overact bombastically (is that even a word?) The film relies heavily on CGI special effects, and 20 years later, they all look terrible. Like 90s videogame terrible.

July 30, 1997

Operation Condor

operationAnother imported Jackie Chan movie from Hong Kong with dubbing, thanks to Dimension Films.

July 25, 1997

July 11, 1997

Contact

contactI loved this movie, although I find the omnipresence of CNN anchors as the Greek chorus distracting. (Hoyt's Cinemas South Portland)

July 8, 1997

Vertigo

vertigoA masterpiece.

Dinner & A Movie at the Keystone, Portland, Maine

Like many entrepreneurial labors of love, the Keystone Cinema on Congress Street in Portland, Maine was better in concept than execution. The proprietors built three or four decent-sized movie screens, and filled the theaters with very soft and cushioned seats (rescued from Lincoln Town Cars converted into limousines). They served pub food before and during the movie. So what was the problem? The food was only OK, not great, and the service was mediocre. The waitresses used overly elaborate electronic handheld devices for placing orders- it seemed like the owners overthought the concept. Plus, the very cushy seats had large arms which made it impossible to get close to your date for snuggling.

As you can see from the selection below, I only went eight times in three years: after six visits in 1997, I only attended twice more, in 1999. I moved out of town in 2001, and the Keystone closed sometime in the early 00's. As of 2007, the space on Congress Street is now a sports bar.

  • My 25th Birthday • Star Trek: First Contact • An exciting Borg adventure and my third favorite Star Trek movie, after numbers 2 and 6.
  • April 13, 1997 • The English Patient • A little slow on the second viewing, but an impressive adaptation of a dense novel.
  • May 2, 1997 • Smilla's Sense of Snow • A very odd detective story, from a far superior book, as Emily is fond of pointing out.
  • September 6, 1997 • Citizen Kane • One of my Top Ten all time movies.
  • October 24, 1997 • The Edge • Hopkins and Baldwin elevate this standard genre piece slightly above what it deserves.
  • November 30, 1997 • The Ice Storm • Growing up in identical Boston suburbs makes the movie resound for me. I hope my parents didn't behave like this!
  • February 12, 1999 • Elizabeth • If I had paid attention in my History Of England course, perhaps I would have appreciated this movie more.
  • New Year's Eve, 1999 • Being John Malkovich • Bizarrely fantastic.

July 5, 1997

Hercules

herculesA dispensable Disney animated feature. (Loews Fresh Pond)

July 2, 1997

Men In Black

men1The original film still shines. The best and most original sci-fi comedy since Ghostbusters. WARNING: Avoid the sequel at all costs.

June 28, 1997

Face/Off

faceoffTwo hammy actors equal less than the sum of their hammy parts. Mmmm...hammy parts! Director John Woo increases the "watchability" factor. (Maine Mall Cinema)

June 20, 1997

My Best Friend's Wedding

mbfwA morally complex role for Julia makes for a funny, original comedy. Cameron Diaz tries very hard to steal the movie from Roberts. But the big logical gap in the plot still burns us: Why would Julia fight so hard to catch... Dermot Mulroney? He doesn't strike anyone as the "guy-friend you are in love with but don't realize it until it's too late". I love how she starts smoking whenever her anxiety cranks up. (Flagship Falmouth Cinemas)

May 26, 1997

The Siblings Tape #46

A real odd mix of music. Very atonal. From the cassette insert: "Recorded May 26-29, 1997. Kate and Jon contributed CDs to this mix."

SIDE ONE
  1. "Weird Al" Yankovic: "Polkas on 45"
  2. "Hooked On Polkas"
  3. "Polka Party!"
  4. "Polka Your Eyes Out"
  5. "The Alternative Polka"
  6. "I Should've Known" Aimee Mann
  7. "You Got Lucky" Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  8. "The Impression I Get" The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
  9. "Modern Woman" Billy Joel
  10. "Elvis Is Dead" Living Colour
SIDE TWO
  1. "Swingtown" Steve Miller Band
  2. "Galileo" Indigo Girls
  3. "Daughter" Pearl Jam
  4. "How?" John Lennon
  5. "Lost In The Supermarket" The Clash
  6. "Atlantic City" Bruce Springsteen
  7. "Cure for Pain" Morphine
  8. "Something Ain't Right" David Byrne
  9. "Semi-Charmed Life" Third Eye Blind
  10. "Close To Me" The Cure
  11. "My City Was Gone" Pretenders


