Baraka (1992) Written by Constantine Nicholas and Genevieve Nicholas Directed by Ron Fricke
When Seth told me that his brother had selected a movie to be reviewed, I wasn’t surprised. The shocker came that he had chosen me to do it, and as the title was given, for a brief moment, I thought my brother-in-law was forcing me to watch a movie about Barack Obama because he wanted to test me.
Luckily, I was wrong, but still, a little perplexed as Seth further explained it to me. I am not a cinephile. I’m just a woman who likes what she likes.
The Fifth Element (1997) Written by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen Directed by Luc Besson
The 1990s saw a slew of big-budget science fiction films, and most of them were memorable but not fantastic. Independence Day and Judge Dredd come to mind. However, there would occasionally be a diamond in the rough. Demolition Man would be a campy favorite. Contact was a science fiction pic made for people desiring something more cerebral. And then we have The Fifth Element, a lavish indulgence of production design, eccentric characters, and space opera that never takes itself too seriously yet has so much heart. There are few films like it which is probably why The Fifth Element has endured in people’s memories. But, unfortunately, even the director failed to recapture the magic decades later.
The Sopranos Season 1 (HBO) Written by David Chase, Mark Saraceni, Jason Cahill, James Manos Jr., Frank Renzulli, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Joe Bosso Directed by David Chase, Dan Attias, Nick Homez, John Patterson, Allen Coulter, Alan Taylor, Lorraine Senna, Tim Van Patten, Andy Wolk, Matthew Penn, Henry J. Bronchtein
I was a high school student working at my local library when I first encountered the Sopranos. I think I was thumbing through the newest issue of Time or Newsweek we’d just had delivered and found a full-page ad announcing the premiere of the show. I was a little confused, being someone who only had seen television series on network television. The ad read, “Welcome to the family.” Tony Soprano stood in the center. To his left were the principal members of his crew, and to his right were the members of his family and his psychiatrist. I wasn’t sure if this was a serious drama or a sitcom about a mob boss. We didn’t have HBO at home, so I didn’t think much about it. In my freshman year of college, I probably became aware of the show’s popularity, but it wouldn’t be until around 2003 that I checked out the first season from the library and watched it. Life got in the way, and I never continued the series until now.
In watching episodes from all forty-six seasons of Saturday Night Live, I’ve come up with the theory that there are multiple shows with that title airing in that time slot. The original cast (1975-80) was the first show; from 1980-86, there were constant attempts to retool the program. Finally, in 1986, the show was rebooted and stayed in that form until around 1995. Then from 1995 to possibly the present day, we’ve had a very consistent, though increasingly bland network brand under the name Saturday Night Live. These eras are so distinct in tone and style that it’s hard to say they are the same show.
New Waterford Girl (1998) Written by Tricia Fish Directed by Allan Moyle
As someone who spent ages 10-18 in a small rural area, I have found that places like this can feel incredibly stifling. Much like the characters in this story, their religion (Catholicism in their case, American Nationalist theology for mine) casts a shadow over their lives but not in a way that strictly shapes their behavior. Instead, they create loopholes for inevitable downfalls of human morality. For example, if you get a girl pregnant, you just marry her, and then all is forgiven, or you go off for a few months to a convent where the baby is taken, and then you come home, and no one ever talks about it again. There’s not much to look forward to in this place, leading to a rather bleak outlook on life, a desire to escape.
Lorne Michaels apparently saw it was time to inject new blood into Saturday Night Live, starting with the sixteenth season. He’d had a fantastic four years of a consistent cast; many performers are absolute icons when the show is discussed. This is the moment where SNL begins to become a brand. I don’t think it fully realizes that until the end of the 1990s, but it’s clear NBC sees this as a critical piece of their late-night line-up instead of what the show was like through most of the 1980s, a deadweight.
Gattaca (1997) Written & Directed by Andrew Niccol
During my college years, I knew a couple of people that loved Gattaca. My first time watching it was around 2005, and I have to say I wasn’t left highly impressed. There has always been something empty about the film that I don’t think was intentional. That said, it has undoubtedly had a significant influence on science fiction films that have come out since, mainly with aesthetics. I think the themes of the movie don’t get explored in a way that feels satisfying. The ending feels like a bit of a letdown, and I don’t think the characters’ arcs are resolved in ways that make sense.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Written by James Cameron and William Wisher Directed by James Cameron
Certain movies extend beyond just being a new film and exist in their time as a cultural phenomenon. Terminator 2 was that sort of a picture, where even ten-year-old me, who couldn’t see the film at the time because it was rated R, could feel how big it was. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the biggest action star at the time, and he was returning to work with James Cameron. Since directing the first Terminator, Cameron had helmed Aliens and The Abyss. In the latter film, he experimented with computer special effects that audiences had never seen before. For such a small number of films, the director had gained massive acclaim. At the time, with its budget of around $100 million, it was the most expensive movie ever made.
The Invitations (Season 7, Episode 24) Original airdate: May 16, 1996 Written by Larry David Directed by Andy Ackerman
The four main characters of Seinfeld are not meant to be aspirational figures. They are almost warnings about how not to behave in society. Few episodes highlight that aspect as strongly as the finale of season seven. It’s not their ugliest moment, but it is capped off by the coldest reaction we have ever seen them have. This moment underscores how Seinfeld was not like other family-friendly sitcoms and emphasized Larry David’s edict of “no hugging, no learning.”
The Pitch (Season 4, Episode 3) Original airdate: September 16, 1992 Written by Larry David Directed by Tom Cherones
There are few seasons of network sitcoms as wildly bold as Seinfeld Season 4. Because it’s become part of the cultural conversation, we don’t really notice it, but it was insane that this was even made. Larry David decided to make a season-long serialized story about the sitcom characters making a sitcom based on their lives. These days, meta-humor is a fairly common element in media, but in 1992, most audiences had never seen anything like this. One of the things I’ve noticed about rewatching these episodes is how often Jerry’s comedy routine was picked apart or made the butt of a joke. It all informs Curb Your Enthusiasm, which would be Larry David’s unbridled dissection of the entertainment industry and his continued examination of the minutiae of daily life.