The Movies of Summer 1995
The second half of the 90s begins
Greetings, Retro fanboys and fangirls! It's time once again to take a trip back in time to see what Hollywood was dishing out for us to spend our hard earned allowances, or meager earnings from our part time summer jobs on.
First of all, I apologize for how late this article is. Been busy with work and other things, so it took a little while. That, and I wanted to take a break before I started on the second half of the 90s.
The summer of 95 for me meant that I was heading into my Senior year of high school that fall. College was looming, and adulthood seemed closer than other. Like most kids my age, I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do after high school. There was a lot of pressure about picking the right school, and taking the right path to the future.
Fortunately, I had summer movies on hand for whenever I needed a break! So, let's take a look at what I was (and perhaps you, yourself) watching that summer.
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE
RELEASED: MAY 19
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The third film in the Die Hard series finds John McClane (Bruce Willis, once again) drunk and suspended from the police department. But then, a series of bombs start going off around the city, and the bomber turns out to be Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons), the brother of the villain from the original film. He wants John to play a deadly game in order to disarm the bombs he has placed around New York City. Along the way, an electrician (Samuel L. Jackson) gets dragged in, and assists John in tracking down the remaining bombs.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember thinking this didn't feel much like a Die Hard movie at the time. While the first two movies had taken place mostly in a confined space (a highrise building, or an airport), this one had John racing all over New York City. It wasn't exactly a bad thing, it just didn't feel like the last two movies, because it was so open. The fun of those movies was that John was kind of trapped, and had to find his way out. Here, he's dragged into a deadly "game". It wasn't a bad movie, it just didn't feel like it connected all that well to the first two.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I'm kind of on the fence with this movie. It's certainly not bad by any means, but again, I think it deviated a little too much from the formula. I can understand wanting to open up the movie a little bit, but at the same time, the movie's tension is oddly lessened a little bit here. It comes and goes, rather than feeling like a total thrill ride like the first two. The movie is fun and all, but it's a definite step down for the series for me.
RELEASED: MAY 24
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Mel Gibson stars and directed this historical epic about William Wallace, a man who rebelled against the tyrannical British in order to free Scotland from their influence and rule. Having already lost father and brother to the English back when he was a child, and more recently the woman he loved, he is determined to rally his fellow people to make Scotland free once and for all.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was back in the day when Mel Gibson could seemingly do no wrong at the box office, and did it definitely show here. Releasing a three hour long historical epic right in the thick of the summer movie season was a gamble, and though Gibson had directed before this, he had certainly never attempted something of this scale. Somehow, he pulled it off. This was a beautiful, stirring epic, and one that truly captured my imagination at the time. The action, the moments of humor, the drama, and most of all the overall scope of the film, this felt like it was something special while you were watching it.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This stands as probably my favorite film Gibson directed back at the height of his career. This was the movie that truly proved that he was more than a "matinee idol", and could also win acclaim and awards behind the camera, as well as on screen. It was thrilling, romantic, exciting and just has this sense of awesomeness to it, especially the large-scale battle scenes. This was exactly what the summer of 95 needed in order to kick off with a huge bang.
RELEASED: MAY 26
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Following the box office success of the Flintstones movie the previous summer, Universal Studios teamed up with Steven Spielberg's production company to again bring a classic cartoon character to live action, this time being Casper the Friendly Ghost. In the film, a greedy woman (Cathy Moriarty) inherits Casper's haunted mansion, hoping to find the hidden treasure that's supposedly within. But when Casper's three scary Uncles keep her out of the house, she decides to hire a paranormal therapist (Bill Pullman) and his young daughter (Christina Ricci) to get rid of the spirits within. When the therapist and his daughter end up befriending the ghosts within, they start to question their loyalty to the evil woman who hired them.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Well, I liked it better than the Flintstones movie the year before, but I still had some issues with this one. Most prominent, I did not like the fact that the film had a subplot about a device that could bring a child's dead father back to life. I thought this could confuse some little kids in the audience who may have recently suffered a loss. The movie is kind of all over the place, as it tries to mix mild raunchy comedy, fantasy, heart-tugging pathos, genuine sadness and tragedy, and special effects. It didn't always work for me, but it had some nice moments, and the music score by James Horner became one of my favorites, and remains so to this day.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed. The movie has some individual good moments, but the tone seems to change from scene to scene, and I never quite get the sense that the script found a consistent tone. It's like the filmmakers keep on trying a different approach, so sometimes it's quiet and sincere, and sometimes it's loud, silly and kind of obnoxious. The script's just not good enough to mix the elements together. Still, this is not a terrible film, and it has its fans.
