Category Archives: 1990s

#312 Run Lola Run

Lola Rennt
(1998, Tom Twyker)

“Everything else is pure theory”

Quite often I’ll find myself amusingly pointing out how 80s certain 80s movies are. This is not a bad thing. Back To The Future is an immensely 80s movie that is also great fun. But rarely do I apply this to 90s movies. It’s rare for me to point at a movie and say “this movie is so 90s”. Trainspotting and The Matrix are rare exceptions, as is Run Lola Run, which is possibly the most 90s movie ever made.

Run Lola Run is about a woman named Lola who runs a lot in the movie. There you go, there’s your plot. Oh, okay, here’s more. Lola (Franka Potente) receives a phone call from her boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s gotten himself involved in some unspecified criminal scheme and now owes some gang members a large sum of money that he left sitting on the subway. Lola now has twenty minutes in which to retrieve the money, or replace it, and so she races to help him. The movie shows three attempts at this, varying in Lola’s success.

So yeah, this is the most 90s movie ever made. It’s like Trainspotting switched its drug of choice to ecstasy and slept with The Matrix, resulting in this child. It messes around with styles and genres, it has a thumping club soundtrack, it features “cool” youth as its central protagonists and goes out of its way to make itself appear as stylish as humanly possible.

And you know what? It works! That thumping club soundtrack drives the film, injecting it with so much energy that you feel the pressure of Lola’s running. You almost feel like you’re running along with her, and this feels as tense and as exciting as you’d expect it to be. It works so well in the movie’s favour since, well, most of it is about Lola racing against the clock.

There’s also some stunning cinematography on show here. The movie employs a number of different filming styles to represent different things – Lola initially running out of her apartment building is animated, scenes involving Lola’s father and his mistress are filmed in a shaky handheld camera style, some scenes are long takes, while others are heavily cut as if it was an Edgar Wright movie. It’s easy to think that this mashing of styles could potentially lead to confusion and disorientation, but it doesn’t. It instead creates a dizzying thrill ride of a movie.

Story-wise, Run Lola Run is fascinating. We never know if the three attempts Lola makes are Groundhog Day style loops, if they’re alternate realities, or if they’re simply three versions of what could have happened. Cases can be made for Lola being both aware and unaware of the different attempts – Lola is inexperienced with a gun in the first run, but is mysteriously good with one in the second – and it leaves an awful lot of unanswered questions by its end. But they’re questions that are left open to interpretation, allowing the viewer to craft theories forever over the myriad possibilities.

This is both a good and a bad thing, however. While it’s certainly good because it gives value to repeated viewings, as you can attempt to figure out the mysteries, there’s still a sense of emptiness in regards to the whole movie. It asks a lot of questions, but does it mean to ask them or are they the result of plot holes papered over by the stylish exterior?

However, this is pretty much the only complaint I have about the movie, and even then it’s pretty vague as criticisms go. On the acting front, Lola is a very likeable character and Potente is fantastic at playing the huge array of rapid-fire emotions she goes through, and carries us through the film in the best way possible. And, what can I say, I guess I like super stylish 90s movies.

Run Lola Run is fantastic. After a few weeks of tearing apart films I simply couldn’t get into, it was refreshing to watch a film that felt exciting, tense and hugely entertaining from start to finish. If, like me, you love 90s cinema, this is one you can’t miss.

Starring Franka Potente & Moritz Bleibtreu
Written by Tom Twyker
Produced by Stefan Arndt
Music by Tom Twkyer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil
Cinematography by Frank Griebe
Edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy

Favourite Scene: Too difficult to pick a single scene, but possibly the wealthy banker’s car regularly crashing into some thugs, which amused me.
Scene That Bugged Me: The bed chat was a little bizarre and unexplained.

Watch it if: You like stylish 90s movies
Avoid it if: You don’t like pounding club soundtracks driving a movie

#310 Taste Of Cherry

(1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
طعم گيلاس (Ta’m e guilass)

“You want to give up the taste of cherries?”

Last time we encountered critically acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami here on SvTM, I wasn’t impressed and failed to see the critical acclaim. Maybe this time we’ll see something worth praising this time around, as we look at his later film Taste Of Cherry.

