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Posts Tagged ‘1995’

The Usual Suspects (1995)


“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

In a world of shadowy morality, something has gone very wrong in a heist on San Pedro Bay. Of all the questions raised, the one the cops most want answered is: “Who is Keyser Soze?”

The Usual Suspects is a neo-noir thriller directed by Bryan Singer. It stars Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, and Kevin Pollak.

Something has gone very wrong in San Pedro Bay, leaving a cargo ship ablaze and only two known survivors. FBI Agent Jack Baer and U. S. Customs special agent Dave Kujan arrive to investigate, and one of the survivors, a hospitalized Hungarian criminal, mentions that someone named Keyser Soze, whose reputation paints him as a legendary boogeyman, was in the harbor killing people. He saw him, though, and can describe him. Meanwhile the other survivor, a palsied con man named Verbal Kint, has his own story to tell, in exchange for near-total immunity. He paints a convoluted series of events leading to the explosion in the harbor, including how his crew was assembled to perpetuate a robbery targeting corrupt LAPD officers, and how they were subsequently hired for another job by the mysterious Mr. Kobayashi, on the behalf of the even more mysterious Keyser Soze. Things start going wrong, as things tend to do in these stories, but not everything is as it seems in Kint’s story, forcing Kujal to try to parse out facts from fiction in order to get to the bottom of what actually happened in San Pedro Bay.

This is not a movie that you can just turn on and zone out in front of. There are twists and turns, betrayals and double-crosses, and you may find yourself wanting to make a flowchart to keep track of all the players and events, only to have your initial theories trashed by later events. There are ultimately three versions of events: two are presented by Kint, and the third is what actually happened. This complicated Rashomon plays with your head as you are forced to not accept the narrator’s account as absolute fact, but rather try to parse out the story yourself – and then the ending hauls off and kicks you in the nuts with the conclusion that you probably still got it wrong the first time. This gives the movie a lot of rewatchability: you watch it the first time at face value, and then you watch it again knowing a lot of things that only come out during the conclusion, and you pick up even more subtle cues and clues with each successive rewatching.

The cast is fun to watch as well. The core group are scoundrels and scumbags, a loose gang of antiheroes out to screw someone over. The two agents are left scrambling in the wake of the massacre, forced to rely on a known con man for the only available account of things. Of the lot, Verbal Kint is glib and helpful and seems willing to aid the authorities – but how far can he be trusted? Everyone has their own motivations and means for reaching their goals, all working at cross-purposes until you’re not even sure who to root for. I won’t spoil anything for those who have yet to watch it, though, except to say that the ending is a HUGE twist, and those who have seen it shouldn’t forewarn people who haven’t. (I had The Sixth Sense ruined that way. Meh.)

If you like your thrillers twisty, your villains terrifying, and your heroes ambiguous, I highly recommend The Usual Suspects. The Rashomon-style storytelling will leave you guessing until the very end.

Species (1995)


I find it ironic that the first entry in former model Natasha Henstridge’s body of Hollywood work is a movie in which she, well, shows off so much of her body. While the “aliens mating with humans” type plot is hard to pull off successfully (and without resorting to tentacle rape), especially in a serious movie, this one also boasted semi-famous actors and a decent plot. Did it succeed? Let’s find out.

Species is a sci fi horror film directed by Roger Donaldson, and starring Natasha Henstridge, Marg Helgenberger, Alfred Molina, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker, and creature effects by H. R. Giger.

When SETI was established decades ago, it sent out a polite “hello” to any intelligent races that might be listening, in the form of information about Earth and its inhabitants, including info about our DNA, hoping that someone would say “hi” back. Twenty years later, they got a reply, in the form of information on the creation of an endless fuel source. Cool – they’re friendly! Naturally, when they send their next transmission, a sample of alien DNA and instructions on how to splice it with our own, a government team is set up to see what happens when Tab A is spliced with Slot B. Led by Dr Xavier Fitch, the team tries following the instructions in the transmission, deciding to make the result female in order to avoid any natural aggressive tendencies of a male specimen. Out of a hundred fertilized ova, finally one of them survives gestation, producing a hybrid named Sil, resembling a human girl. She grows quickly and appears to be highly intelligent, but she has violent night terrors which appear to be flashes of genetic memory of home. Her outbursts during these nightmares lead the team to judge her dangerous, and they try to kill her with cyanide gas. She escapes the lab, and a team is assembled to track her down and destroy her before she can mate with a human male, producing more like her and possibly eliminating the human race. Naturally, she has reached sexual maturity since escaping, and is now on a mission of her own – booty.