RELEASED: JUNE 9
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: When a man searching for diamonds (Bruce Campbell) disappears somewhere in the African jungle, a team is sent into the Congo to find out what happened. The team includes the man's lover (Laura Linney), a gorilla expert (Dylan Walsh), his gorilla who "talks" through sign language and a silly device it wears on its arm which translates its sign language with a corny computer voice, an adventurer (Ernier Hudson), and an over the top Tim Curry speaking with a goofy "What the hell kind of accent is that?" accent. Eventually, they discover a rare tribe of deadly gorillas, and other dangers as they attempt to learn the truth.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: The main thing I remember is that my best friend was really hyped for this movie. He had read the Michael Crichton novel it was based on, and was so excited for it, he managed to get me excited. I read the book myself, enjoyed it, and rushed out to see the film when it opened. Oh man, what a disappointment. This film is so cheesy, the film reels could be melted in order to make Velveeta. From the over the top acting, to the silly plot and dialogue, right down to that ridiculous "talking" gorilla, this was one of the goofiest movies I had ever seen.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Some people view this as some kind of camp classic, or an unintentional comedy gold mine. I'm not one of them. I just don't see this as a guilty pleasure. I see it as a very misguided and very dumb big budget movie that somehow got a huge marketing push. (I remember the TV being flooded with Taco Bell and Pepsi advertisements tied into this movie's release.) The hype ultimately did not work. Bad word of mouth killed the movie after its opening weekend, and for good reason. This is just a stupid and ridiculous movie that maybe earns a couple laughs, but none of them are intentional.
RELEASED: JUNE 16
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: After the PR nightmare that 1992's Batman Returns was for Warner Bros., the third film in the franchise gets a total make over, with a new director (Joel Schumacher), a new Batman (Val Kilmer), a new look that is much more cartoonish and garish instead of dark and foreboding, and an overall slightly lighter and sillier tone. This time Batman must do battle with a dejected scientist who goes mad when no one believes in his ideas, and becomes the supervillain The Riddler (Jim Carrey). He must also deal with former district attorney, Harvey Dent, who has become the terrifying mobster, Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones, stepping in for Billy Dee Williams who played Dent in 1989's Batman film.) Batman won't be alone this time, as he finally gets his sidekick, Robin (Chris O'Donnell), as well as a new love interest (Nicole Kidman).
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Batman Forever was a strange experience for me back in the summer of 95. I remembered liking it when I was watching it, but as soon as it was over, it kind of immediately faded from my mind. I remember talking to a friend about the movie later that night after I saw it, and not being able to remember much about it, or why I enjoyed it. At the time, I remember liking the weirdness of the film, as well as Carrey's performance, which kind of strikes a nice blend of weird humor and bizarre menace. I remember wishing they had gone with a darker approach with Two-Face, as I thought Jones was too comical and over the top with his performance. I would finally get the version of the character I wanted to see back then with The Dark Knight in 2008. Overall, I thought it was a fun movie, just not a memorable one.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: It's almost impossible to watch this movie now, and not realize that we were being groomed for 1997's notorious Batman and Robin. (We'll get to that one in another article. Oh boy, will we get to that one...) This movie still tries to be sort of dark at times, but the campy humor and tone that would eventually sink the franchise is on display, just not as prominent. That said, I still enjoy Carrey here, and there are a couple good action sequences. I don't like this nearly as much as the Burton films, but if WB wanted to go in a lighter and more kid-friendly direction, this is not a bad way to do it, as it doesn't feel like a total betrayal. That will come along in 97...
