Too Reel: Underrated Movies from 1994

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We simple humans see time linearly. Some physicists speculate that time is much more complex than we’ve thus far come to understand. That it is only one dimension among many in this grand ol’ universe among infinite universes. Others even theorize that the entire universe could actually be a hologram, which is more than enough to make one’s head spin in twelve different directions. For now, let us consider time as we always have: a one-way street full of speed bumps, potholes, and irate travelers, forever coursing along the same vein.

On our one-way street, we remain under the impression that in order to change lanes, we must time it perfectly. But this isn’t always the case. Take a piece of pop culture becoming a cult classic, for example. At the time it was originally released, it may have been overlooked, but, at some point down the line, it starts gaining steam, whether it was recommended by a highly influential person, or simply spread by word of mouth over years. Timing isn’t always everything. Your lane change will present itself.

In 1994, our scientists genetically engineered their first tomato (Tomacco wouldn’t be introduced by Homer Simpson until 1999), and, as OJ Simpson was fleeing police in his white Ford Bronco, Netscape Navigator was becoming the most widely used web browser. During the time Java first became available for programmers, we lost Kurt Cobain, Ren & Stimpy was still airing, and a tunnel was built which connected England and France through the Channel (that beats a stupid wall any day). As for box office hits, Jim Carrey was in his prime with both Dumb & Dumber AND The Mask. Let’s see some that were either not quite as popular or didn’t pick up their steam until way later.

 

7. Cabin Boy (Dir. Adam Resnick; Starring: Chris Elliott, James Gammon, Brian Doyle-Murray) 

For those who are unaware, Brian Doyle-Murray — Skunk in Cabin Boy — is the brother of the one-and-only Bill Murray. And, aside from being in more than one hundred supporting roles on the big and small screens (including Noah Vanderhoff in Wayne’s World), he provided the voice work for familiar characters such as the Flying Dutchman in Spongebob and Captain K’Nuckles in Flapjack. With all these quality, memorable roles under his belt over the years, the movies he was in weren’t always the most successful endeavors. Case and point: Cabin Boy.

Stowaways have often been plot-catalysts for seafaring films. This time, a holier-than-thou college student somehow winds up on the wrong boat thinking it’s his father’s, having been named “Filthy Whore.” Chris Elliott (the “take my strong hand” guy) plays main character Nathaniel Mayweather and does a pretty convincing job of sticking his nose up at the crew while they consider him the reason for all the bad luck they keep running into at sea. Campy silliness ensues, including some fun practical effects to portray the wind as being blown by giant monsters. It seems that, even after two decades, the time still isn’t right for this one to become a classic. Perhaps one day.

 

6. Blank Check (Dir. Rupert Wainwright; Starring: Brian Bonsall, Karen Duffy, Miguel Ferrer, Tone Loc) 

At twelve years old, what would you have done with a million dollars? Lifetime supply of chocolate? Fill a pool with EZ Cheez? Buy a ridiculous amount of stock in Nintendo? Give to the needy? Unfortunately, in the early 90s, twelve year olds weren’t that well informed about the more upsetting things about the world. These days, kids have been known to donate large earnings/winnings to charities and science. A lot can change with a decent WiFi connection and a little empathy.

In Blank Check, twelve year old Preston Waters is given, well, a blank check, and naively cashes it for a million smackaroos and gets away with it. Where were this child’s parents?? This movie is a mix between Richie Rich and Home Alone. Well, actually it’s sort of just a different version of Home Alone, where a child is neglected by his parents, gets in trouble with some rough customers, and gallivants around a large house. The only difference here is that we know where all the money came from.

It’s also a really good thing that this movie is told from the perspective of the kid and not one of the adults around him, because there’s a fairly pedophilic sequence of events where Preston woos an older woman with a romantic dance through a fountain and, at the end, she kisses him on the mouth! That just ain’t right.

Released by Disney, Blank Check was seen on TV much more than it ever was in theaters. If you didn’t see it as a kid and are, for some reason, in the mood for a movie about a kid, it’s still a fairly entertaining flick. If not, maybe wait until you have a kid of your own to show it to. Hopefully while instilling in them that adults should not explore romance with minors! Sheesh…

 

5. Serial Mom (Dir. John Waters; Starring: Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard) 

*Insert pun about being a “cereal killer” here*

Who would’ve (who’d’ve?) thought that the modern musical king himself, John Waters, would have directed a comedy about a mother who kills all who come at her family wrong? Regardless, Serial Mom is a very funny movie featuring a mom who finds a way to remain composed while simultaneously losing her shit. It also features a pre-Trainspotting Matthew Lillard and Waters’ Hairspray star, Ricki Lake, as well as “I know this is sexist, but should I still laugh?” type writing such as “Every woman wants to be wanted, but not for murder one,” and “Beverly, I think I’ve read about this. Is it… menopause?”

If you don’t know John Waters, he’s nowhere near serious about those types of remarks. The Baltimore native has been a role model in the gay community for three decades now and is still going strong. His movies have always been hits in one way or another, and Serial Mom is no exception to that rule. Not necessarily underrated at the time, it has definitely not seen as much longevity as contemporaries such as Mrs. Doubtfire. Needless to say, it’s almost every bit as good.

