The Last Ten Minutes Vol. 18: Shabby Studio Flicks from the 1990’s

Wing Commander (1999, Chris Roberts)

I played the first Wing Commander video game a fair amount, the second one a ton, and I think my computer was underpowered for the third (1994) so that one not so much. When the movie came out too-many-years later and I saw its posters splashed all over Barcelona, I ignored it. Looks like that was the right choice. Euro-accented spaceship crew is yelling the standard space-movie stuff about shields, then there’s a solo-flying Freddie Prinz Jr. with a cool monocole. I’ve got nothing against Freddie, didn’t see any of his poorly-received movies of the era and he was alright on The Brak Show. This movie is so full of jargon and effects, I doubt anyone knows or cares what is happening. Cool to see David Warner as the admiral, anyway. I don’t approve of the Kilrathi being slow-motion underwater green-tinted puppets speaking in subtitled death-metal voices. Appearance at the end by Saffron Burrows of Klimt. Why is Mark Hamill credited as “?” when he appears in all the games?


Star Trek 7: Generations (1994, David Carson)

I went back further than ten minutes because I didn’t want to miss Kirk dying. He and Picard fight Malcolm McDowell in the desert trying to get some magic remote control that makes a missile turn invisible. Doesn’t seem like a plot worth dying for, but Kirk gets crushed under a metal bridge, freeing up Shatner to do more important work, like that amazing Se7en parody in 1996. Epilogue: Data has emotions and a pet cat, Picard has a monologue about time being a flat circle and Frakes makes a sly joke about living forever (he will). Director Carson went on to make Unstoppable (the Wesley Snipes one, not the Denzel Washington one).


Congo (1995, Frank Marshall)

I don’t remember the novel, other than I hated it but it was the only book I had while stuck in a Costa Rica airport for six hours… or maybe that was Sphere… anyway, why are army people machine-gunning monkeys, and why is one monkey speaking English while wearing a nintendo power glove? Good to see Ernie Hudson, and weird to see Laura Linney blasting monkeys with lasers and oh now a volcano is erupting and burning all the monkeys. Do NOT watch this movie if you love monkeys. Joe Don Baker!! After all the digital motion-capture shit of recent years it’s nice to see one monkey played by an actor wearing a furry suit. Director Marshall went on to make a Paul Walker sled dog movie and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley was slumming between an oscar win for Moonstruck and a nomination for Doubt.


The Relic (1997, Peter Hyams)

I guess this is the one that wasn’t Species or Mimic. Apparently it stars Penelope Ann Miller (Big Top Pee-Wee) and Tom Sizemore (Dreamcatcher), but I can’t see a damned thing. Looks like figures running through a dark chemical plant. When we finally see the Relic and its gross long tongue, it looks like some Alien/Predator/Pumpkinhead/Krang mashup for the ten seconds before Penelope uses confusing editing to set it on fire, then she spits some weak Hellraiser catchphrase and it blows up. Was this movie about anything? Hyams made a Sean Connery movie called Outland 16 years earlier which I apparently watched (I gave it a 6). He also made Timecop and End of Days, which I would totally watch the last ten minutes of either of those if available, so get your shit together netflix.


Deep Impact (1998, Mimi Leder)

This was the asteroid movie that wasn’t Armageddon but came out at the same time. Sure enough, the asteroid hits the Earth and kills everyone. It kills the loving couple on the beach. It kills New York City. It kills everything. Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski escape, chuckling at the devastation. Meanwhile some crying astronauts led by Robert Duvall are saying goodbye and it gets real weepy before they crash into a second asteroid and blow it to bits then President Morgan Freeman gives a boring speech. This looks like it was a boring movie. Mimi Leder went on to make the movie that shook my faith in movies, Pay It Forward.


The Phantom (1996, Simon Wincer)

In today’s superhero-fueled world, it’s quaint to visit the superhero movies of yesteryear, which were medium-budget and starred Billy Zane. Billy is a fine actor as long as he never has to speak, so he’s always cast in major roles and given tons of dialogue. Some bad guy picks up a crystal skull and says “at last!” and someone else is accused of kiling Phantom’s father. All movies are basically the same, aren’t they? Phantom has a pathetic, sub-lightsaber effects-duel with the baddie, whoever he was, then everything explodes. Where is Catherine Zeta-Jones? Holy shit, Patrick McGoohan cameo as Phantom’s dad. Phantom’s girlfriend is Kristy Swanson, the lead in Mannequin 2: On The Move. This has kind of a Rocketeer / Sky Captain / Indiana Jones throwback look which I appreciate. It was director Wincer’s follow-up to Operation Dumbo Drop, and he’d go on to make Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.