RELEASED: JUNE 16 (LIMITED) JUNE 23 (WIDE RELEASE)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Disney's animated musical for this year tells the love story between the daughter of Algonquin chief, Pocahontas (voice by Irene Bedard, singing voice by Broadway veteran Judy Kuhn), and English settler John Smith (Mel Gibson), who has come to explore the "new world". When it turns out that the leader of the English settlers, Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers), is obsessed only with greed and wealth, and will destroy the land in order to get it, the two lovers will have to work together in order to prevent a war between both of their people.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember almost everyone I talked to back then being disappointed with this film. After the grandness and almost epic nature of The Lion King, this movie felt very "small" in comparison. Maybe this film would have been received better if it had come out before Lion King, as I remember almost everyone comparing the 2 films. That being said, I didn't think it was an animated classic or anything, but I remember enjoying it for what it was - a quiet love story. Yes, the songs are nice but not that memorable, and the movie itself doesn't really try to be big or splashy. But there is nothing wrong with that, and I felt the movie worked if you just judged it on its own merits. It's no Beauty and the Beast or Lion King, but that didn't mean it was bad.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: In the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, which talks about the Disney animation studio reinventing itself during the 80s and 90s, it's interesting to learn that this was the movie everybody at Disney thought was going to be the big hit, not Lion King. Former Disney animation head, Jeffrey Katzenberg, said that this was going to be Disney's West Side Story - a musical about forbidden lovers from two walks of life. Nobody paid much attention to Lion King when it was being made, because everybody wanted to work on this project. I think I can see how this project may have appealed to the animators, as it was certainly something different. (After all, Lion King was just going to be another "talking animal" movie.) This movie has been kind of forgotten with time, but rewatching it, I can see the potential of the film. It's not anything great, but it's still enjoyable, and doesn't deserve to be swept under the rug like it seems to have been. Of course, this movie had a lot going against it, as not only did Lion King come out before it, but in the fall of 95, a little movie called Toy Story would come along, and pretty much change the way everyone looked at feature length animation.
RELEASED: JUNE 30
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Based on the popular comic book series set in a dystopian future (Is there any other kind in the movies these days?) where law enforcers act as judge, jury and executioners when it comes to street crime, the most famous officer, Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone) enforces justice, until he is framed for murder by his evil counterpart, Rico (Armand Assante). Dredd is sentenced to life in prison, but manages to escape with the aid of an obnoxious comic relief con man (Rob Schneider). Now he must make his way back to the city in order to clear his name and defeat the villain.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: One of my older brothers used to read the Judge Dredd comic book, so I was already familiar with the character, having read some of the issues. I thought a bid budget movie of the character could be awesome, so I went to see this on my birthday, I remember, which was right around when this movie had just come out. Let me tell you, what a crushing disappointment. The movie was loud, the humor was not funny, and the action was chaotic and stupid instead of exciting. Plus, there's the fact that the filmmakers had Stallone take his "Judge" helmet off as often as possible, something the character never does in the comic. This did not even feel like a Judge Dredd movie to me. It just felt like an overblown, generic blockbuster that tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator when it came to its audience.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: We got a much better Judge Dredd movie a few years ago (with Karl Urban as Dredd). Watching this movie was hard back in the day, but it's downright impossible now that we have a good adaptation of the comic. Of all the misfires and bombs that Stallone was involved in during the 90s, this is one of his biggest ones to me, and that's saying something. The movie is overproduced, bloated, and not the slightest bit interesting. Sure, the effects are good for their time, but there's just nothing to care about here. The only good thing to come out of this movie is that there was an actually pretty decent video game made off of it for the SNES and Genesis. It's one of the unsung movie licensed games, and manages to be better than the movie it was based on.
RELEASED: JUNE 30
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: This movie tells the true story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 space shuttle, which was initially intended to be a routine trip to the moon, until a technical malfunction on the shuttle left three brave men (played here by Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon) stranded in space. The film follows NASA's attempts to return them safely to Earth.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: After Judge Dredd, I needed a good movie, so I remember I went to see this later that same day (my birthday). This was an astonishing film to me. Director Ron Howard not only did a great job recreating the harrowing story, but the attention to detail was just amazing. It not only was historically accurate and informative, but it was dramatic, thrilling and highly entertaining. This was one of the summer's more pleasant surprises, and continued Tom Hank's rise from being a comedic actor, to being one of the bigger stars of the past decade.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I still love this movie, and really admire the level of detail that the filmmakers put into it. It feels very authentic, and never really comes across to me as being over-dramatized. This film has a great sense of time and place, and you really do believe that these actors are floating helplessly in space, even if you do watch behind the scenes footage and learn how they pulled the effects off. This was not just an amazing technical achievement, but a truly spellbinding story, and probably my favorite movie of this particular summer season.
