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.
Ralph Bakshi’s “Cool World” is a movie without a specific audience in mind, and doesn’t seem to know who it’s appealing to. It’s too dark and adult to be considered another “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and much too juvenile to be taken as an adult film. I vividly remember collecting comic books as a kid and seeing full page ads for “Cool World” in every single issue I bought, and yet the movie clearly was not intended for a nine year old, and was too underground for teenagers. In a decade where everyone was trying to be Disney, I doubt many audiences were in the market for a dark erotic animated neo-noir satire involving an animated seductress trying to have sex with her creator so she can become a human.
It’s hard to believe but it’s been twenty five years since Brandon Lee was accidentally killed while filming “The Crow.” Lee was such a rising talent who wanted to prove himself as an actor more than become the next big action star, and he was well on his way. Lee, like his dad, had to earn a lot of his clout. First: by starring in films in Asia, and then coming to America to try his hand. But unlike his dad, Brandon had the humongous shadow of his father looming over him and he would have had to work extra hard to come out from under it and make Brandon Lee a very different name from Bruce Lee.