May 24, 1997

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Until I heard Vince Vaughn talk about it on the WTF podcast,
I had completely forgotten that he was in this movie.
Not a terrible movie, but if it weren't a sequel to one of the great action movies of the 1990s, and if Mr. Spielberg didn't have his name on it, we wouldn't hold it to such a high standard. Seventeen years later, there are still some memorable moments. I still feel bad that Richard Schiff (Toby from West Wing) nearly managed to shoot the T.Rex with his poison gun...(Cheri theater, Boston)

Also On Memorial Day, Through The Years

I have been to the movies on Memorial Day Monday 13 times in 24 years, but it's not a great track record. 

May 9, 1997

The Fifth Element

fifthI love this Luc Besson futuristic fantasy. It's one of those fast-paced, colorful, entertaining movies which I can put on the DVD player anytime and soak it up. Much like all those submarine movies (and Star Trek II), the protagonist Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) and the antagonist Zorg (Gary Oldman) never meet throughout the movie. At one point, they miss each other when one enters an elevator while another exits the adjacent elevator, but that's as close as they come.

April 26, 1997

The Saint

saintWhat inspired me to see Val Kilmer in this big-screen adaptation of a TV show which a) I have never seen; and b) don't know anything about? I have seen movie adaptations of TV shows which I never watched: Starsky & Hutch, Lost In Space, Maverick, The Addams Family, Wild Wild West. But in all those cases, I knew what the premise of the original show was. (Flagship Falmouth Cinemas)

April 12, 1997

Grosse Pointe Blank

grosseA good example of an actor (John Cusack) finding a great project for himself, instead of waiting around for great parts to come your way. Probably the best "John Cusack" part so far.
It's obvious to me that this is a sequel in all but name to Say Anything...
It's very easy for me to believe that after Say Anything, Lloyd Dobler breaks up with Diane, or maybe just disappears on their trip to England, and ten years later he just shows up at the reunion as an assassin. All you have to do is change the names (Jeremy Piven is in both movies as an old school friend!), and tweak a few plot points and it works perfectly.
(April 12 and July 3, Maine Mall Cinema)

March 29, 1997

Jerry Maguire

A second viewing of this fantastic movie. I would eventually buy this movie in a two-disc DVD set, featuring a "video commentary" from the cast. Basically, they videotaped Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, and Cuba Gooding Jr. on a couch with headphones and microphones, watching the movie on TV. What was weird about this is, Cruise's head was shaved bald for his part in Minority Report. He was wearing a ballcap, and he made no mention of his odd appearance. Also, Gooding's hair was dyed an odd color, I think for a movie role, but I forget which (Rat Race [2001]?). Thirdly, Zellweger is even squinty-face-ier on video than she is on film! It's amazing she looks even borderline normal in the movies.

March 23, 1997

Shine

shineA classic "playing crazy wins the Oscar" performance from Geoffrey Rush.

March 22, 1997

Liar, Liar

liarMy favorite Jim Carrey comedy. (Maine Mall Cinema)

March 14, 1997

Star Wars Episode 6: Return Of The Jedi SPECIAL EDITION

George Lucas' first revision of the beloved saga is complete. There are many places in these Special Editions where I really appreciate the changes: he added more foreground and background creatures to Mos Eisley, he added a herd of Banthas to the Dune Sea, and more dynamic city views of Bespin the Cloud City. I really like the new shot of the Millennium Falcon blasting its way out of Mos Eisley in Episode 4. I don't object to replacing the Emperor in Episode 5 with the same actor from Episodes 1-3. But adding an entire musical number at Jabba's palace is just unnecessary and awful.