RELEASED: JULY 14
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore play a couple who aren't really sure where they're going, until Moore's character becomes pregnant. Grant's character, who has always been a commitment phobic, must now change his entire life around with the arrival of the baby, and has a hard time changing his ways. It doesn't help that an obnoxious married couple with a large group of kids (the couple are played by Tom Arnold and Joan Cusack) are always in Grant's face, showing him the "horrors" of domestic life.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: What should have been a small little romantic comedy ended up being one of the most talked about films of the summer leading up to its release, due to the fact that Hugh Grant was involved in a scandal where he was arrested trying to pick up a prostitute. The news coverage of the incident actually drew interest to the film, and I remember the theater being packed opening weekend, with many people attributing the success to the media blitz surrounding Hugh Grant, as well as his famous interview on Jay Leno around that time, where Leno bluntly asked him, "What the hell were you thinking?". So, what about the movie? In a word, it was pretty generic and forgettable. Despite a strong cast including Grant, Moore, Cusack and Robin Williams (showing up as a wacky maternity doctor), the script gives them little to work with, and instead relies on broad slapstick humor, such as a scene where Grant and Tom Arnold get in a fight with a Barney the Dinosaur wannabe in a toy store.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Yeah, this is just a rather generic and forgettable comedy. When I started this article, I remembered seeing the movie in the theater, but I remembered nothing about it. Having watching it again recently, I can see why, as there is little ro remember here. Oh, there are a couple funny lines, and the scene depicting the drive to the hospital (where Grant and Moore keep on accidentally hitting people, and have to take them to the hospital as well) is quite good. I think the movie is just too broad and silly. A more quiet and honest approach with the humor would have been better, as the movie deals with a subject matter that just about everyone can relate to. Instead, we get a lot of screaming and slapstick fights, and it just feels kind of cheap.
RELEASED: JULY 19
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A rich and seemingly vapid valley girl named Cher (Alicia Silverstone) attempts to boost an unpopular girl's (the late Brittany Murphy) status at school. Along the way, she discovers that there is more to her than either she thought there was as she coaches life, love and relationships in this 90s update on Jane Austen's Emma.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This is one of those little movies that seemingly came out of nowhere, and became a word of mouth hit. The movie did have some clever moments, and a lot of references to 90s pop culture - everything from Ren and Stimpy to The Real World. I remember enjoying the movie, but not finding much to it. It was a very light and frothy film, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I also thought it needed a little bit more to be truly successful. Still, this movie did feature some young upcoming talent (this was an early film for comic actor Paul Rudd), and it briefly made Silverstone a bankable star.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I hadn't watched it since seeing it at the theater, and catching up with the film, my thoughts haven't changed much. This is obviously very much a movie of its time, and feels rather dated watching it today. However, the screenplay by writer-director Amy Heckerling (who had another influential teen movie back in the 80s when she directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High) has its clever and laugh out loud moments. If you're looking for a nostalgic movie that doesn't require you to think too much, you can do worse than this.
RELEASED: JULY 28
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Kevin Costner's ego rose to new heights with this post-apocalyptic adventure film that ended up being the most expensive film ever made at the time, and a disastrous shoot, including one of the sets sinking into the water and having to be rebuilt. The film is set in a futuristic Earth that is covered completely by water. However, there is rumor of "dry land", and supposedly a map on the back of a young girl(Tina Majorino) can lead to it. A drifter known only as The Mariner (Kevin Costner), a mutant man-aquatic creature hybrid, gets wrapped up in the mission of protecting the girl and her adult companion (Jeanne Tripplehorn) from a band of pirates known as the Smokers, led by the evil Deacon (Dennis Hopper).
