What do you do when the world you’re in is too boring, too stressful, or too miserable to endure? You retreat into your own imaginary world, of course. “Monster Camp” is one of the many documentaries taking off from the ilk of “Trekkies” and “Ringers,” in which we spend a time in the lives of folks who just love their hobby. They don’t just love their hobby, but it’s something of a way of life that manages to have a positive influence on them and everyone around them.
“In boot camp, we used to every night we had to say–before we went to bed, we’d have to sing the Marine Corps Hymn, and laying at attention in bed,we’d sing the Marine Corps Hymn, and then we’d say,”Another day in the Corps, sir, for every day’s a holiday and every meal’s a feast. Pray for war. Pray for war. God bless the Marine Corps. God bless my drill instructors. Pray for war.” And every night we had to say that, and when we’d run and we’d sing songs, we’d sing, like, they’d say, “Kill, kill, kill.” And when we–at our–at judo practice and knife fighting practice and bayonet fighting practice it was always, that was the yell: “Kill, kill, kill.”’
In the nineties America was obsessed with dinosaurs. For reasons we could never put our fingers on, Dinosaurs were in just about every facet of pop culture you could imagine. Video games, movies, animated series, they were mascots for snack foods, they were the basis for a family sitcom, and yes, they were fit in to movies amounting to cinematic oddities still making movie buffs scratch their heads. We had a family film about miniature dinosaurs, a buddy cop comedy about a female cop and a dinosaur, and yes, we even had “Tammy and the T-Rex.”
You don’t know how good you have it. These days everyone has Iron Man, and Captain America, Oscar winning Spider-Man movies, and massive team movies from DC and Marvel. Aquaman is a friggin’ box office juggernaut. In 1996, though we had slim pickings, and, well the best we could get was a truly terrible, painfully dull cinematic adaptation of a pulpy Dark Horse comic that doubled as a remake for “Casablanca.” No seriously, this is as good as it got for us comic book fan boys.
The idea of the cost of war has never been more thoughtfully and emotionally conveyed than in Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies.” The 1988 animated film is still one of the most emotional and powerful films I’ve ever seen, it’s a film that completely transcends all ideas of storytelling, and destroys any stigma that animation is a child’s medium that is limited in scope and substances, especially when telling human stories.
Katie Holmes was always prone to playing more glamorous and squeaky clean roles back in 2003, but for “Pieces of April” she’s the center of what is a unique Thanksgiving set film. Peter Hedges film is all at once a funny, heartbreaking, and thought provoking film. It’s a film about redemption, and ultimately about forgiveness. Can we forgive someone who has hurt us over and over? Can we forgive someone who almost went out of our way to hurt us in the past? Can we forgive ourselves for the heinous things we’ve done in the past to our loved ones, if we work hard at redemption?
The eighties are often credited as the time of the VHS and video stores, but the nineties is where the VHS truly hit its stride. Throughout the eighties, the VHS spent most of its time in a war with Betamax, trying to lure customers to their format. Although Betamax was technically superior, VHS eventually won out, and by 1990 while VHS was collecting and reaping its rewards, Betamax was still trying to convince us that it was the superior format. VHS was so powerful it even evaded being sideswiped by the technically superior, albeit more expensive, Laserdisc, which jumped out like a rocket in the early nineties and eventually faded away.
It’s amazing how prophetic Satoshi Kon’s “Perfect Blue” was back in 1997. Even though it was released at the beginning of the internet age, “Perfect Blue” is a very strong and still very relevant tale about rabid fandom, gate keeping, obsession, and the struggles to maintain one’s own sense of self and agency in a world where growing in one’s career means relinquishing our dignity and discretion. In a time where actresses are being chased and harassed off of social platforms, “Perfect Blue” conjures up so much interesting and familiar imagery and plot beats, and ultimately is about the cost of rabid fandom.