This is the story about a man known as Mr Badii (Homayon Ershadi), who drives around town looking for someone to help him. As the film progresses, we learn that he’s planning on killing himself, and is looking for someone to bury him in exchange for a fee. The film then focuses on the reactions from the various people he tries to get to help him.

So, this is a film about driving. Lots of driving. Shots of a car driving along winding mountain paths or through quarries or through crowds of people looking for labouring work. More car shots. Shots of a man driving the car. And so on. During all of this, people talk. They talk a lot. About nothing. Talking & Driving: The Movie. Hurray.

This is supposed to be a movie that reflects on the nature of depression and suicide but everything that might help achieve that goal has seemingly been thrown out of the window. We’re supposed to reflect on the nature of suicide through Mr Badii and yet we know absolutely nothing about this incredibly drab and boring man. He converses with at least three people in his attempt to find a gravedigger, but he says little to nothing about himself.

What’s more, we don’t know his background, we don’t know why he wants to kill himself, and we don’t know why he needs a complete stranger to bury him. We spend an hour and a half with this guy, and we end up learning exactly nothing about him. This is bad film-making and storytelling, pure and simple. How are we supposed to reflect on suicide if we don’t know the circumstances that led to it?

What’s more, the attempts to keep the viewer distant and objective really don’t help matters. I know I’ve complained about some movies, especially war movies, overdoing things for emotional manipulation, but this is way on the other end of the scale. The movie works so hard to remove all emotional attachment from the audience that the only thing the audience feels is boredom. This movie is boring. It bores you. It feels twice as long as it actually is.

This distance is clearly meant to represent some postmodern statement on the nature of film, where the director seems to openly laugh at anyone trying to find emotional attachment in a fictional character, to the point of failing to resolve the film at the end, instead panning over to the film crew to say “it’s a movie, you idiots! Stop caring!” The only problem is, this concept was done better in a 30-second advert. For furniture. That actually made us care about its central protagonist in the first place. Who was a friggin’ desk lamp.

And do you what makes this worse? The whole scheme, the central “driving point” of the plot, feels so at odds with how someone actually suffering from depression would act. Suicide is typically an act of desperation, decided on during a depressive episode and enacted with some degree of urgency. It’s not a meticulously-planned action that requires several days of preparation and assistance from others. I honestly felt like Kiarostami had never met someone suicidal before in his life.

This is backed up when the title reveals itself in a story told by one of Badii’s prospective gravediggers, where he states that he almost committed suicide himself once and then he tasted some mulberries and suddenly he felt better about himself and the world. This is not how depression works. This is not why people commit suicide. This is wrong, wrong, wrong! No one in the history of anything was ever “cured” of depression, least of all by fruit!

Ultimately, Taste Of Cherry is a waste of everybody’s time. It’s longer than it needs to be, it fails to understand depression and suicide, and never bothers to tell us anything about its central protagonist. It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.

Starring Homayon Ershadi, Abdolrahman Bagheri, Afshin Khorshid Bakhtiari & Safar Ali Moradi
Written by Abbas Kiarostami
Produced by Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematography by Homayun Payvar
Edited by Abbas Kiarostami

Favourite Scene: There was nothing I particularly liked about this movie.
Scene That Bugged Me: While all of it was boring, the part where Badii gets out of his car to literally hang around the house was especially mind-numbing.

Watch it if: You need a sleep aid
Avoid it if: You’re looking for a movie that explores depression

#302 Naked Lunch

(1991, David Cronenberg)
“Exterminate all rational thought”

David Cronenberg has built a career out of gross, weird films filled with things that shouldn’t be. But the quality can go either way. Way, way back, I reviewed The Fly and thought it was an excellent piece of tense sci-fi horror with a believable romance that left a huge impression on me. Shortly after, I reviewed Videodrome, which was a nonsensical piece of crap that existed solely to test effects artists’ skills and the viewer’s patience. But which side of the fence does Naked Lunch fall?

Based on the “unpublishable” book by Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch is a mixture of passages from the non-linear narrative text mixed with elements of the author’s own life. It focuses on William Lee (Peter Weller), an exterminator who is approached by a talking bug and tasked with killing his wife, which will lead him to a job writing reports for Interzone Incorporated, a company that does…something. There’s also stuff about drugs and homosexuality in there too.