With a plot like this, one might expect Species to be nothing but softcore porn with only the vague sketches of a plot and shitty special effects to string the sex scenes together. Surprisingly, the movie actually works as a serious thriller. The opening scenes take the time to lay the groundwork for the story, rather than saying, “Here’s a hot alien chick, look at her boobs and don’t worry about the plot.” The story unfolds realistically, with the plot playing out in a logical fashion, winding up to a conclusion that feels genuinely tragic despite its necessity. Sil’s lack of a nudity taboo meshes naturally with her background – she is a creature of instinct, raised in a lab, with heightened senses, greater strength and agility, and the ideal appearance for attracting a mate. She acts and feels like a genuine organism looking for a suitable mate rather than a space slut willing to shag anyone.

The characters are, thankfully, not a cast of morons. While Fitch’s decision to terminate Sil in light of her violent nightmares seems ill-conceived, it makes sense – she is only likely to get stronger and more agile as she matures, and who knows how she sees the world. The composition of the team gathered to hunt her down is also logical: Dr. Arden to study her behavior for clues about her next move, Dr. Baker as a familiar face that Sil might trust, empath Dan Smithson to track her via her emotional states, and mercenary Preston Lennox for when they have her cornered and the time comes to kill her. Even Sil appears to have genuine motives for what she does beyond “gotta get laid”. While she is deadly, she does demonstrate species-perpetuation instincts, and she is decently choosy about her mates (rejecting one hopeful when she senses that he has diabetes). Though she can and does kill several people through out the movie, she is cunning and discreet, and generally kills only to defend herself or erase a sexual rival – this sort of thing happens all the time in nature on Earth – but as a non-native species there is a higher chance of her buggering up the biosphere.

While Species sounds like it might just be a brainless festival of tits and blood, I recommend it to fans of sci fi horror. Giger’s creature effects are amazing as always, Natasha Henstridge is hot, and the whole thing is overlaid on a surprisingly well-developed storyline. Worth a rental.

Ghost in the Shell (1995)


In a future of simulated experiences and hackable memories, what is reality? In a world where cybernetic implants and bodies are commonplace, what is humanity? In a city where robots and artificial intelligences exist alongside humans, what makes a soul?

Ghost in the Shell is an anime film directed by Mamoru Oshii and adapted from the manga of the same name by Kazunori Ito. Widely lauded as the first taste of adult anime for many Western viewers, it features the voices of Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, and Iemasa Kayumi.

Major Motoko Kusanagi is a cyborg assigned as squad leader of Public Security Section 9, a division of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission. Because her body is fully synthetic, she can’t be sure that she still possesses a true soul, referred to as a “ghost”. She has been assigned to investigate a series of “ghost hacks” perpetrated by a hacker known only as “The Puppetmaster”, in essence altering and rewriting memories of humans that are then used as tools to carry out other ghost hacks. Things start to get weird(er) when a, unauthorized female cyborg body is suddenly assembled at Megatech. The cyborg escapes the factory, only to be creamed captured by Section 9, who studies it to try to figure out why it was built. They make a strange discovery as they analyze the cyborg: despite being completely synthetic, and therefore having absolutely no organic brain tissue, the cyborg body possesses evidence that it has a ghost. Kusanagi, for existential reasons outlined above, wants to contact this ghost, but it appears that a lot of people want to get hold of this entity for their own purposes, particularly since it appears that it is connected to the Puppetmaster and a mysterious Project 2501…

When some people think of anime, they imagine giant robot battle, pubescent superheroines in sailor suits fighting giant monsters, improbably powerful ninjas and martial artists, or tentacle rape of any of the above. While these are valid themes found in some anime works, Ghost in the Shell contains none of them. Instead, it is a beautiful, serious, occasionally talky but often philosophical sci fi drama exploring such concepts as humanity and life over a backdrop of virtual reality and computer hacking. As one of the first fusions of traditional cel animation and CGI graphics, Ghost in the Shell boasts beautiful scenery, smooth animation, an distinct character designs in a genre where corner cutting might otherwise lead to cookie-cutter characters distinguished only by clothing or hair color. The characters, though definitely drawn in the anime style, don’t feel as stylized as some characters I’ve seen, and their expressions are subtle. Scenes where Major Kusanagi goes into action are well-rendered and smooth, and although there is some nudity in this film, it is tastefully invoked, and never used sexually.