 

4. A Troll In Central Park (Dir. Don Bluth, Gary Goldman; Starring: Dom DeLuise, Cloris Leachman, Jonathan Pryce) 

Everyone knows that the best scene with singing flowers is in the pun-filled, original, animated Alice In Wonderland. The second best, though, can be given to A Troll In Central Park. And, even though it heavily borrowed from the designs of those same flowers, it made their singing a bit less acid-trippy and a bit more magical. When a troll with a green thumb is banished to the wasteland known as New York City by a bitter old witch, he befriends a couple of kids who help him show that witch what fer and live in happiness knowing friendship and peace.

Director Don Bluth was a busy guy in the 80s and 90s. He honestly deserves to be a household name as famous as Spielberg and Nolan with an extensive repertoire, including  but not limited to — The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go To Heavenand AnastasiaThe man pumped out quality animation after quality animation, year after year. Originally a chief animator at Disney, Bluth led a walkout in the early 80s in retaliation for Disney threatening massive layoffs in the animation department. He and a few others founded their own studio and, therein, created the classics listed above. Unfortunately, he was still forever in the shadow of his former employer. But today, we can easily look back and recognize his underrated genius over the years.

 

3. The Crow (Dir. Alex Proyas; Starring: Brandon Lee, Ernie Hudson, Bai Ling) 

One of two massive cult classics on this list, The Crow easily holds one of the most upsetting tragedies in film-making. Eight days before the film finished production, lead actor Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee’s son) was mortally wounded by a defective blank (a fake bullet). The film itself then took on a much larger role as unintentionally, yet brilliantly paying tribute to the fallen actor. The story is about a murdered musician who’s brought back to life to bring vengeance upon his and his fiancee’s killers.

While the movie saw several mediocre sequels, a recent remake for The Crow was said to be in the works. James O’Barr, the creator of the graphic novel in which the original movie was based on, said in 2012, “[…] I don’t have great expectations. I think the reality is, no matter who you get to star in it, or if you get Ridley Scott to direct it and spend 200 million dollars, you’re still not gonna top what Brandon Lee and Alex Proyas did in that first ten million dollar movie.”

They’ve been trying to get a solid director and lead for the reboot for almost ten years now, but it seems that news about the endeavor is (thankfully) fizzling out. Sometimes it’s best to just let sleeping dogs lie. The original movie has a massive cult following, but still deserves more. Instead of desecrating a great film — and indirectly the legacy of an actor taken way before his time — why not work to make sure it’s seen by even more people rather than simply trying to profit from it’s posthumous popularity?

 

2. Junior (Dir. Ivan Reitman; Starring: Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emma Thompson) 

At this point in time, we had seen Arnold in many different scenarios. Most of them involve him in crazy government and criminal conspiracy theories, barbarism, or some version thereof. It wasn’t until Junior, that we saw him get…pregnant? DeVito and the governator had great chemistry in 1988’s Twins, so another feature with the two vertically-polarized actors was welcomed. Today, a movie about a male scientist who willingly undergoes an experimental procedure to carry a baby to term would most definitely be seen as being hella sexist and patriarchal, but 23 years ago, comedies such as these weren’t so heavily scrutinized.

As problematic as Arnold’s chemically forced feminine side would be today, there’s no denying that hearing him talk about his nipples being sensitive was funny. It really is a huge smack in the face, though, with how the times have changed. It has stereotypical pregnancy-related one-liners galore such as, “feel how soft my skin is,” and “you’re glowing!” In fairness, Emma Thompson’s character, Diana, fires back with, “You think men don’t hold enough cards? You have to take this away from us as well?” Therefore, the questionable nature of the plot is challenged in the movie itself, if only lightly.

If you can set aside the part of you that knows that if this movie were made today, there would be massive protesting against it, you can at least appreciate how funny it is. Schwarzenegger and Emma Thompson were both even nominated for Golden Globes for their performances, believe it or not.

 

1. Clerks (Dir. Kevin Smith; Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti) 

Clerks is the flagship of modern cult classics. An indie film about a day in the life of two convenience store clerks in New Jersey. They’re rude to the customers, they slack off, and they close the store for hours at a time to play roller-hockey on the roof. This movie developed such a cult following, that two supporting characters, Jay and Silent Bob, were given their own spin-off movie. Director Kevin Smith has also recently confirmed that a new Jay and Silent Bob movie is in the works in lieu of the disappointing news that the long-awaited Clerks III would most likely never see the light of day.

There are many things that make Clerks so memorable. First, it was filmed in black & white, which was and still is out of the ordinary for modern comedies. Secondly, it portrayed two guys who are so utterly relateable for their age group, that they’re hard not to love. Neurotic Dante and his nihilistic best friend, Randall. If this movie came out today rather than 1994, the pair would be the living definition of what we’ve come to know as a stereotypical “millenial.” Dante would be the one tweeting about his relationship troubles (“Just found out what a “snowball is… fml”) while it’s easy to imagine Randall sharing memes on Reddit with jokes alluding to him trying to laugh off being borderline suicidal.

The chemistry of the two leads was so great that a sequel was released in 2006, where the our boys get jobs at a local burger joint and have to carry the burden of “working with others.” While we may never have a third film, we can look back on the first two (and all of Smith’s other films (including Tusk!)) with fondness as we await Jay & Silent Bob’s next endeavor.