Read the rest of this entry

#297 Breaking The Waves

(1996, Lars von Trier)
“Not one of you has the right to consign Bess to Hell”

Last time we saw Lars Von Trier on this blog, it was the harrowing and unexpectedly excellent Dancer In The Dark, where Bjork sang some songs and endured as life just got worse and worse for her over a period of time. Today’s film, Breaking The Waves, is apparently part of the same trilogy, which means another innocent woman is put through hell due to a cruel, heartless world. So, nice and happy movie then.

Breaking The Waves focuses on Bess McNeil (Emily Watson), a young Scottish woman who lives in a very conservative village society. The movie hints at a history of psychological problems, which include her frequent discussions with God, who she believes responds to her in her own voice. She marries a Norwegian oil worker, Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), although following a passionate honeymoon, Jan must leave to go and work on the rig. Later events leave Jan paralysed, causing him to demand that Bess go and take other lovers in his absence. It all goes wrong from there.

Read the rest of this entry

#295 Slacker

(1991, Richard Linklater)

“I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it”

Richard Linklater is a bit of an odd director. Famed for his Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, and considered the only director to adapt a Phillip K. Dick novel (A Scanner Darkly) without completely changing everything (like Blade Runner and Total Recall did).

He’s also fond of making quirky little movies where vaguely connected people reel off monologues, as evidenced by the dream-based weird-fest that was Waking Life. But before that came Slacker, an account of Generation X through the lens of various bizarre characters.

Slacker has no real plot. The camera swoops from scene to scene, where we witness someone delivering a monologue about their world view or doing something society deems unusual. We never stay long with individual characters and there’s no overarching plot thread. Sound terrible? Well, we’ll see.

I was aware of Linklater’s work, and highly enjoyed A Scanner Darkly and…uh…School Of Rock, but, more relevantly, I also enjoyed Waking Life. Kind of. As such, I was curious to see this, which was one of his first movies, and shared a similar concept.

It’s difficult to talk about Slacker. It’s a movie about pseudo-intellectuals, who take what they’re saying seriously, but with an element that maybe deep down they know that what they’re talking about is absolute nonsense. It’s a movie that demands that you pay attention and listen to these rambling stoners and decide whether or not what they’re saying makes any kind of sense to you.

It doesn’t help that all the acting is fairly bland for the most part, as clearly untrained actors reel off long lines of text that they probably don’t care about. But it works. It fits the slacker them rather nicely and sets the tone of the movie, giving us a collection of disinterested people who like to talk a lot but ultimately say nothing. Well, apart from Louis Mackey, who gave a theatrical rant about anarchism and was highly entertaining.

Yes, this sounds terrible, I know, but Slacker is oddly fascinating. The movie clearly knows that much of the dialogue is pretentious and is expecting us to agree. But it doesn’t judge its cast, it merely observes them and moves on, leaving the viewer to their own conclusions. It’s mildly amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny, it’s intellectual and simultaneously pretentious, and it’s absolutely awkward throughout.

But it’s so fascinating. I can’t explain why, but it is. There’s something kind of hypnotic about being this casual observer wandering through the neighbourhoods and university campuses of Austin watching all these twentysomethings debate and complain and theorise for no discernible purpose. It’s interesting to watch crazy conspiracy theorists talk so casually about JFK assassination coverups or terrorism via t-shirts. This is a town of oddballs and you never know what strange person you’ll encounter next.

Of course, it’s not for everyone. The lack of plot and the stoned, expressionless acting can get very tedious at times and the production values are incredibly minimal. Many people who watch this will simply think “what’s the point?” and “where’s the plot?” and “how many drugs was Richard Linklater smoking and how can we make him stop?”

But I kind of enjoyed Slacker, in the same way I kind of enjoyed Waking Life. It’s an interesting little film that’s worth watching again and analysing, and it’s an interesting glimpse into Generation X and their ramblings, but it requires a lot of effort on the viewer’s part and therefore isn’t going to rank high on my favourite movies list.

Starring Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Mark James, Stella Weir, John Slate, Louis Mackey & Teresa Taylor
Written by Richard Linklater
Produced by Richard Linklater
Cinematography by Lee Daniel
Edited by Scott Rhodes

Favourite Scene: The aging anarchist is played a lot more theatrically and enthusiastically than anybody else in the movie, and he’s fantastic.
Scene That Bugged Me: That business with Madonna’s pap smear. What’s all that about?