The Rebels Are The Bad Guys - To The Ewoks

While watching Return of the Jedi again in 2015 (in the wake of The Force Awakens) I noticed something new. The Ewoks (the otherwise unnamed natives of the Endor moon) live in peaceful coexistence with the Empire. The Empire has built a deflector shield and a spaceship landing pad in their forest (see artwork, right), but we are shown no evidence that the Ewoks' way of life has been affected in any way by the presence of the Empire. When the Rebel strike team arrives, their mission is to blow up the deflector shield, to enable Alliance forces to enter the Death Star and cripple the Empire, but this also means triggering a ecological disaster on Endor, in the form of a massive forest fire. The concluding scenes omit any reference to this- the Ewoks are seen celebrating their victory with no acknowledgement of the inferno burning just a few miles away. Adding to the amorality, the strike team (led by General Han Solo) persuaded the Ewoks to fight in this war they had no stake in by the influence of C-3PO, the droid that the Ewoks worship as a god. If the Rebellion had not co-opted the Ewoks on their mission, not only would there be no Ewok casualties during the Battle Of Endor, but the deflector shield would not have been destroyed (see below), and the Ewok habitat would have remained intact. This is exactly why the Prime Directive was invented on Star Trek!
Yes, the destruction of the Death Star and the collapse of the Empire is a good thing for the galaxy as a whole, but it has no effect on the Ewoks and their way of life in particular, and it's certain that the Ewoks paid too high a price for a victory compared to the possible extinction of their species.
FUN FACT: I saw this Special Edition in March 1997 - The Phantom Menace was coming in 26 months!

March 9, 1997

Donnie Brasco

donnieWonderful performances. Al Pacino does not overact, Johnny Depp is right on target, even Anne Heche is good!

March 8, 1997

Absolute Power

absoluteThe marketing gave away the great twist- that Gene Hackman is the President...

March 1, 1997

Mix Tape 45: All Mixed Up

Also known as "Scripty Cursive" I later remade this cassette mix on CD-R. 100 minutes cassette.
SIDE ONE
  1. "All Mixed Up" 311
  2. "Looking For A Song" Big Audio (aka the third iteration of Mick Jones' Big Audio Dynamite)
  3. "Eggman" Beastie Boys
  4. "Annie Get Your Gun" Squeeze
  5. "Possession" Sarah McLachlan
  6. "God" Tori Amos
  7. "Empty" The Cranberries
  8. "You And The Mona Lisa" Shawn Colvin
  9. "Something So Right" Paul Simon
  10. "Philadelphia" Neil Young
  11. "Believe What You're Saying" Sugar
  12. "Without You" Bruce Springsteen
  13. "Paper In Fire" John Cougar Mellencamp
SIDE TWO
  1. "We've Arrived (And To Prove It We're Here)" The Rutles
  2. "There Goes The Neighborhood" Sheryl Crow
  3. "Baby, Now That I've Found You" The Foundations
  4. "Stranger Than Fiction" Joe Jackson
  5. "Running On Ice" Billy Joel
  6. "When Love Comes To Town" U2 with B.B. King
  7. "Electrolite" R.E.M.
  8. "Behind Every Good Woman" Tracy Bonham
  9. "Monkey Gone To Heaven" The Pixies
  10. "Nearly Lost You" Screaming Trees
  11. "Little Bird" Annie Lennox
  12. "Peg" Steely Dan

February 21, 1997

Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back SPECIAL EDITION

More than two years in advance of the release of Star Wars Episode 1: Generation X Learns To Hate George Lucas, comes the first revision of our childhood memories. (February 21 and 28, 1997; Flagship Falmouth Cinemas)

February 20, 1997

Dante's Peak

dantesThe first two acts follow the script of "Jaws" except they replaced the word 'shark' with 'volcano': A big-city sheriff, relocated to a small resort community, teams up with a outspoken scientist to try and uncover the natural disaster which threatens the entire community. (Maine Mall Cinema)

February 1, 1997

44: The Damage Done

A collection of dark music, this cassette was later re-made as a CD-R. 94 minutes.

January 31, 1997

The Death of Obi-Wan Kenobi

The death of Obi-Wan Kenobi confused me as a kid and bothers me as a movie fan. When Obi-Wan Kenobi battles Darth Vader on the Death Star, Kenobi eventually stops fighting, raises his saber in a moment of prayer(?), and Vader swipes at Kenobi. In a long shot, we see Vader's lightsaber pass through Kenobi's (suddenly) empty cloak, which falls to the deck. Vader steps on the empty cloak, as if to confirm that it's empty.

When this scene originally played out in May 1977, movieogers knew very little about lightsabers and how they work. At that point in the Star Wars saga, we had only seen a lightsaber used once- when Kenobi defends Luke in the cantina in Mos Eisley. When Vader swipes at Kenobi and an empty cloak falls to the deck, I assumed that Vader's lightsaber had cut Kenobi in half and vaporized him.