After each of these movies, netflix assumed next I’d want to watch their new Adam Sandler flick. That is either persistent self-marketing or a sadly accurate attempt to predict the tastes of people watching Congo on a thursday night in 2016.

Happy Together (1997, Wong Kar-Wai)

Responsible Lai Yiu-Fai (Wong fave Tony Leung) and impulsive, promiscuous Ho Po-Wing (Ashes of Time star Leslie Cheung) took a trip to Argentina, ran out of money and got stuck there. Now they’re trying to make money to get home, while the pressure of being together so long has destroyed their relationship. Ho disappears for long periods, returning dramatically without warning, while Lai persistently works menial jobs at a nightclub, a kitchen and a slaughterhouse. Lai meets Chang (young Chen Chang, lately The Razor in The Grandmaster) in the kitchen, but Chang isn’t sticking around Buenos Aires long, is on his way around the world (with ITMFL-like mention of a remote place people go to leave their troubles behind). Lai finally gets the money to leave, can’t find Ho so he returns to Hong Kong, where he can’t find Chang either (only finds his family’s restaurant).

Mostly great, eclectic music choices, including my favorite Caetano Veloso song from Talk To Her. But, well, my love for Frank Zappa is eternal, and I complain that his music isn’t played enough, and I appreciate the connection between him and the Turtles song of the film’s ironic title, but “I Have Been In You” did not fit the wistful mood of the city montage after Chang left.

Lai at the waterfall:

Chang at the end of the world:

A sustained mood piece, where nothing really happens and Christopher Doyle’s brilliant cinematography heighten the emotions of everyday life – just like In The Mood For Love. But ITMFL was about the possibility of an ultimately doomed romance, and this one’s about the lingering feelings after romance has ended. It’s a much more bitter movie, and though I enjoyed seeing it in HD for the first time, it doesn’t seem like one to revisit regularly.

M. D’Angelo:

Happy Together features all of the elements that have consistently impressed me in his other pictures: elegantly moody characters; stunning cinematography (courtesy Christopher Doyle, as ever); a loose-limbed narrative that careens from shot to shot without deliberation; a general air of cinema as possibility. All that’s missing is the powerful romantic yearning that suffused Chungking Express, Fallen Angels … and even parts of Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. In its place, to my irritation, is endless squabbling.

Whispering Pages (1993, Aleksandr Sokurov)

My preparatory viewings of various Crime and Punishment adaptations didn’t end up preparing me at all for Whispering Pages, which uses none of the main events from the novel, instead taking minor scenes and mashing them up with other novels, creating a general tone of miserablist 19th century Russian literature without bothering itself with a story.

Extreme Slow Cinema here, but Sokurov keeps it short, under 80 minutes. He seems to love paintings and long takes. Motion shots turn to stills. The color temperature of shots changes. The picture sometimes looks blurred or stretched or warped, but given the stills I’ve seen of Mother and Son, this is probably intentional. Film grain and rolling mist are more main characters than our lead actor A. Cherednik, who speaks with a breathy Peter Lorre voice and seems to have killed someone offscreen.

Overall I wasn’t a fan, but it does have some mesmerising moments. There’s the main dialogue scene with E. Koroleva, in which he tells her that he’s killed someone and they debate him turning himself in and the existence of God, and she reacts like this:

There’s an obscure bureaucracy scene with this weirdo:

And there’s an inexplicable (dream sequence?) where everyone around our hero is leaping in slow-motion into unknown depths. Stills can’t do that shot justice, so instead here is some mist.

Hyènes (1992, Djibril Diop Mambety)

“The reign of the hyenas has begun.”

The famously wealthy (“richer than the World Bank”) Linguère Ramatou is returning to her village of Colobane after 30 years away. The village has fallen on hard times lately, so is doing everything it can to impress her so she’ll leave a generous gift, including promise the upcoming mayoral “election” to shop-owner Dramaan Drameh, a former flame of Linguère’s.

