Why do we seek nostalgia? Is it really because things were better back then? Are we that dissatisfied with the present? In many ways, a number of us truly could be. It seems, though, that every generation yearns for the nostalgia of their own era. Perhaps because the economy was better at the time, there was less conflict regarding a specific issue, or maybe the pop culture was more suited to their tastes. Whatever it is, we all need to find a balance between these nostalgic mannerisms and coming to terms with the fact that we cannot travel back in time no matter how desperately we wish we could. We have to make due with what we have and find something here we can enjoy.
The purpose of this column is to tread the line of that dichotomy. To lovingly discuss things remembered or forgotten and simultaneously remind that there are many things to focus on and seek out in the present. Be aware of these films you haven’t seen or heard of and consider the connections they hold to those being shown in theaters and at festivals today. If nothing else is taken away from this than that, so be it.
This week, we find ourselves exactly a quarter of a century back (which feels insane) in 1992. This year saw much change throughout the world. Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States, South Africa first voted to end apartheid, Bosnia Herzegovina gained independence at great cost, boxer Mike Tyson was convicted of rape, Star Trek: The Next Generation was still airing every week, and the nicotine patch was invented to help people quit smoking. While many of these things can be seen as progress, there were an equal amount of events which caused conflict and strife. Here’s a few flicks that may have fallen through the cracks while all these world-shaping events were taking place:
6. White Men Can’t Jump (Dir. Ron Shelton; Starring: Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson)
Racial tension is all too real in too many ways. For those it affects the most, it’s an every day presence in their lives, while for the rest, it’s something that can (somehow) easily be overlooked or even have its existence denied altogether. Many filmmakers have tried bridging this gap between people by making light of these issues and showing us all the things we have in common instead of leading us to be further divided. One fun example of this is White Men Can’t Jump.
Wesley Snipes plays a talented street basketball player who knows he’s the shit and rubs it in everyone’s faces every chance he gets. One day, a white guy (Woody Harrelson) gives him a run for his money and gives him an ingenious idea: let’s challenge other players to a game for money, allowing them to think this white boy can’t play. We clean up and take the cash. Fool proof. It doesn’t help, of course, that Harrelson’s character, Billy, is being chased by gangsters for money.
This movie teaches a lesson that we all need to try and implement into our lives: we can recognize each other’s differences and work together, using those things as strengths rather than reasons to be divisive. It also taught the world that there is no less love in an interracial relationship, which is something many still need to work towards accepting. There is a widening disconnect in the wiring of society. If we don’t get those soldering irons out and find ways to reconnect, nothing will change. The societal device cannot function by separating the wires, either. We all need to work together as one to carry the currents from node to node.
5. Rock-a-Doodle (Dir. Don Bluth, Gary Goldman; Starring: Glen Campbell, Christopher Plummer, Sandy Duncan)
This movie is a perfect metaphor for generational gaps and a fitting point for this week’s theme.
An evil owl is hell-bent on snuffing out the sun so he can live in perpetual night. Selfishness aside, this carries logic for a nocturnal creature. The Grand Duke of Owls turns a young boy, Edmund, into a cartoon cat who charges himself with finding the one person who can bring the sun back again: a rooster. But Chanticleer is not just any rooster, he’s a hunka-hunka burnin’ rooster. Towards the end of the movie, we come to realize that the owl wants it his way because that means that new life — and therefore new styles and cultures like rock’n’roll — will be snuffed out. All ways will be owl ways.
While the general idea behind this film is quite poignant, the writing and voice acting doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Also, while Rock-A-Doodle came first, The Pagemaster (1996) transitioned real-life to animation much more smoothly. McCauley Culkin just had a natural awkwardness to him that worked on film, whereas Toby Scott Ganger, who played Edmund, is unnaturally awkward and corny here.
For some reason, people have such a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that, as time passes, culture changes. Especially pop-culture, already being so fluid and malleable. The only way one could change this is by taking the most drastic measures possible, such as snuffing out the proverbial sun and creating an environment where only you and those like you will have control. That is, until culture adapts again and finds a way to change, regardless of the lengths taken to prevent it. Such is the way of the world. Why not ride the waves as they flow instead of exhausting yourself swimming against the current? Believe it or not, this can be achieved without sacrificing a shred of individuality.
4. Of Mice and Men (Dir. Gary Sinese; Starring: Gary Sinese, John Malkovich)
Great literature can sometimes become great filmmaking. Good storytelling lends itself to many different mediums. Such is not always the case, as we’ve seen a-plenty book adaptations tank, but there are some that, while not nailing every subtle nuance that can be squeezed in through prose, still portray the author’s voice and message.
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was on many of our high-school reading lists. If you didn’t actually read it and relied on a friend’s answers or on Cliff’s Notes, then you’re honestly missing out on a beautiful tale of friendship and sacrifice. Here is a disconnect in the commonality wires where a feeble attempt was made at reinforcing a connection, but in the end things got out of hand and a choice was made. The morality of the choice is hard to justify, but such deep sympathy was created around the characters that we all understood George’s reasons for doing what he did.
