Face/Off

Before watching the movie:

Face/Off. Paramount Pictures 1997.

My strongest memory of this movie being in the world was the giant poster on the side of a building at King’s Island for years. I don’t think it had anything to do with anything at the park, it was just a 50-foot poster nobody bothered to take down across the three to five years my visits were spread across. (Update: apparently they named their head to head roller coaster Face/Off, until Paramount sold the park and the new owner debranded it. I didn’t ride many of the coasters there.)

I later learned the movie is about a good guy and a bad guy trading faces for… reasons, don’t think too much about it. I’m not sure which actor starts as which character, because of course both play both. I’ve heard that Cage as the terrorist gets eccentrically creepy in the way he’s famous for now.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves

I usually avoid sequels here, and yes, it’s direct to video, but this one means more to me than the original Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I don’t remember if it’s the one I saw first, but it’s the one I saw most back then. I knew it was a sequel to “Kids”, but at first I didn’t realize that there was another one in between the two (Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, which is about the toddler getting bigger and bigger until it gets into “Attack of the 50-foot _____” territory).

This one, and the TV series that apparently came out the same year, but doesn’t seem to be related, came to me right at the time when I was not only in a period of discovering my own new favorites for what seemed like the first time, but also particularly interested in invention, and so stories starring the wacky tinkerer Wayne Szalinski and his quirky inventions especially appealed to me.

Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. Walt Disney Pictures 1997.

Years after making his name with the Shrink Machine, Wayne Szalinski has founded Szalinski Labs, a “throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks” R&D company, which he operates as the president of and his brother Gordon heads development projects for. Wayne’s son Adam has no interest in Wayne’s passion for science and would much rather go to baseball camp instead of the math summer camp Wayne has picked out for him. The family is preparing for a weekend where Wayne and Gordon’s wives Diane and Patti go on a vacation and Gordon as well as his and Patti’s kids Jenny and Mitch will be staying with Wayne and Adam. Just as the weekend begins, Wayne has Gordon help him haul a gigantic tiki sculpture that Diane hates up to the attic, where he intends to use the Shrink Machine one last time before it goes to the Smithsonian to shrink it to pocket size. But a mishap with the machine also shrinks Wayne and Gordon, and soon after, Diane and Patti get shrunk too. Returning from an errand to find no parents in the house, the kids come to the obvious conclusion: house party.

Much like Home Alone 2, I think the success of this movie comes from delivering more of what made the original interesting. As I recall, “Kids” is mostly about the shrunken kids spending the weekend crossing the backyard, which is now a harsh jungle from their perspective. While that story was more about surviving in unforgiving nature, this story is set entirely in the house, making even more familiar household objects into an alien landscape for the parents to navigate. There’s also the added angle that the parents are able to observe what their kids are doing when they think they’re unsupervised, and so the dramatic irony is much richer than “where are the missing kids? Right out the back door!”

Of course in the third act, after things get too out of hand for the kids, they start to display the ways in which they were raised right after all. It’s a pretty standard trope, especially for Adam having some of Wayne’s science knowledge rub off on him after all, but I’m impressed now that the culmination of Jenny’s story is that when the boy she has a crush on gets her alone and forces a kiss on her, she pushes him away and tells him off for not asking. For 1997, that seems like a rare storytelling choice.

I have no complaints about the effects. There’s some things that I can’t tell if it’s good puppetry or very good CGI, but considering that it’s the late 90s and a direct to video budget, it’s probably puppetry. Sometimes the greenscreen compositing is a little obvious, but that’s hardly ever a solved problem even today, and it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the story that they basically have a choice between decent compositing and very good but obvious oversize sets. When dealing with the world on a much smaller scale, I’m not sure it’s possible to make things look real, because it will either be more detailed than we’re used to or less detailed than we expect.

This is still a lot of fun for a direct to video family movie. It’s aged incredibly well and possibly aside from Gordon and Mitch’s actors seeming like Wayne Knight and Jonathan Taylor Thomas stand-ins, it feels almost timeless. It’s nice to watch a movie with nostalgia value and not end up disillusioned.

8 Heads in a Duffel Bag

8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Orion Pictures Corporation 1997.

Before watching the movie:

It occurs to me that I’ve only seen Joe Pesci in Home Alone. So here’s another movie he made spoofing his typecasting as a criminal, only a much more hard-edged one than the family friendly Wet Bandits. He plays an actual mobster who just happens to get caught up in hijinks because his bag accidentally got switched with someone else’s bag at the airport.

I think that this kind of poster isn’t one to make stuff up for the symbolism of it, so maybe there’s an actual vulture involved in the hijinks? That seems as wacky as the tone that seems to be implied.

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Air Force One

Air Force One. Radiant Productions 1997.

Before watching the movie:

Ah, 1997. A simpler time when the President of the United States could recognize and deal with a Russian threat.

It’s pretty clear that this is trying to be in the spirit of the Jack Ryan movies Harrison Ford was in, but even though apparently in the books Jack Ryan spent time as the US President, this is not a Jack Ryan story.

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Spawn

Spawn. New Line Cinema 1997.

Before watching the movie:

Every time I think I understand what this movie is, I go looking for something to verify that and I come up with more confusing information. I think I can safely say that the main character is a recently deceased man recruited by demonic forces whose main internal conflict comes from coming to decide this work isn’t right. I’m not clear on much of anything else. Except this isn’t as similar to Blade as I thought. Every still I’m being presented looks like it’s from a different movie.

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Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect. 3 Arts Entertainment. 1997.

Before watching the movie:

I know pretty much nothing about this movie. I am informed that the premise involves the main character faking a fiance for apparent life stability to get promoted at work, which I hope gets a little more justified, because anywhere else will look at your job as the sign of how stable your life is. Interesting to note that this 90s boss wants a female employee to be engaged though, since only a few decades earlier marriage was seen as a career-ending move for women.

I will also note that the handwritten-style title, particularly when displayed in white, strongly reminds me of Friends, which I wouldn’t doubt was intentional, this being a late 90s movie starring a Friends alum.

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Event Horizon

Event Horizon. Paramount Pictures 1997.
Event Horizon. Paramount Pictures 1997.

Before watching the movie:

I guess before just now I didn’t know anything but the title. So apparently a ship that was lost in a black hole has mysteriously come back, and the people who go investigate discover that it brought Something back with it. It seems to basically be a horror story with sci-fi trappings, so I wonder how much it’s indebted to Alien, when I was picturing something more like The Fifth Element or The Black Hole (three films I have yet to see as well). I suspect the main reason I have it connected to The Fifth Element in my head is because of similar looming heads posters and proximity of release dates, but also possibly they were stored close to each other in a friend’s collection. As a tense horror film, I don’t know how much to expect as far as visual and practical effects, and the only name I recognize among the top billing is Laurence Fishburne. So I don’t have much of any foundation for expectations here. Continue reading