In the episodes that followed, Lucas revealed more about the Jedi and their lightsabers:

  • You cannot vaporize someone by cutting them in half (see Darth Maul, Episode 1).
  • Jedi's bodies can disappear when they die (see Yoda, Episode 6).
  • Jedi's bodies don't necessarily disappear when they die (see Qui-Gonn Jinn, Episode 1).
During his battle with Vader, Kenobi implies that he his express-ticketed for the Force afterlife: "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine." In retrospect we can assume that Kenobi sacrificed himself in order to give Luke, et al, a chance to escape on the Millennium Falcon. We can also guess that the moment Vader's saber struck Kenobi, he died, and he immediately passed on to the Force afterlife. After all, Kenobi's ghost calls out in Luke's head moments later ("Run, Luke!") and throughout the remainder of the film.

My problem is that none of this is obvious from the way Lucas staged it in the movie. I would have staged it like this:

The old Jedi Knight looks over his shoulder at Luke, lifts his sword from Vader's, then closes his eyes with a serene look on his face. Vader brings his sword down, mortally wounding Kenobi. Ben falls to the deck. Vader looks down on Kenobi's dead body as his form fades away to nothingness, leaving only his cloak and lightsaber behind. Vader is puzzled at Ben's disappearance and pokes at the empty cloak.
Not only would this effect have been easier to create with optical effects, but it would have conveyed the idea better: Vader kills Kenobi with his lightsaber, and then Kenobi passes on to the afterlife.

Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope SPECIAL EDITION

I am a little frustrated with George Lucas's tinkering with the Star Wars movies. George Lucas has gone on the record repeatedly that Episode 4 was released in May 1977 with only half the effects completed to Lucas's satisfaction. Many of his changes have improved the movies by further fleshing out the futuristic and alien worlds, but other changes are simply self-indulgent and distracting. While the Special Editions are still fun after all these years, I began to realize then that my generation's opinion of these movies is strongly influenced by our nostalgia.
In January 1997 I drove from Portland, Maine, all the way to Burlington, MA, to see this Special Edition, because my friend Chet was obsessed with seeing Episode 4 on a THX-certified screen. We ended up seeing the movie from seats all the way on the right-hand side of the theater, so the picture was still great, but the stereo surround sound was a little crooked: When the Millennium Falcon enters the Alderaan system, and is buffeted by the remains of the destroyed planet, I thought the sound effects from the right surround speakers were gonna knock my head off! Nearly nineteen years later I would see The Force Awakens on the very same screen (with a major overhaul in picture, sound, and seating!) January 31st, General Cinemas Burlington, MA; February 8th, Flagship Falmouth, ME

January 25, 1997

Hamlet

I drove 110 miles to see Ken Branagh's amazing uncut adaptation, shot with 70mm cameras, and projected with a 70mm projector at the Kendall Square Cinema.

January 15, 1997

The Golden Days of 1984

A nice, concise, focused time capsule of my favorite music from 1984.
SIDE A
  1. "1984/Jump" Van Halen
  2. "Oh Sherrie" Steve Perry
  3. "Separate Ways (World Apart)" Journey
  4. "Love is a Battlefield" Pat Benatar
  5. "Infatuation" Rod Stewart
  6. "Say It Isn't So" Hall & Oates
  7. "Cuts Like a Knife" Bryan Adams
  8. "Be Good Johnny" Men At Work
  9. "Hungry Like The Wolf" Duran Duran
  10. "Stay The Night" Chicago
SIDE B
  1. "Footloose" Kenny Loggins
  2. "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" Cyndi Lauper
  3. "Borderline" Madonna
  4. "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" Elton John
  5. "You Take Me Up" Thompson Twins
  6. "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" Phil Collins
  7. "Heart & Soul" Huey Lewis & The News
  8. "All Night Long (All Night)" Lionel Richie
  9. "Billy Jean" Michael Jackson
  10. "Say Say Say" Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
  11. "Let's Hear it For The Boy" Denice Williams
(94 minute Sony cassette)

January 11, 1997

Evita

evitaI hate Andrew Lloyd Webber- and this movie didn't change my feelings one bit.

January 7, 1997

Mix Tape Forty-Three

This mix was a little under-baked. I couldn't even fill a 60 minute cassette with music I liked. Several of these tracks I actively dislike!

January 2, 1997

Forty-Two: Merry Christmas 1996!

My second mix to highlight music received as Christmas presents.

January 1, 1997

The Crucible

crucibleAnother "bad teeth" performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. (Maine Mall Cinema)