Turns out she has returned to take revenge on Dramaan, who got her pregnant 30 years ago but wouldn’t marry her, leaving her exiled from town to become a prostitute. We don’t know how she became rich and renowned after this, but it doesn’t matter – she offers the town more money than they can spend if they’ll just agree to kill Dramaan for her. Everyone says aloud that this is absurd, that lives aren’t for sale and they’ll never agree to sacrifice the beloved Dramaan, but everyone starts stealing from his store, denying him privileges, following him around and not allowing him to leave town. The women, including Dramaan’s wife, stockpile modern appliances on credit and won’t answer when Dramaan asks them how they plan to pay the bill.

Dramaan leading the welcome party:

In the end, the townspeople tell themselves they’re enacting delayed justice, carrying out a sentence on Dramaan for his unfair treatment of 17-year-old Linguère Ramatou. Though they’re cynically murdering him for the money, at the behest of a bitter woman who tells her servants “The world turned me into a whore. I’ll make the world a whorehouse.”

Ramatou and her entourage:

Played Cannes in competition with The Long Day Closes, Fire Walk With Me and Simple Men. I guess I’ve seen all available Mambéty films… nothing more to look forward to. Based on a popular Swiss play also adapted by Bernhard Wicki (with Ingrid Bergman) and about ten others.

California Newsreel:

Hyènes was conceived as the second installment, following on Touki Bouki, of a trilogy on power and insanity. The grand theme, once again, is human greed. As Mambety himself observed, the story shows how neocolonial relations in Africa are “betraying the hopes of independence for the false promises of Western materialism,” and how Africans have been corrupted by that materialism … After unleashing this pessimistic vision of humanity and society, Mambety began a trilogy of short films about “little people,” whom he called “the only true, consistent, unaffected people in the world, for whom every morning brings the same question: how to preserve what is essential to themselves.”

The director, playing an ex-judge now working for Ramatou:

Mambety:

The hyena comes out only at night … He is a liar, the hyena. The hyena is a permanent presence in humans, and that is why man will never be perfect. The hyena has no sense of shame, but it represents nudity, which is the shame of human beings.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993, Dave Borthwick)

Happy to come across this again – haven’t seen it since the VHS days. Awesome, hour-long stop-motion with live actors interacting with the miniature creations, which must’ve been difficult. Dark sci-fi fairy-tale following tiny Tom, born to normal-sized parents, then abducted away to a torture-lab, adopted by a tiny-people society, and brought on a guerrilla mission with a well-armed little guy. Death and horror is around every corner, and pretty much everyone is doomed. The grimy, insect-filled design is marvelous, would be cool to see this in HD someday.

Stills cannot convey the majesty:

Oh no, writer/director Dave Borthwick died a few years ago, after codirecting a kids’ animated feature. Dave’s “Bolex Brothers” partner Dave Alex Riddett is a stop-motion cinematographer (Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, way back to the Sledgehammer video), and the Bolexes also produced the great short The Saint Inspector.

Red (1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

Kind of a quiet, contemplative movie, with little of the grand emotion of Blue or the plot hijinks of White. Valentine (Irène Jacob: Kieslowski’s Veronique, also in the Laurence Fishburne Othello, Beyond the Clouds and Gang of Four) meets a reclusive ex-judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant of My Night at Maud’s and Z) via a lost dog. When she visits again, he readily admits he’s spying on his neighbors’ phone conversations. Rhyming shots and characters make this the most Veronique-like of the Colors trilogy.

G. Evans for Criterion:

What [the judge] unveils, above all, is a world of deceit and loneliness, which he observes with detachment, despite the fact that the people he hears are his immediate neighbors. Valentine seems to be no exception to this dispersed social existence, constantly dashing to answer calls from her boyfriend in England, who attacks her with paranoid accusations of infidelity. The secondary characters, whose stories interweave with those of the central pair, likewise suffer fractured relationships and troubled lives.

Auguste, the young judge:

In the opening sequence I realized what that is on the cover of the Criterion box – a Fincherian journey through phone cables. The series ends with the stars of the three colors films being the sole survivors of a sinking ferry, finally bringing them together – a cosmic coincidence, or as Dennis Lim suggests, the ending could have been a starting point, the reason for examining these characters in the first place. Evans again: “Kieslowski went so far as to say that the climactic scene of Red reveals that White had a happy ending. There is an expansiveness to this vision, in which everything may or may not be connected, in which fictional characters continue to have lives in times and places that exist beyond their filmic stories, that absolutely fits with the resonant quality of Red.”