While the plot is complex, it had to be condensed a lot from the source manga for length reasons, trimming out pretty much all the subplots except for the Puppetmaster story. Although I haven’t read the manga, it doesn’t seem that this distillation really hurt the movie much. The philosophy and Buddhist topics and imagery provide the necessary depth to keep this from becoming Transhumanist Philosophy for Dummies, and the idea that neural implants are so commonplace that a skilled hacker can just dip in and mess with your memories is plausible (and frightening) in the world that Oshii has created. Combine this with the idea of life developing in the other direction – that a being that was synthetic from the start can develop a soul – and you’ve got a neat little exploration of what it is to be human, seen through the respective eyes of Kusanagi and Project 2501.

For many current anime fans, Ghost in the Shell was one of their first samples of what can be a complex and beautiful genre. While the plot can be complex, it also hints at a greater world beyond it, the world explored in greater detail in the manga. I highly recommend this for anime newbies and fans alike.

Jumanji (1995)


In this modern world of realistic video games and interactive everything, wouldn’t it be great to have a board game that plays you back?

No. No it wouldn’t. And here’s why.

Jumanji is a fantasy-comedy film directed by Joe Johnston, adapted from the picture book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. It stars Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, David Alan Grier, Bonnie Hunt, and Jonathan Hyde, with jungle hazards provided by Industrial Light and Magic.

It is the year 1969. Twelve-year-old Alan Parrish is having a bad day. His father barely acknowledges him except to chastise him for what he’s doing wrong, and plans to send him to boarding school. His friend Carl Bentley just accepted the blame for Alan damaging a machine at his father’s shoe factory and lost his job. He just got his butt kicked by a group of bullies. Fortunately, he just found this neat board game called Jumanji, and decides to spend an evening at home playing it with another friend, Sarah, little suspecting that his bad day is about to last 26 years. Fast forward to 1995. Judy and Peter Shepherd move into the Parrishes’ old house and find the game, still in progress. With nothing better to do, they also begin playing, never suspecting that this supernatural game is going to turn their lives upside down, summoning things like lions, man-eating plants, giant mosquitoes, and a stampede into their small town. Now they must fight to survive and finish the game, hoping that when it is done everything will be back to normal…

Jumanji was an enjoyable fantasy romp, with a solid concept (vaguely malevolent magic board game) and a likeable cast of characters led by Robin Williams, here effectively straddling the line between comedy and drama as he deals with the dangers summoned up by the board game. The dual casting of Jonathan Hyde as both Sam Parrish and the murderous hunter Van Pelt conjures up a Peter Pan-like vibe, as many theatrical adaptations of that story cast the same actor as both John Darling and Captain Hook. Here, Van Pelt respresents Alan Parrish’s fears of facing his father (both in real life and in facing how he has internalized many of his father’s harsh mannerisms), and only in facing Van Pelt can the door be opened for Alan to face his childhood fears. The book, of course, is quite different from the movie – and only 26 pages long – but it has been well-adapted to feature-length here, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what new danger could come out of this innocent-looking game.

An occasional complaint I’ve heard is that the animals and such the games summons up are obvious CGI and look “fake”. To this I reply, well, of course they don’t look “real”. They’re not “real”. If anything, they’re summoned from a pocket dimension where lions and elephants (and pelicans!) cavort freely in the jungle alongside mosquitoes the size of hawks, spiders the size of dogs, and giant man-eating plants that will also snack on a car if it’s handy. The critters look like they “should look” through the eyes of a child more than how they actually look through the eyes of a biologist. It’s a movie about a magic board game – this is no time to be griping about realism in animals and plants summoned by fell magic. Just sit back and relax.

While some parts might be frightening to younger children, I would recommend this for family viewing. The story is engaging, the cast is solid, and the antics caused by elements of a fantasy jungle being unleashed on a small town are thrilling and entertaining. A must-see.

12 Monkeys (1995)


James Cole is almost sure he isn’t crazy. He might not be able to reconcile his memories and visions with his current surroundings, but he is almost sure he’s not crazy. The trouble is, if he is crazy, everything will be fine. If he’s not, 5 billion people are going to die, very soon.

12 Monkeys is a sci fi film directed by Terry Gilliam, inspired by the short film La jetée by Chris Marker. It stars Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Jon Seda, David Morse, and Christopher Plummer.

