A Bug’s Life (1998, John Lasseter & Andrew Stanton)

Haven’t watched this since theaters. Blu-ray version 17 years later reinforces first impression that it’s pretty good. Man, Pixar has come a long way with 3D textures. Misfit inventor ant is exiled for causing havoc and getting the ants in trouble with the bully grasshoppers, finds help in the form of failed circus act, returns and fails to save the day but succeeds in convincing his fellow ants to stand up to oppression.

Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino)

Haven’t seen this in 18 years, so I’d forgotten most of it, and didn’t realize it contains The Definitive Samuel L. Jackson Performance.

Sam Goody:

Shot by Tarantino buddy Robert Rodriguez’s cinematographer Guillermo Navarro – close-ups galore and terrific acting. Part of a mid-90’s cinematic Elmore Leonard craze, between Get Shorty and Out of Sight. Grier, Forster and Jackson got various awards and nominations. Only Forster made it to the oscars, though… jeez, it was an all-white year at the oscars except for a 4 Little Girls documentary nomination.

Keaton, the year after Multiplicity. De Niro shortly before he turned to self-mocking comedy in Analyze This and never looked back. Bridget Fonda apparently retired after 2002. Jackson would continue the 1970’s references with his Shaft remakquel. Chris Tucker’s Fifth Element costar Tiny Lister appears as Forster’s employee at the bail-bond place.

Unfortunately Pam Grier’s follow-ups don’t look so good: Chris Elliott comedy Snow Day, Fortress 2, Snoop Dogg’s Bones, Ghosts of Mars, and finally the career-killing Adventures of Pluto Nash. I assumed Jackie Brown was a comeback for her, but it looks like the movies she made the year before were better than any that came after: Mars Attacks, Escape From L.A. and Larry Cohen’s Original Gangstas.

Mindwarp (1992, Steve Barnett)

Rebellious young Judy (Marta Alicia of Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure) is rebelling against Infinisynth, the mind-control company that provides her family with virtual-reality escapism via a data port in the back of their necks. She’s chastised by the Systems Operator for invading her mom’s dreams and soon expelled into the wastelands outside their cushy VR-fueled apartment building, where she’s discovered and protected by post-apocalyptic survivalist Bruce Campbell and threatened by a cult of underground mutants led by Angus Scrimm.

Angus displays his ID card:

Bruce displays a possum:

So it’s Ash vs. The Tall Man in a post-apocalyptic virtual-reality sci-fi/horror… in HD. But it’s poorly made, dingy looking and dull, all those promising ideas and cast members wasted on a movie that doesn’t quite work. At least it continues to get weirder, Angus having his mutants comb through the ruins of civilization for useful junk, occasionally sacrificing a mutant via his person-juicing-machine. He reveals that he’s Judy’s father and reveals his plan to repopulate the earth with her in the same scene. Bruce proves an ineffective protector, is fed to pirahnas. Then Angus says it was all a test, that he’s the SysOp of the VR universe and he wants his daughter to take over. Then that was all a dream – then that was all a dream. The Matrix and Existenz would use similar ideas with improved cinematography.

Judy’s mutant army:

Sleep pods from Je t’aime, je t’aime:

SysOp Guy Fieri:

Produced by the short-lived Fangoria Films, who at least attracted good casts, with Oliver Reed and Karen Black in their other early-90’s movies. From the director of Scanner Cop II and Hollywood Boulevard II (no way), written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3 and 4, The Net). At least something good came out of this movie – Bruce Campbell married the costume designer. Also, it appears to have invented the roomba.

Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (1993, Charles Band)

“Full Moon Entertainment Presents”

1993 was the year of Puppet Master 4, Remote (IMDB: “my best advice is to skip it”), Mandroid (from the writer of Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain), Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (sequel to Mandroid), Arcade (with Seth Green, “a virtual reality game begins taking over the minds of teenagers”), dinosaur flick Prehysteria, Robot Wars (Robot Jox sequel starring Barbara Crampton) and Subspecies 2.

