The Avengers

The Avengers. Warner Bros. 1998.

Before watching the movie:

What can be said about this big-budget adaptation of a beloved, long-lasting sci-fi/fantasy/action/adventure franchise? This movie that brought people’s childhood fantasies to the big screen in an ambitious project that had never been done before? The first time moviegoers assembled for The Avengers?

Of course, I mean the 1998 adaptation of the British ITV series from the 60s. What else could I be referring to?

Continue reading
Advertisements

Blade

Blade. New Line Cinema 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I have no familiarity with the Marvel comics this is based on. For all I know, this movie was made because New Line had bought a package of cheap comics properties to turn a fast profit on. I don’t like to be so dismissive, but Blade is one of the most prominent notably black superheroes I can think of who aren’t carrying a legacy mantle, and I wouldn’t know that the book exists without this movie that exemplifies an era of moviemaking where “based on a comic book” was something to hide.

Lacking any of the brand recognition and shared continuity that makes comic book stories enticing now, this is essentially sold on the strength of Wesley Snipes slaying vampires with martial arts for two hours. Which is exciting enough if you’re into that sort of thing.

After watching the movie:

Thirty years ago, a baby was born to a woman dying of a vampire bite. Now, Blade is a Daywalker, a being without the vulnerabilities of vampires, but with many of the advantages, including super strength and speed and decreased aging. Blade and his partner Whistler save Dr. Karen Jenson from a vampire that eluded Blade’s assault on a vampire-owned rave, and they introduce Karen to the secret war to free human society from the elite order of vampires that secretly rule. As Blade fights vampire activity, a vampire named Frost manages to translate one of the ancient texts of the vampires, unlocking plans for a ceremony to bring about the age of the Blood Gods.

In the time this was made, comic book movies were often trying to be mature and serious while at the same time providing spectacular violence shows. This created a lot of movies that seem afraid to have fun, even as the stunt sequences the plots excuse are really fun and cartoonish. This has some really fun fight scenes, and the plot is pretty cartoonish, but the story and the fights often seem to belong to different movies because of how different they are in tone.

Most of the effects are highly effective. There’s a lot of work with prosthetics and practical creature effects that create convincing looks, and probably a lot of background CG that’s not noticeable. The disintegration of silver-stabbed vampires is really good for the time. The only time I was really taken out of the scene by bad effects was in the finale, with the demonic vampire souls flying around. That might have been partially caused by a frame rate mismatch, like how jarring the ED-209 was in RoboCop.

Even though there have been over 20 more years of superhero movies and Hero’s Journey plots further wearing out their cliches since Blade, the tropes this plot leans on seem particularly lazy. Developments in act one set up developments in act three with a megaphone. At least this movie introduces the character already established and just recaps the origin story, which is a rare approach. 

I have to respect that this was one of the vanguards of the modern rebirth of superhero movies, but it’s not a part of it. The success of movies like Blade and Spawn demonstrated that the market was safe for comic book movies again, but they didn’t do it by revolutionizing or commenting upon the genre, just by playing it straight. Often too straight, but I have to keep in mind how early this was. This is still a fun movie that doesn’t need too much of an excuse to explode some vampires, and that’s really all it had to be.

Slums of Beverly Hills

Slums of Beverly Hills. Wildwood Enterprises 1998.

Before watching the movie:

This is clearly some kind of culture clash movie, but I’m not sure what kind. My best guess is that the family is trying to continue living in Beverly Hills even as the money is gone. It’s mainly about quirky family dysfunction. Maybe there’s an element of “this is what rich people think rock bottom is”.

Practical Magic

Practical Magic. Stargate Studios 1998.
Practical Magic. Stargate Studios 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I really like modern-day spellcaster stories. I even found a fondness for Teen Witch. So all that I really need to be interested in this movie is that there are modern-day witch sisters. Their conflict has something to do with a curse upon their love lives, which sets up a romantic comedy apparently, and I’m further intrigued. I also like Sandra Bullock in pretty much anything, so that’s a plus as well. Continue reading

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Twentieth Century Fox 1998.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Twentieth Century Fox 1998.

Before watching the movie:

So maybe this will be the lighter film I was hoping for last week. This is definitely sold as a feel-good movie and I think a romantic comedy? It can’t be too serious with Whoopi Goldberg playing the best friend.

I always have this movie’s plot conflated in my head with Peggy Sue Got Married, for no other reason than the vaguest of similarities in the title (“past-tense complete sentence that refers to the female protagonist by name”). Obviously they are very different movies.

So anyway, this is the story of a 40-something (who looks like she’s in her early 30s) having a fling with a 20-something on a vacation and… embarking on  a journey of self-discovery? Rediscovering a youthful spirit she’s lost in the rat race? Telling her boytoy to stay the hell away from her daughter? I’m not entirely clear on what this groove is, but it’s obviously a good thing, not something to beware.

Continue reading

YesterMovies Rewind: Simon Birch

rewind

Five years ago this month, Yesterday’s Movies officially began. To celebrate half a decade of movie reviews, I’m rewatching some of the highlights and giving them second-look reviews. I’m closing out this series with the very first movie reviewed here, Simon Birch.

I know I originally chose this one because I’d just read the book it was based on, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and I recall it ended up not having much to do with the book.

I also think I remember Christmas being a major part of the movie, being a major episode somewhere in the middle of a story told over about a year or so. I’m not sure if I said something about it in the original review, but I’m recalling a feeling very similar to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. oddly. That and the bus scene are all I really remember.

Continue reading

Paulie

Paulie. Dreamworks 1998.
Paulie. Dreamworks 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I think I heard this was terrible. But then I might have conflated it too much with Pauly Shore. I had in mind that the bird was voiced by Pauly Shore in the “falling out of favor” part of his career. So I have no idea what to expect besides “talking animal road movie”. It has Tony Shaloub, so it can’t be too bad.

Continue reading