The Brady Bunch Movie (Directed by Betty Thomas)
Film parodies and adaptations of old television franchises were reasonably common in the 1990s. You had Dennis the Menace, Leave it to Beaver, The Flintstones, etc. My favorite of all these was The Brady Bunch Movie, which, without explanation, dropped its titular 1970s family into the contemporary 1990s. This leads to lots of culture clash with the Bradys being consistently oblivious to how they were getting it wrong, and it helps to underline the cynicism in the present-day characters. The movie is all about gags and bits with some very loose overarching character arcs. I think the picture was heavily influenced by Wayne’s World in terms of a comedic tone. I personally think it works and the actors cast as Marcia and Jan steal the show from everyone. They are so true to the characters they are playing yet also have great comedic timing playing off of modern tropes.
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A Little Princess (1995)
Written by Richard LaGravenese & Elizabeth Chandler
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
When I watch films intended for families or children, I always focus on the theme or lesson being communicated. I think, as an elementary teacher, I want to know what this picture is telling kids about the world and humanity. I’d heard very positive things about A Little Princess, mainly from the perspective that Alfonso Cuaron did a great job directing. From that technical perspective, the film is well done, save for some poorly aged computer special effects. But I actually found the lesson of the picture to be deeply troubling yet very much in line with many of the films that come out of Hollywood for kids.
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Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Written & Directed by Mike Figgis
Leaving Las Vegas was based on a novel of the same name written by John O’Brien. O’Brien moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. By 1992, his marriage had fallen apart, and he had become severely depressed. He was still writing though, even using a connection through his ex-wife to pen an episode of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats, which was subsequently edited to the point of being unrecognizable. O’Brien published his first novel in 1990, Leaving Las Vegas, which was sold to become a film in 1994. Within weeks of the deal, O’Brien died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 33 years old. He died alone in his apartment.
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Written & Directed by Michael Mann
I’d always heard how good Heat was, but it was a film that I’ve circled around without ever sitting down and watching it, until now. I wouldn’t say I am a fan of Michael Mann’s, but I have appreciated every film I’ve seen, with Collateral being my favorite until now. I’ll just get this out of the way now, I loved Heat, so much. Christopher Nolan owes a significant part of his career to Mann, and I hope he has given adequate thanks for the aesthetic he has mimicked. This is a dense neo-noir multi-character novel turned into a movie that delivers on its themes and character arcs so beautifully & tragically.
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The Quick and The Dead (1995)
Written by Simon Moore
Directed by Sam Raimi
Without planning it, I’ve managed to watch a Sam Raimi film in all three of my Flashback series this year. For 1990 I re-watched Darkman, and for 1985 I saw the disappointing Raimi-Coen Brothers collaboration Crimewave. The Quick and The Dead represents a more reigned in presentation from Sam Raimi, with signature flourishes but presented in a less manic style than his two previous works, Darkman and Army of Darkness. There’s a lot to like about this Western in the way it embraces and challenges the genre, it’s definitely a mixed bag, but something I think is overall a delightful and well-made picture.
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Written by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, and Oliver Stone
Directed by Oliver Stone
I’m never sure how I feel about Oliver Stone, and he seems to be a polarizing filmmaker for many people. His particular style of storytelling grates on me, and I think he slips into maudlin melodrama and absurdity way too quickly. There seems to be a lack of cleverness or subtlety in his work. I believe early pictures like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July are okay. I have never really been able to get my head around Natural Born Killers. His George W. Bush film was a complete disappointment for me. I think JFK is probably his best work because the paranoid conspiracy focus matches Stone’s manner of directing best. Then we come to Nixon, his three hour plus presidential epic.
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The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
Written by Melissa Mathison
Directed by Frank Oz
Frank Oz is one of my favorite comedy directors of the 1980s and 90s. I consider Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and What About Bob? among my favorite movies from that period. He was also no stranger to making family-friendly fare with The Muppets Take Manhattan directorial credit as well as being one of the top performers among Jim Henson’s Muppet troupe. That’s what makes The Indian in the Cupboard feel so strangely disappointing and lifeless. The movie isn’t horrible, but it feels like it’s missing a critical emotional component that ends up leaving the picture ultimately forgettable.
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Written by Lana & Lilly Wachowski, and Brian Helgeland
Directed by Richard Donner
I’ve previously mentioned Richard Donner when I reviewed Ladyhawke and discussed how he is a perfect example of a journeyman filmmaker. Assassins is yet another example of this. Here we have a story that is rife for stylish exploitation, but instead, we get a very by the numbers shooting. The cinematography is mostly standard except for a few interesting choices here and there. Donner just simply isn’t anywhere close to being an auteur, and that’s not a bad thing. In the case of this film, it really could have used a filmmaker with a more inventive touch.
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Written & Directed by Amy Heckerling
I was fourteen when Clueless came out, and like most adolescent boys of the time, I acted like it didn’t interest me, that it was for girls. I couldn’t avoid it, though, and I can remember how it permeated culture that summer. I never saw the movie until now. Clueless is such a product of its time and word that Paramount is talking about remaking; it feels tone-deaf. You cannot remake this. It was based on Emma so you could do another contemporary retelling of that story, but Clueless is such a specific tone and look that captures an exaggerated version of the mid-90s. Better to let this film simply exist as an artifact of its time then try to recreate the feeling you had first seeing it as a teenager.
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Written by Ice Cube & DJ Pooh
Directed by F. Gary Gray
I haven’t laughed watching a comedy film like this in a very long time. This was a couldn’t stop, tears in my eyes, perpetual motion machine of laughing. Friday was an independent picture made by people that were figuring out how to be filmmakers and showing some of the best promise of any debut I’ve ever witnessed. Yes, there are weak points, and not all the jokes hit, but this is an instance where gags are being thrown at the screen every second. When ones do hit, they connect hard, and you’ll find yourself uncontrollably losing it.
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