Dollman and the nurse… can you tell how tiny they are?

Another guy is breaking into the toy warehouse from Demonic Toys? New security guard (Phil Fondacaro, the troll in Troll) doesn’t notice this guy just wandering in and dying on the floor, then the toys are back in town – plus an army guy and minus the teddy bear I think, taking the Puppet Master approach of adding and removing evil toys on a whim.

I like the new PTSD-GI-Joe doll:

Weirdly power-hungry dwarf security guard:

Elsewhere, tiny Dollman finds a hot tiny girl who “got shrunk by aliens” – I don’t remember this happening. Turns out this is a crossover between Dollman, Demonic Toys, and something called Bad Channels (“in space, no one is safe from rock ‘n’ roll”). How do I know? Because Dollman vs. Demonic Toys – only a one-hour movie – spends as much time as possible running flashbacks from its three predecessors.

Can Dollman, shrunken Nurse Jude and Demonic Toys survivor Tracy Scoggins keep the Toys from taking over? Yes, easily. Dollman shoots them with his little gun and they explode. Sorry for the total lack of suspense. Before that, the Toys are warping prostitutes into another dimension in order to summon their master (the Puppet Master?), and the final showdown involves the Baby toy trying to rape the shrunken nurse. Directed by madman Charles Band himself and written by Tarantino friend Craig Hamann, both of whom should stay away from children.

Life Is Sweet (1990, Mike Leigh)

Sometimes in the middle of SHOCKtober you need to take a break and watch something called Life Is Sweet. Hoping the title isn’t a pun on the faux-punk character’s episodes of binging on candy bars then vomiting them up. The whole thing’s a bit less cheerful than the title would suggest, but it’s implied that everyone (except maybe poor Timothy Spall) will turn out alright.

Jim Broadbent (not yet an internationally beloved figure, he was at the time a Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam regular who’d recently appeared in Superman IV) and Alison Steadman (also in a Gilliam movie, and Mrs. Bennett in the Pride & Prejudice mini-series) live in a row house with twin daughters Nat (a boyish plumber) and Nicola (unemployed punk with gross food issues). There’s not much to the movie plot-wise – Jim buys a fixer-upper food truck from buddy Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, V for Vendetta) but doesn’t fix it up, and the family helps a very goofy Timothy Spall (who was unsurprisingly absent from cinemas for a half-decade after this performance, hopefully toning it down for Leigh’s Secrets & Lies in 1996) with his restaurant opening.

The restaurant thing is a huge failure and seems to take up half of the movie’s runtime. The simple family relations held more of my interest, especially when involving the grounded Nat (Claire Skinner of Leigh’s Naked) and unstable Nicola (Jane Horrocks in Roeg’s The Witches the same year, later star of Little Voice) who has a breakdown after her poseur politics get taken down by boyfriend David Thewlis, finally allowing herself to be consoled by her mom. Also, Broadbent and Steadman laugh constantly, all movie long, which is extremely comforting given what’s going on around them.

Mike D’A:

The mid-film reveal of Andy as a chef in charge of a large staff remains one of my all-time favorite “plot twists” … Life Is Sweet accomplishes everything Leigh would later attempt in Happy-Go-Lucky, except far more subtly and spread across multiple characters.

Autumn Tale (1998, Eric Rohmer)

Last of the Four Seasons, and the only one I had to watch at home (in HD, at least) since I missed the theatrical screening. Still a total pleasure. Maybe the happiest of the four, with no heartbreaking decisions to make, just a will-they-or-won’t-they with a couple that’s obviously good for each other.


Actually there’s a bit of craziness in the middle, when Isabelle reveals to the man she’s dating that she’s actually married. Isabelle (Marie Rivière, star of The Green Ray and The Aviator’s Wife) has posted a personals ad and attracted Gerald (Alain Libolt of Lady and the Duke, also thief Renaud of Out 1), then after screening him on a few outings, she admits she was acting on a friend’s behalf – prickly vineyard owner Magali (Béatrice Romand of A Good Marriage and Claire’s Knee) who is lonely but refuses to go looking for love.