Watch it if: You like watching stoners
Avoid it if: You’re confused by the lack of obvious plot

#285 LA Confidential

(1997, Curtis Hanson)
“It’ll look like justice. That’s what the man got. Justice.”

For some reason, this review appears to be missing from the spot it’s supposed to be in, and I don’t know what went wrong. So please forgive it from posted way out of order, I only just discovered this!

I love me some detective thrillers. I love detectives and mystery and crime and thrillers so much that I think I might marry the entire genre one day. So I’m happy today because I get to review a nice little classic crime thriller. Happy days.

LA Confidential is about three detectives that get involved in a web of corruption and deceit following a mass murder at a local café called The Nite Owl. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is a young sergeant determined to be the most honourable police officer, attempting to live up to his famous detective father. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a violent cop who likes violently attacking men who beat women, and sees the Nite Owl killings as personal due to the death of his former partner. Finally, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a charming narcotics officer who receives kickbacks for providing information about celebrity arrests to Hush-Hush Magazine, and gets involved when one of his schemes results in the death of a young actor.

Read the rest of this entry

#289 Jacob’s Ladder

(1990, Adrian Lyne)

“The only part of you that burns in Hell is the part of you that can’t let go of life”

I am a big fan of the Silent Hill video game series, at least in terms of its earlier entries, and one major inspiration that the developers have cited over the years was a little independent American thriller movie from the early 90s called Jacob’s Ladder. So imagine my joy when it turned up on the 1001 Movies list. But how good is this psychological thriller and is its cult success justified?

Jacob’s Ladder is set in the late seventies, where Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is a Vietnam veteran now working as a postman in New York with his girlfriend Jezebel (Elizabeth Pena). During the war, he experienced an episode where members of his division started experiencing abnormal behaviour, and in his present life, he seems to suffer severe hallucinations, and begins to get increasingly paranoid that demons are coming to kill him. He sets out to discover the truth for himself, and stop the nightmarish hallucinations once and for all.

Read the rest of this entry

#281 Open Your Eyes

(1997, Alejandro Amenabar)
Abre los ojos

“Open your eyes”

In 2002, Cameron Crowe made a movie called Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz. It got mixed reviews, and it did reasonably well, telling a very strange tale of romance with a bit of good old-fashioned mindfuckery thrown in for good measure.

It was also a remake, which not many people know. You see, Cameron Crowe took the entire storyline from a Spanish movie from the nineties called Abre los Ojos, aka Open Your Eyes. He also swiped one of its main cast members (Cruz) and put her in the same role as the original. Today, we’re looking at that movie, and ignoring Vanilla Sky entirely because that’s not on the list. Sorry about that.

Open Your Eyes is a hard film to describe. It’s about a man named Cesar (Eduardo Noriega) who is a rich, good-looking kid living in Madrid. He’s known for womanising and generally being a bit of a smug bastard about how good-looking he is. We switch between him going about his day and enjoying his life to him sitting in prison and talking to a psychiatrist (Chete Lera) while wearing a prosthetic mask.

During the course of the movie, Cesar flirts with a woman named Sofia (Cruz), who happens to be the girlfriend of his best friend Pelayo (Fele Martinez), while simultaneously trying to avoid a crazy, jealous former fling named Nuria (Najwa Nimri). During the course of the movie, Cesar climbs into a car with Nuria, who then immediately crashes the car, horribly disfiguring him. And then things kinda go a little bit haywire…

Read the rest of this entry

#264 Thelma & Louise

(1991, Ridley Scott)
“You’ve always been crazy, this is just the first chance you’ve had to express yourself”

Feminism in film is often a thorny topic, one that centres on representation of women in cinema. Far too often, movies put men front and centre, leaving women to be side characters or leads in fluffy romantic movies only. It’s rare for women to be put front and centre in more demanding roles, and that’s before we even see some of the struggles women face and are still trying to deal with via feminism. But in 1991, Ridley Scott had a go at tackling the subject with Thelma & Louise.

In Arkansas, Thelma (Geena Davis) lives with an overbearing husband, causing her to be passive and withdrawn. Her best friend, Louise (Susan Sarandon), is much tougher and self-assured. Louise suggests a weekend away, and Thelma escapes and goes along. However, before their weekend can truly begin, Thelma is almost raped by a man at a bar. Louise saves her by shooting and killing him, leading the duo to go on the run to escape the consequences of this action.