This is one of many of John Malkovich’s brilliant roles. He, as the slow, gentle giant, Lenny, and Gary Sinese as the ever-patient and understanding George, are just trying to make their way in a cruel world. Dammit, all Lenny ever wanted was to tend to the rabbits and live off “the fat o’ the lan’…” I’m not crying, you are!
3. FernGully: The Last Rainforest (Dir. Bill Kroyer; Starring: Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater, Robin Williams)
More often than not, art is a reflection of the world. Sometimes it seems to be the other way around — that life reflects art — but that depends entirely on one’s perspective. Whether it be a statement on a political or societal issue told through a carefully crafted screenplay or proof that greed and populism win 9 times out of 10 in big, explodey blockbusters, the message still makes its way through. Thankfully, all the films on this week’s list carry deep allegories that make them more than meets the eye.
Where Rock-A-Doodle focused on selfishness attempting to rule and being thwarted, FernGully takes the opposite perspective and tells a story of promoting peace through the practice of empathy. While the metaphor here screams “SAVE THE RAINFOREST,” it does the job of showing us exactly why that matters.
Zach, a human in a group of men harvesting the rainforest, wanders a little too far into the woods and is shrunk by a fairy named Crysta who was trying to save his life from a falling tree. While two-inches tall, Zach learns exactly what makes the rainforest a wonderful place and befriends many of its inhabitants that will die without it. He then works with Crysta and the others to defeat Hexxus (voiced by the enigmatic Tim Curry), an evil, smog-like force (that’s pure nightmare fuel) accidentally released by the humans as they tore through the trees.
Here we have an animation that comes together for many reasons: it has a killer cast, snappy writing and comic relief, and a very tangible conflict. All these things work together to create a memorable film and reinforce last week’s not-very-difficult challenge of finding great animated films that aren’t backed by Disney’s iron reputation.
2. Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland (Dir. Masami Hata, William T. Hurtz; Starring: Gabriel Damon, Mickey Rooney, Rene Auberjonois)
’92 was a great year for animation. In Little Nemo, we find an attempt to respond to Hayao Miyazaki’s unrivaled brilliance. While it doesn’t quite find the timelessness that films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away carry, Nemo still brings warmth, charm, and the mortal dilemma found at the heart of many Ghibli films.
Stuck in a wondrous dreamland, Nemo is given heavy responsibility at a very young age and, as young people are oft to do, he gives in to temptation and curiosity and accidentally unleashes a nightmare creature upon the land (whoops). The danger lies in the fact that, not only does this creature effect all of Slumberland, but it’s coming for the real world as well. Nemo is forced to bear the responsibility of letting this nightmare out of its holds and has to courageously bring Slumberland together and prove that he is deserving of being their prince.
The moral here is a tired one, but it still bears importance: integrity is an enormous virtue. Constantly shirking responsibility for ones own actions leads to calamity and despair. We don’t all have to learn this at such an early age as Nemo, but we still must learn it eventually. People don’t like excuses, and constantly giving them becomes a burden that can easily spiral out of control.
1. Encino Man (Dir. Les Mayfield; Starring: Sean Astin, Pauly Shore, Brendan Fraser)
Last, but certainly not least, we come to Brendan Fraser’s first role in a feature film as Link in Encino Man. It literally does not get any more 90s than this. From the fashion to the humor to the soundtrack, this movie throws the popular culture of the time in everyone’s faces. It’s that, juxtaposed with the story of a caveman thawing out and trying to fit in a high-school in an LA suburb, that make this entry another perfect fit for this week’s theme.
If you can get past Pauly Shore’s… Pauly Shore-ness… (some find it endearing, some find it irritating) you’ll find a hilarious story about how you can’t force-close a generational gap. Obviously, the gap between a caveman and a teenager in the 90s is pretty staggering, but that exaggeration is a tool to show us exactly how ridiculous it still is when the gap is only 15 years wide. Dave and Stoney try way too hard to use their new cave buddy as a launchpad to popularity and, of course, it backfires on them, causing Link to become the popular one, which, in turn, overwhelms his cro-magnon mind. All the while, the school bully, Matt (Michael DeLuise), uncovers the secret that Link is actually from the past and concocts a plan to expose them. As expected, this backfires on him, too, because POPULARITY IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT, DAMMIT!! Long story short, if you act like an asshole to get ahead in life, don’t be surprised when the repercussions catch up to you, buuuuddy.
The tongue-in-cheek dialogue, comedic timing, and effective idea behind the wind-breakers and arcade games come together to take a movie that could very easily fall flat and turn it into something pretty rad (mobile). The amount of work each actor went on to see after this film is all across the board, but that shouldn’t be a gauge to the movie’s worth. Look with your special eyes and “wheez the juice!”