James Cole is a convict living in a future where humanity has been ravaged and forced underground by a deadly virus, believed to have been released by an extremist group called the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. In order to earn a pardon, Cole is sent on a number of missions back through time in order to gather information of the virus and the Army of the Twelve Monkeys and if possible, to gather a pure sample of the virus so a cure may be engineered. However, his explanations about the virus and the grim future it causes are dismissed as the deranged ramblings of a schizophrenic, and he is sent to a mental institution. It soon appears that other “crazy” people might also be temporally displaced individuals like Cole himself on similar missions, and Cole desperately recruits his own psychiatrist, Dr. Kathryn Railly, for help in saving a future he is starting to believe might not exist…

Ah, Terry Gilliam. One of the founding members of the Monty Python troupe, Gilliam has gone on to direct some of the trippier movies in the spec fiction genre. Like Tim Burton, Gilliam’s movies tend to have a dark fairytale vibe to them, and 12 Monkeys is no exception. Messing with the viewer through the eyes of its protagonist, this movie explores themes like insane prophet vs. harbinger from the future, and whether the viewer can fully trust the POV character’s own observations, or if, as many of the 1996 characters believe, they are just delusions. The post-virus future is disorienting and trippy itself, to the point that it is logical for Cole to start believing it is only the product of an insane mind.

Of course, the film would fall flat without the superb acting of its principal cast. Bruce Willis (who worked for free just to get the chance to work with Gilliam) switches genres again, from action to drama, in effect playing an anti-badass here. Yes, he kicks ass when pressed, but most of the time he doubts himself, doubts his perceived mission, doubts his own perceptions of reality. Madeleine Stowe as Dr. Railly acts as his grounding force, trying to link him with the present even as she finds evidence that he might not be delusional, first fearing him but then wanting to help him find some sort of closure, either in fulfilling his mission or simply finding a place to be. Blurring the line between sanity and insanity is the inclusion of Brad Pitt as Jeffrey Goines (whose twitchy mannerisms were induced by simply taking away his cigarettes during filming), a genuinely(?) crazy character liked to the Army of the Twelve Monkeys whose own ramblings mirror Cole’s desperate attempts to warn the people about their impending near-extinction.

If you’re looking for a movie that messes with your head, you want to see Bruce Willis playing against type, or you’re just a fan of Terry Gilliam, check out this movie. It’s a delightful little Inception-lite puzzle that will hold your interest as you watch everything come full-circle.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)


H. P. Lovecraft knew a long time ago that there was a fate worse than death. However, this was not, as many believe, insanity. In the world envisioned by Lovecraft, everyone must remain slightly deluded in order to protect themselves from the more horrifying truths of the universe, and from truly comprehending our own place in it. Therefore, in Lovecraft’s universe the only fate worse than death is stark raving sanity.

John Trent is just looking for a few answers. He is about to find them… whether he wants to or not.

In the Mouth of Madness in a horror film directed by John Carpenter and written by Michael de Luca. The third film in what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse Trilogy (following The Thing and Prince of Darkness), this movie stars Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, Frances Bay, John Glover, and Bernie Casey.

Insurance investigator John Trent is very good at his job, winnowing out the truth behind would-be insurance scams. When hideously-popular horror writer Stephen King Sutter Cane comes up missing, with his latest book still pending, Trent thinks finding the reclusive author will be a snap – a publicity stunt meant to drive up demand for the expected book. These books are already wildly popular, but can cause sanity-shredding effects in readers who might not have all their marbles to start. Trent doesn’t believe the hype, but when he starts reading Cane’s books to find out what all the hoo-ha is about he starts to suffer vivid nightmares of monsters and deformed humanoids. He also finds that the cover art of Cane’s paperbacks contain strange red-lined shapes that when lined up properly, form a map of the state of New Hampshire, pointing to a town that only exists in Cane’s novels – Hobb’s End.

Sensing a possible lead, Trent goes looking for this town with Linda Styles, Cane’s editor, sent along to assist Trent. Unexpectedly, he does find Hobb’s End – populated by the fictional characters and storylines from Cane’s books. However, little does he know that his terror is only beginning, as he discovers that Hobb’s End lies far outside the comfortable reality he knows…

Throughout the 80’s, John Carpenter became known for some really kickass horror movies, and In the Mouth of Madness is no exception. Starting off as a mystery, in the style of many of Lovecraft’s short stories (and if you know Lovecraft’s stuff, you already have a fair idea how Trent’s journey will end), the story soon starts down a very dark tunnel that will have you wondering how “real” Trent’s world is, and for that matter whether Hobb’s End is more or less “real” than the “real world”. Numerous authors have since played with recursive reality in this way, like Danielewski’s House of Leaves, but this is really damn hard to pull off in visual media. I am happy to say the Carpenter nailed it, with the budget and resources of an 80’s horror movie. There is no CGI, and truthfully you don’t see many monsters (and what monsters are on screen are dimly perceived at best). However, it is still clear that Hobb’s End infects those who live and visit there, until the veil of sanity is finally clawed away from Trent’s eyes, showing him the true nature of things.