Competed at Cannes with Queen Margot, Exotica, Through the Olive Trees, and at the Césars where it was no match for Wild Reeds and Isabelle Adjani.

The extras are very nice. Instead of presenting a disconnected gallery of deleted scenes, the film’s editor takes us through them, comparing to the final versions and explaining why they were cut. On Kieslowski: “I often saw him come out of Red very misty-eyed, very touched by his own film. For him, Red is a meditation on old age and youth.”

Dennis Lim:

With these innumerable rhymes and parallels, Red is rigged to trigger a constant sense of deja vu, an unexplained feeling of imminence. “I feel something important is happening around me,” Valentine says, articulating the nameless anticipation of the final passages.

Only Yesterday (1991, Isao Takahata)

Thirty-ish Taeko is helping harvest crops with relatives in the country as a vacation, hanging out with a hottie neighbor who will obviously be a love interest. Meanwhile Taeko is reviewing her life to this point with extended flashback stories of when she was ten, the frequency of cuts between time periods gradually increasing until they blend wonderfully over the closing credits. In a few spots it’s overly slow or precious or obvious, but it also has 10-12 moments of magical beauty like that final scene.

Nice stylistic choice to make backgrounds in the memory scenes pale and faded at the edges, lacking the environmental details of the present-day. The highest grossing Japanese film of 1991, but poorly treated in the states… it wasn’t supposed to be The Menstruation Movie until Disney acted like the film’s third-graders and refused to touch it unless the icky girl stuff was removed.

Noel Murray:

Only Yesterday can sometimes seem a little too random in what it chooses to show, but it has a cumulative power as Taeko comes to understand that the past that shaped her needn’t define her. That’s a remarkably sophisticated theme for any film, let alone a cartoon. But then what else should we expect from a filmmaker so precise that he’d spend five minutes describing the exact texture and taste of a piece of fruit?

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1997)

We’re dumped into the middle of a complex situation in a mechanized future city, where teenage kids are piloting giant robots to fend off invading aliens, or “angels,” then as the show settles into a groove of one angel per episode (each requiring either skill, strategy, or brute force/rage to defeat) it gradually fills in the details – some of them, anyway. Plenty of questions remain: why teenagers? Where do the alien-angels come from, and how are they connected to the apparently partly-biological robots (or “evas”)? Who’s the shadowy organization that runs the shadowy organization that runs the eva program and where did they get their plans and prophecies from? Why do the main characters have a pet penguin? And why is every single character in this show extremely neurotic?

I get that we’re in Japan, so of course there are teenagers piloting giant robots and of course there’s an out-of-place, comic-relief pet penguin. These traditions endure from Voltron to Macross/Robotech to Gundam to American movies like Robot Jox and Pacific Rim. I just played a 2015 Japanese video game in which cool dudes and underdressed sexy ladies pilot giant robots to kill marauding aliens, accompanied by a comic-relief talking potato, so it’s still going strong.

Our heroes:

Things get dark quickly:

The show is obsessed with numbering things (the third child, unit 04, seventh construction phase of tokyo-3, twelfth angel, second branch, code 707), feeling at times like the script was written in Excel. Set in the futuristic time of 2015-2016.

Seele or Nerv or something:

Our tormented lead character is Shinji. He lives with Misato, a hard-drinkin’ penguin-owner who runs mission control along with ex-rival Ritsuko and ex-flame Kaji, or actually I’m not sure what any of their jobs are because I watched the show slowly and missed or forgot some details. Also living with them is super-cocky pilot Asuka, whose whole world falls apart if she can’t be the best at everything. And living on her own is the quiet, often-injured Rei. Everyone has major, major parental and/or love-life issues, the worst of which is that Shinji’s dad Ikari runs the shadowy Eva organization Nerv but has never once spoken to his son with affection, and has a weird offscreen relationship with Rei, who he might be cloning.