Thelma & Louise is a sometimes-difficult movie to watch, from the uncomfortable rape scene to the realisation that Thelma’s naivety gets the duo into more trouble than it should. The rape scene does need to be mentioned, especially because of how unpleasant it is. I personally find rape one of the most reprehensible things a person can do, so I was not having a good time with that scene. Which I suppose means it did its job. But beneath all this difficulty is a very strong movie about friendship.

And what a friendship. Thelma and Louise are two very different characters that manage to bounce off each other incredibly well. Despite their vast differences, these two are believable as friends. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, but they do have excellent on-screen chemistry and it’s easy to see why Louise still sticks by her buddy despite the worst things that happen to them.

Both characters are also hugely sympathetic. Thelma is alarmingly ditzy at times, but her naivety has a degree of innocence to it, almost as if being with her controlling husband has reduced her to this state, especially with her increasingly coming out of her shell as the movie progresses. Louise is harder and sterner, but there’s a genuine affection for her friend, and the permanent sense that she’s been hardened through trauma. Both women are excellent characters played perfectly, and that was the main thing this movie needed to get right.

Performances are also excellent from the supporting cast. Brad Pitt is charming and sleazy in equal measure, Harvey Kietel is surprisingly sympathetic in his role as a “villain” and it’s hard to not feel sorry for Michael Madsen’s character for getting wrapped up in something he doesn’t know all the details of, but supporting Louise all the same.

The movie has had accusations of being “man-hating” and “anti-men”, and while certainly Thelma’s would-be rapist, Thelma’s husband and Brad Pitt (basically all men Thelma directly has to deal with, funnily enough) are all absolute shits, Kietel and Madsen are played sympathetically, which is especially odd with both of them famously playing amoral jewel thieves only a year later in Reservoir Dogs. There’s a balance between awful men and reasonably OK men. It’s just that everyone in this movie is a deeply flawed character, so it probably just seems that all the men are portrayed in a bad light. The heroines don’t get off much easier, after all. And in a world where everyone’s an asshole, isn’t that true equality?

The movie isn’t perfect. Some of the plot points are a tad melodramatic, and the increasingly extreme problems the duo face can get a little silly. In addition, Thelma’s naivety can get a little grating, even going as far as deciding that being on the run is the perfect time to get some sexin’ from a random man who openly admits to being a thief. This section of the movie also slows the pace a little too much in the context of everything else. But oddly, everything holds together well on the characterisation alone.

So, basically, the flaws are pretty minor. Thelma & Louise is ultimately an excellent movie about friendship, feminism and felonies, and I highly recommend it.

Starring Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon
Written by Callie Khouri
Produced by Mimi Polk Gitlin & Ridley Scott
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle
Edited by Thom Noble

Favourite Scene: Thelma pointing a gun at a police officer was pretty damn badass, it has to be said
Scene That Bugged Me: Seriously, now is not the best time to have sex with Brad Pitt!

Watch it if: You like road movies, revenge movies or movies about genuine female friendship
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a happy ending

#262 JFK

(1991, Oliver Stone)
“Telling the truth can be a scary thing sometimes”

Let’s talk conspiracy theories. Did you know we’re all secretly ruled by lizard men who staged 9/11 using holograms and faked the moon landing so that Buzz Aldrin could have a toy named after him 30 years later? Don’t you know that we’re all the pawns of an ongoing war between the Templars and the Assassins and that Obama has a gun that shoots tornadoes because…profit? God, sheeple, open your eyes!

No, not really, unless you believe some of the crackpots in certain corners of the Internet. But while many of those conspiracy theories are pretty nutty, one conspiracy continues to fascinate and baffle many, 50 years on – the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President Of The United States.

JFK is a movie that presents the conspiracy as being true. Following Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), a district attorney who is suspicious of the official story that Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) killed JFK (John F. Kennedy, archive footage) and sets out to discover what really happened. In the process, he uncovers a conspiracy involving the CIA and the mob and various other organisations who wanted Kennedy dead, putting him in the line of fire and putting strain on Garrison’s marriage.

Read the rest of this entry