1990's Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
18May/182

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

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A shade over ten years ago, the most I would have had to say about Michael Mann's films is, "Collateral was cool."  An accurate statement?  Sure, but one that I now feel does disservice to the rich texture of his films.  This didn't come about quickly as Manhunter, Heat, Miami Vice, and all his other films - except The Last of the Mohicans which remained unseen - went into and out of my brain leaving so little impression that I could only recall Manhunter as that absurd film with the weird "In A Gadda Da Vida" rampage.

Enter Blackhat, the 2015 thriller so poorly received it barely made 25% of its budget back with the critical reception about as frosty.  I saw, then felt, something special in Blackhat.  The oily textures and synesthetic gunfights made a deep impression on my skin as I watched Chris Hemsworth's Nicholas Hathaway (no relation to myself) find his way through the conspiratorial darkness.  I was so impressed a nagging doubt entered and would not leave my mind resulting in a question - have I been wrong about Mann this whole time?

Yes, I was wrong.  Manhunter chilled me my second time through, the maze of concrete corridors and pillars that were supposed to lead Will away from the monstrous Hannibal only lead to panic, and the "In A Gadda Da Vida" sequence an expulsion of tragic violence birthed from abuse and let loose by a sadist.  Even Miami Vice, which had editing so confusing it was easy for me to think that Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell were enjoying a shower together, improved considerably.  I saw men trying desperately to make sense of their immediate surroundings, grabbing what facile pleasures they can from touch, and getting into firefights as uncertain as the conspiracy surrounding them.

CollateralCollateral's still cool, and I look forward to my rewatch of that so I can hopefully drag myself out of that shallow (if fun and accurate) opinion.

This left one glaring spot in my evaluation of Mann's films, The Last of the Mohicans, a film I was terrified was going to yield space to the mystic/noble savage trope recently deployed in The Revenant.  One scene and line of dialogue from Chingachgook (Russell Means) worried me, but quickly gave way to a grounded sense of his faith that's no different than my mother saying a quick prayer before eating any meal.  Chingachgook has the first and last lines of dialogue in The Last of the Mohicans, and the true heartbreak in-between lies not with poster star Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) or his love Cora (Madeleine Stowe).  They get the big lines and most overtly dramatic moments, but they're speaking for the ones who choose not to - whose passion and connection plays in the power of the greatest silent films.

I speak of Uncas (Eric Schweig) and Alice (Jodhi May).  Their romance, expressed through tender touch and reassuring glances, is what gives The Last of the Mohicans its transcendental quality.  Hawkeye and Cora's romance makes for a fine bit of passion, but Uncas and Alice's wordless connection is where the magic lay.  I'm not going to be doing a typical review for this because my relationship with Mann's films has changed so much that watching The Last of the Mohicans is the closest I've had to a pure spiritual experience since Upstream Color.

To that end, here is the story of Chingachgook's love for Uncas, who loves and is loved by Alice, and how Mann avoids tropes of the mystic/noble savage to ground their romance in bravery and tragedy.  It's a romance, not just of the man/woman variety, but in a father's love for his son and son's love for his father.

Let's begin.

11Apr/180

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

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They've gone through history, but nothing's changed.  Bill and Ted are still struggling to bring their band the success they've been told it will have.  Their lapse into self-doubt parallels a malevolent schemer from the future who sends robot duplicates of Bill and Ted into the past to kill their band before they can be successful.  Pete Hewitt directs Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, with the screenplay written by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves.

As I write today, April 11th of 2018, there are only two Bill & Ted films in existence.  The 1st, Excellent Adventure, I've watched at minimum 42 times.  The 2nd, Bogus Journey, I've only seen twice - once a shade over fifteen years ago and the second just under a week ago.  I will, no doubt, be watching Excellent Adventure many more times.  The two trips I've had with Bogus Journey will suffice, as the first viewing underwhelmed and the second underwhelmed but with the added benefit of knowing why.

Bogus Journey suffers from the same issue the Harold and Kumar sequels do, a fundamental misunderstanding that the humor comes not from the outlandish situations but the earnest friendship between the leads.  Excellent Adventure works so well because every action or story beat is or sets up a joke that has something to do with Bill and Ted's sincere wish to better themselves.  Their goals in Bogus Journey are to get back to life so that they can win the battle of the bands.  It's their next logical step, not a big character building moment.

2Apr/180

The Last Express Gold Edition (1997)

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Special note: while I urge you to experience The Last Express for yourself if possible, both parts of my longplay of The Last Express (failures and all) are temporarily available for viewing.  Here's part 1 and part 2.

With two narrow hallways, a sampling of side-rooms, a smoking section, dining center, and two intermittently accessible areas of the train - The Last Express Gold Edition (just The Last Express moving forward) provides more of an "open world" videogame than products that openly advertise that feature.  Jumping in can feel daunting.  I know I had some issues getting into it the first time because no matter where I went there was a conversation to overhear, discussions to jump in on, and a murder mystery my player character Robert Cath (David Svensson) unwittingly becomes a suspect in.  Then there's the steady hypnotic sounds of the train itself, bumping on bits of rail and providing the kind of low groaning grind that's catnip for an afternoon nap.

No first-person adventure game of the '90s, not even Myst, gives me the freedom to explore this fascinating microcosm of the world circa 1914.  In Myst there's a discrete objective, even if the means of achieving the goal allow the player to achieve them in whatever order they see fit.  There's no such goalpost system in The Last Express, I could tarry around the narrow corridors peeking in on eunuchs and passengers making idle small talk without even discovering the mutilated corpse of Tyler Whitney.  Granted, if I choose to ignore the compartment and go about my merry way, then I'll lose and be thrown off the Orient Express.

11Jan/180

Changing Reels Season 2, Episode 1 – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

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We kick off 2018 with Jim Jarmusch’s 1999 film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.  In the film Forest Whitaker plays Ghost Dog, a mafia hit man who follows the ancient code of the samurai.  For our short film spotlight, we discuss the Nick Cave narrated film The Cat Piano by Ari Gibson ​&​ Eddie White and Junko’s Shamisen by Sol Friedman.

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7Sep/170

Changing Reels Episode 26 – The Wedding Banquet

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To placate his meddling Taiwanese parents, Wai-Tung agrees to a marriage of convenience with a struggling artist Wei Wei. What he failed to mentioned to his parents is that he is already in a loving relationship with Simon. Things spiral out of control for Wai-Tung when his parents decide to make a surprise visit to help plan the wedding. This week walk down the aisle with Ang Lee’s 1993 romantic comedy The Wedding Banquet. We also take time to highlight our short film picks of the week: Pink Grapefruit by Michael Mohan and In a Heartbeat by Beth David and Esteban Bravo.

Show notes:

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