This is one of two movies I’ve seen where Sam Neill’s character goes batshit crazy, and he does “insane” well. He doesn’t overact it, not even at that moment where you realize… yup, his cheese has officially slid off his cracker. Trent and Cane are the only two characters that get any sort of fleshing out – but that’s the point. The whole premise relies on taking writing conventions and batting them all over the floor like a cat with a toy mouse. The people in Hobb’s End are simultaneously fictional and real, in ways that cheerfully stretch the fabric of this movie’s universe, until something has to give. And if that isn’t mindbending enough, several characters even discuss their own fictionality, especially when they do weird things because “that’s how he (Cane) wrote me”. Of course, by the end the fourth wall is gleefully shredded, and… well, there’s a reason why this is the third movie in the Apocalypse Trilogy.

If you like a good, trippy horror movie that messes with your perceptions of “real” and “fictional”, check this movie out. John Carpenter ably pays homage to Lovecraft’s work in ways that few directors have been able to do before or since. And remember: Reality is only what we tell each other it is.

Apollo 13 (1995)


In 1970, the Apollo 13 mission would blast off from Houston. Its destination: the Moon. However, it would never reach its intended landing site, as a chain of events would soon unfold that would endanger not only the mission, but the lives of the three astronauts aboard the Odyssey. It will take the ingenuity of both the imperiled crew and Mission Control back on Earth to bring all of them home safely.

Apollo 13 is a film directed by Ron Howard, based on the real-life near-disastrous Apollo 13 mission, and in particular adapted from Jim Lovell’s book Lost Moon. It stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, Chris Ellis, and Ed Harris.

Jim Lovell (Hanks), a NASA astronaut who orbited the Moon on Apollo 8, knew in 1969 that he wanted to go back. While giving a VIP tour of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly building, he is informed that he and his crew will fly the Apollo 13 mission instead of their planned Apollo 14, and it looks like he will have his chance. After he informs his family of the news, he and his crewmates, Fred Haise (Paxton) and Ken Mattingly (Sinise) begin training for the mission. Days before the launch, Mattingly is revealed to have been exposed to German measles, and he is bumped from the flight in favor of backup Command Module pilot Jack Swigert (Bacon). Excitement in NASA is high, even though lunar missions have become commonplace in the media, and Jim’s wife Marilyn (Quinlan) worries about the launch.

The Saturn V rocket launches with a minimum of protests, clearing the tower at 13:13, but during a routine set of maintenance procedures, Swigert flips a switch to stir the two liquid oxygen tanks in the Service Module, unexpectedly causing one of them to explode and the other to start leaking. Mission Control aborts the Moon landing, and the Apollo 13 crew are forced to use the lunar module Aquarius as a lifeboat to stay alive while Mission Control figures out a way to get them home safely.

Ron Howard has certainly risen above his roots as Richie Cunningham, making a name for himself as an accomplished director of heartwarming (and occasionally heartrending) dramas and comedies. He keeps on this path with Apollo 13, taking a historical near-disaster and presenting it as the gripping drama it was. While he was preparing to film Apollo 13, Howard decided not to use stock footage of the original launch, or any other NASA Launch. He reproduced the interiors of the Command Module and Mission Control with exacting detail, even bringing in one of the tech guys from Apollo 16 to make everything look right. The footage of the rocket’s launch was so realistic, in fact, that it fooled the NASA guys who worked on that launch, only distinguishable from historical footage in that there were no cameras at those particular angles. During filming, the actors playing the Apollo 13 crew were filmed in actual weightlessness aboard NASA’s KC-135 reduced gravity aircraft, nicknamed the “Vomit Comet”, which saved a lot of time that would otherwise be devoted to simulating the effects of null gravity.

The acting was also exemplary. Hanks had already established himself as a skilled dramatic actor two years earlier with Philadelphia, and he is bang-on as the terrified astronaut with balls of steel. Bill Paxton also shines as Haise, showing that he can play a wider range than simply obnoxious jerkwads, and Kevin Bacon as Swigert carries himself well as the situation aboard the Odyssey deteriorates. At the Mission Control end, Ed Harris earns the hell out of his paycheck as Gene Krantz, trying to get everybody on both sides thinking about the problem calmly and rationally, even with the threat of losing another crew hanging over his head. Their dialog was taken nearly verbatim from actual transcripts and recordings (the immortal “Houston, we have a problem” line was originally, “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” changed because Howard thought the original line implied the problem had passed).

In all, this is yet another example of Ron Howard’s great talent as a director, Tom Hanks’ impressive talent as an actor, and the ways in which real life can be every bit as exciting as fiction. Pick this up sometime if you’re sick of overblow sci fi and want to see how badass the real NASA guys truly are.