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This is the movie everybody was talking about, from its out of control budget at over $100 million (unheard of at the time), to the stories of Kevin Costner clashing with the director and the studio for control over the final film. After all the hype and negative press, I decided to see the movie for myself, and found it to be incredibly dull. The movie was long, dragged out, and just not interesting in the slightest. Yeah, the floating city set was cool and all, but it hardly warranted an entire movie. This movie obviously wasn't very fun to make, and it wasn't very fun to watch, either.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: The movie is now a distant memory, and most people have forgotten about it. And for good reason. This is one forgettable "blockbuster". For all its talk of an astronomical budget, the movie doesn't even look all that great. Of course, a lot of the budget had to do with having to rebuild a set that sank, and the unpredictable nature of filming on water. Fortunately, CG has pretty much solved the problem of filming on water (just look at Life of Pi), so nobody has to go through this hell again. Still, this is a very dull film, and it didn't deserve any of the hype. The only fun part is getting to see a brief appearance from a before he was famous Jack Black as one of the pirates.
RELEASED: AUGUST 4
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A young piglet named Babe (voice by the late Christine Cavanaugh) is won at a local carnival by a farmer named Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell). At first the farmer plans to use Babe only as food for his dinner table, but he soon discovers that the pig has an unusual talent for herding sheep, thanks to the fact that little Babe was raised by sheepdogs. An unusual bond between farmer and pig grows, and the farmer gets the crazy idea to enter Babe in a herding competition.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I'll admit, I had no intention of seeing Babe at first based on the trailers and ad campaign, which made it looked cute, but kind of sticky sweet. But then, word of mouth just exploded with this movie, both with critics and audiences, and I eventually had to see it. I ended up loving it just like everyone else at the time seemed to. From its charming storybook narrative (complete with narrator), to the stunning special effects that effortlessly mixed live animals with animatronic and CG ones without a hitch, this movie was strangely compelling, and had just as much for adults as it did for children. Once again, we have a little movie that came out of nowhere to become a hit, and it was even nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars the following year.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This movie still has the ability to charm the socks off of me. The design of the farmland and the house where the characters live is so warm and inviting, you want to climb in the screen and make yourself at home. And even to this day, the special effects used to make the animals talk is still effective. This isn't just basic "lip flap" or film loop that you see in a lot of live action talking animal movies. There was a painstaking amount of work done here. It's charming, it's technically brilliant, and it's just a big, warm movie.
RELEASED: AUGUST 18
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The controversial video game series that sparked a number of senate hearings on video game violence gets the PG-13 Hollywood treatment. A small group of the main fighters from the game, including Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) and Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) are chosen by the god Rayden (Christopher Lambert) to compete in a mystical martial arts tournament that will hold the fate of humanity and the Earth itself, as the heroes must battle against the evil sorcerer, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and his minions of the Outworld.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I will admit up front, I was never a fan of the Mortal Kombat video games growing up. I preferred Street Fighter II and its numerous spin offs, which I thought had deeper gameplay, and I enjoyed the anime-style visuals over the digitized live actors of MK, which I thought looked cheesy at the time. That being said, when the trailer for this movie hit, I was intrigued by the special effects, and was also impressed that the movie actually looked like the game. This was a rarity. So, I saw it opening day, and I remember having fun. It wasn't deep or anything, but I enjoyed the fight sequences, and again, the special effects were impressive for its time. At the time, it was the best movie to be made off of a video game.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Hoo boy, this has not aged well. Okay, it's still kind of fun in a cheesy and campy way. Yeah, there are moments when the movie is being intentionally funny, but there are just as many moments that come across as being funny accidentally, thanks to the dialogue and some of the performances. But hey, it's better than that Mortal Kombat film sequel we got a couple years later, isn't it? Not that that's saying much, mind you. So yeah, this is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it has its guilty pleasures.
And that will wrap things up for the movies I saw in the summer of 1995! A mixed bag as always, but there was some good stuff. Oddly enough, none of them were the heavily hyped blockbusters, and most of them seemed to be movies most people initially underestimated, such as Apollo 13, Braveheart and Babe.
What does the summer of 1996 hold in store? Well, we have killer tornadoes, killer aliens, Disney does their darkest animated musical to date, and Will Smith goes from being the "Fresh Prince" to A-List Hollywood leading man seemingly overnight.
So join me next time. And as the summer of 2015 begins to kick off, I hope all of you get some time to enjoy it.