Gerald & Isabelle:

Magali finally meets Gerald at Isabelle’s daughter Emilia’s wedding, where, not knowing of Isabelle’s plot, Rosine (Magali’s son’s girlfriend) also tries to hook her professor ex-boyfriend up with Magali. That fails immediately – after all the build-up, the two spend about thirty seconds together then the professor wanders off to talk with younger women. Magali misunderstands the Gerald situation and runs off angrily, then she and Gerald return to the wedding looking for each other, and all is well.

Rosine introduces Magali to the professor:

Interesting that all three leads are Rohmer regulars, since the other movies were mostly cast with unknowns. Maybe the Béatrice Romand-starring A Good Marriage should be my next Rohmer, since she was such fun to watch in this movie. This played at Venice alongside Run Lola Run, New Rose Hotel and Black Cat White Cat, winning best screenplay.

Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994, Aki Kaurismaki)

Sequelitis. Tyrannical band manager Vladimir returns from the wilderness claiming to be Moses, leads the group to Coney Island then to Siberia, stealing the nose of the Statue of Liberty along the way. Andre Wilms, star of Le Havre, plays an American agent on their tail trying to return the nose. Cowritten by two band members and featuring much of the gang from the first movie plus a Jarmusch cameo. Vladimir died of a heart attack the next year, so no more sequels, but there’s a concert film called Total Balalaika Show, which Hulu wouldn’t let me watch.

Winter’s Tale (1992, Eric Rohmer)

An inverse of Summer? In Summer, guy is waiting for girl 1, dates girls 2 & 3 in the meantime, when girl 1 finally arrives they don’t stay together. Here a girl is waiting for guy 1, dates guys 2 & 3, when guy 1 finally arrives they stay together. A fairytale true-love/soulmate movie, which seems an odd fit for the series. I was annoyed at the magical ending early on, since I saw it coming a mile away, but had time to prepare for the inevitable, and it’s hard to stay mad when things turn out so nice and deserved. But the characters seemed less real than in Spring and Summer – it felt academic. Maybe some of this is explained by the play-within-the-play, as our characters watch a production of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, which is known for its abrupt happy ending.

Opens with Felicie (Charlotte Very of Blue and Lady and the Duke) and Charles (Frederic van den Driessche of Brisseau’s Exterminating Angels) very much in love. A few years later Charles has disappeared and Felicie is raising their daughter alone. He had the wrong mailing address for her, then both of them moved and they couldn’t find each other. She’s in Paris, dating academic Loic (Herve Fulric of a 1982 Les Miserables) and also her hairdresser boss Maxence (Michel Voletti, lately of The International), but doesn’t really see herself with either. She’s convinced to move away with Max and start their own business in another town, but she quickly decides that her loyalty and love are for Charles, moves back to Paris and runs into him on a bus.

Won some prizes in Berlin, playing alongside La Vie de Boheme, Center Stage, Naked Lunch and big winner Grand Canyon.

Clueless (1995, Amy Heckerling)

In the aftermath of the 100 Great Movies by Female Directors list making the rounds, Katy decided it was time I watched this. She played with her phone through the whole movie.

I thought the slangy dialogue didn’t sound too dated, but that’s probably just because Katy and I still use some of it (because we are old). It turns out Alicia Silverstone was actually fine, and Batman & Robin and Aerosmith videos weren’t adequate vehicles to express her talent. Her costar is Stacey Dash (Damon Wayans’s love interest in Mo’ Money). Plus Paul Rudd, Dan Hedaya, Wallace Shawn, and a bunch of people whose names sound vaguely 1990’s-familiar but I never knew who they were.

Now I just need to see Fast Times at Ridgemont High and what, Rock & Roll High School?