Rei-clones:

Ikari-hand:

Then in the final episodes, instead of polishing off the story it dives into the tortured minds of the lead characters for an experimental-film psychoanalysis session. “This is the me that exists in your mind.” Shinji meets the perfect friend who turns out to be the final angel and must be killed by Shinji’s own hands. Asuka’s and Shinji’s moms die repeatedly in flashback. Ikari talks to an eyeball in his disfigured hand. Rei keeps being resurrected. Even the penguin is sent to live with someone else. Finally, Shinji reaches self-acceptance. “It’s okay for me to be here.” I found parts of the final episodes whiny and repetitive, but over the next few days warmed up to the idea of the whole series having been a prolonged Shinji therapy session.


The End of Evangelion (1997)

Then, the movie remakes those last two episodes the way the fans preferred: with mad apocalypse instead of therapy. There are still sexual and parental hangups, petty grievances, inter-agency power struggles, and everyone’s still super lonely and unhappy, but now there’s more sci-fi storyline to go with it. Nine new winged evas are unleashed along with military forces upon our Tokyo base, decimating it. Asuka goes on the biggest homicidal rampage of all time, taking down all the new evas, then Shinji has the biggest crippling self-doubt paralysis of all time, then every other character in the entire series is killed, then Rei becomes a planet-sized god, rapturing and absorbing the souls of all humanity. Unfortunately, the underground control panel nerds stay alive until the very end so they can keep spouting nonsense:

“Ikari has installed a Type 666 firewall on the MAGI’s external feed circuits.”

“Psychograph signal down!”

and my favorite,

“Pilot response approaching infinite zero!”

Said to be one of the best anime series ever… after this and Paranoia Agent I wonder what I should try next. Apparently Death & Rebirth is a skippable movie, condensed from the series and End of Evangelion movie, and there’s a trilogy of remake movies from 2007-2012 from the original creative team, which might be good, but I’ll hold off watching those since Wikipedia says there’s a part four coming. Writer/director Hideaki Anno apparently created the series (particularly the finale) in response to his own battle with depression. He started out as an animator on Nausicaa, also made Cutie Honey (which I enjoyed), some other kid/teen animated shows, and I guess he’s making the next Godzilla movie. Codirector Kazuya Tsurumaki directed the weirdo series FLCL.

British Animation Classics Vol. 2

Cafe Bar (1974, Alison De Vere)

Imaginative – couple sitting at a cafe table create and remove disguises, fight dinosaurs and minotaurs, turn into The Red Baron, trek across each other’s heads and ski down each other’s fronts. Looks like this was the first of a few essential animated films De Vere made.


Manipulation (1991, Daniel Greaves)

Covered this before in an Oscar-winning shorts roundup, but rewatching with much nicer picture quality. Generic dude is drawn by animator then discarded, but the dude becomes sentient, plays with drops of ink, worries about his 2D nature. Animator torments the dude for a while until he explodes with rage, becoming freed from his paper prison. It’s fully wonderful. Looks like Greaves put out a new short, Mr. Plastimime, since last time I watched this, playing last year’s Edinburgh fest.


Little Wolf (1992, An Vrombaut)

The littlest wolf in a sheep-hunting wolf parade gets himself stuck on the moon. The others try to get him down while the sheep interferes. I especially liked the “doyyng-doyyng” sound effects. The director is Belgian, has lately been making animated kids’ TV series. According to her website, she likes giraffes very much.


Oozat (1992, Darren Walsh)

I love stop-motion with human actors. Here they’ve got replaceable facemasks with different expressions. Dude meets some guys, drinks with them at the pub, shows a different face to the lady sitting next to him, eventually mixing up his faces. I think Walsh is the creator of Angry Kid, the red-haired Aardman stop-motion hooligan I used to see… somewhere. MTV? Cartoon Network? And he worked on a Black Mirror episode I haven’t watched yet.


Deadsy (1990, David Anderson)

I think Deadsy was a disturbed young man who became a rock star then a transsexual, his story told through beat-poem narration and a mishmash of animation techniques. Not my favorite. Writer/narrator Russell Hoban was a prolific sci-fi and childrens book author… not sure what happened to Anderson.


The Sandman (1991, Paul Berry)

Timburtonian stop-motion. Kid goes to bed and a moon-faced birdman stalks into his room and steals his eyeballs to feed to baby birdmen. Cool and creepy. Based on a tale of Hoffmann. You wouldn’t think this story had been adapted for film ten times, but according to IMDB you would be wrong. Oscar-nominated the year Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase won. Unsurprisingly, Berry was later an animator on The Nightmare Before Christmas.