Fall and Holiday Movies of the 90s - 1990
Here we go again!
Well, folks, fall is on the way, and I for one could not be happier. As someone who has never been a fan of the heat of summer, the cool relief of fall has always been welcome to me. However, fall means much more than cooler weather and the promise of things to come. It also means fall movies!!
If you recall, last year I chronicled my thoughts on the summer movies of the 1990s that I saw while I was growing up. It was a daunting task, but a fun one all around. Well, I'm ready to do it again, this time covering the other major season for bit movies - the fall and Holiday Season films.
Just like before, I'll be covering each year of the decade of the movies I saw at the theater. I'll be including my personal thoughts, as well as personal insights of what was going through my life at the time. I turned 13 in 1990, and was 22 by the time the decade was over, so you will definitely see how my viewing interests changed over time. When I was young, I got into a few R-rated films with the help of my brothers or parents, but mostly, you'll be seeing more adult-minded films in later articles.
So, let's not waste any more time! There's a lot of movies and memories to cover here, so let's get started.
FANTASIA (1990 RE-RELEASE)
RELEASED: OCTOBER 5
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In 1990, Disney's experimental film that blended traditional animation with classical music was celebrating its 50th anniversary. And so, the studio decided to give it a big re-release in theaters. Featuring selections by composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Igor Stravinsky and Beethoven, the film covers a wide variety of subject matter, from Greek mythology, fantasy and even horror.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was really excited to see this one. I had of course seen select portions of the different animated segments on various Disney TV specials (mostly The Sorcerer's Apprentice segment), and it had always fascinated me. Plus, I had a love for classical music since I was young, so getting to see it on the big screen was a huge opportunity. I remember my brother and I had to drive to a big city nearby just to see it. The trip was worth it, and I was not disappointed in the slightest. I loved the wide variety of subject matters the films covered, and I loved the imagination that went into each and every segment.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Of the "classic" Disney films, this remains one of my favorites. Yeah, I know, it's a bit of a cliche, but really, I find myself revisiting my favorite segments a lot. (Especially the final one "Night on Bald Mountain", which is just a masterpiece of suspense.) Some of the segments are kind of dragged out and dull, but the ones that do work are just so spectacular, you can just see the passion that Disney had for this project. I can see the movie's faults, but it doesn't take away from the fact that this is simply a one of a kind film.
RELEASED: OCTOBER 12
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A man named Larry Burrows (Jim Belushi) is having a terrible day at work, which ends with him being fired at work and his car breaking down. He walks into a bar where a mysterious bartender (Michael Caine) listens to his problems. Larry thinks his life would have turned out better if he had scored the hit at the end of the championship high school baseball game. Turns out the bartender is an angel named Mike, who gives Larry a special drink that allows him to live out his life if his past had been different. He finds himself with a new wife, a beautiful new home, and a position of high power at his job. However, Larry quickly finds that things are not what they seem, and begins to long for his old life when his wife from his alternate life path (Linda Hamilton) does not even recognize him.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I don't remember this being a big hit back in the day, but I remember being very intrigued by the trailers. The movie had a kind of mystical, wish-fulfillment tone, and it seemed like it would be a lot of fun. When I went to see it that weekend, I thought it was a pleasant enough film. Nothing much stood out about it, but I enjoyed it enough. Honestly, I have few to little memories about watching this, so I was looking forward to catching up with it.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Honestly, pleasant but forgettable is a perfect description for this movie. It's trying for kind of a Frank Capra-style fantasy about an ordinary man who doesn't appreciate what he has until it's gone, and it works well enough on that level. But in the last half, it turns kind of into a thriller where there's a murder, and Belushi's character winds up on the run from the police. That part just doesn't work. This movie didn't need an action climax. It could have worked as a simple story about an everyman who yearns for more, then realizes how good he had it when he is given a chance to see what he is missing. It's not a bad movie by any means, but it also does very little to stand out.
RELEASED: NOVEMBER 2
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) is an ordinary man in New York City who is haunted by memories of Vietnam and the death of his young son (played in flashbacks by Macaulay Culkin, who we will be seeing more of later). Now, he's being haunted by something far worse, as he is beginning to see nightmarish and demonic visions on the streets of unholy monsters. Is Jacob going crazy? Did the military do some kind of experiment on him and his fellow soldiers in 'Nam? Is there a secret battle between Heaven and Hell going on around Jacob? Or is there something much more sinister at play?
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Having always had an interest in the paranormal, I was fascinated by the trailers for this film and its premise. Fortunately, both of my brothers were also interested in this film, and agreed to take me along. Let me tell you, I thought this was one of the best horror movies I had ever seen. The nightmarish imagery, and the drama of Jacob trying to find out the truth behind these demonic visions really grabbed me. And then the ending came, and while it took a while for me to figure it out, I was so intrigued. I remember trying to explain this one to my friends back then, and I just couldn't. I don't know if my parents were happy about me seeing this when I was just 13, but I sure was.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: My appreciation for this film has only grown over time. I own a version of the script that was published in book format, complete with a detailed analysis by the film's writer, Bruce Joel Rubin (who had written the film Ghost with Patrick Swayze), and each time I read it and then watch the movie afterward, I just love it more. There are so many ideas here, and the imagery and special effects are still strong after all this year. This movie strongly inspired the Silent Hill video game series, and you can definitely tell. In my mind, this is one of the best and least appreciated horror films of the 90s. If you're a fan and you haven't seen this, please do so. You may not understand it all your first viewing, but you will love figuring it out.
DANCES WITH WOLVES
RELEASED: NOVEMBER 9 (LIMITED), NOVEMBER 23 (WIDE)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Kevin Costner stars in and makes his directorial debut with this epic Western. Costner plays John Dunbar, a disillusioned Civil War soldier who is relocated to the western frontier, and at first thinks it's deserted. However, he quickly befriends a curious wolf whom he dubs "Two Socks", and an equally curious tribe of Native Americans. After much hesitation, John is eventually befriended by the tribe, and learns about their ways. He soon becomes completely engulfed in their culture, and turns his back on his old life, which puts him at odds with his former war comrades.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I saw this movie as part of school when my 7th Grade History class took an afternoon field trip to the local theater to see this film. As I have mentioned in past articles, I had never been a fan of Westerns growing up, so I wasn't sure how I would react to the film. I was just happy to be getting out of school to see a movie. However, it did not take long for the movie to draw me in. It was beautiful, epic in scope, and a stirring dramatic story that just about anyone could relate to. It was exciting, funny, sad, and all-around thrilling. I remember the movie being a huge hit with my class.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: The movie's reputation has been somewhat tarnished with time, as Kevin Costner developed a self-destructive ego after this film hit it big with critics, audiences and the Award circuit, and would lead to future "epic" disasters for the star such as Waterworld, Wyatt Earp and The Postman. However, looking back at the film today, this is still a beautiful and majestic film. Sure, parts of the film may seem dated and a bit corny today, but it still is a strong dramatic piece of work, and really shows the passion Costner had for telling the story. Despite a 3 hour length, this one flows very well, and I had a lot of fun catching up with it.
RELEASED: NOVEMBER 16
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: If you don't know this one, you were not a kid in the 90s. Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left home by himself when his massive family leaves for a Christmas vacation in Paris, and they leave in such a rush that they forget about him. As his mother (Catherine O'Hara) rushes home to get back to him, Kevin finds himself more than capable of taking care of himself, which is a good thing, because his house is being scoped out by a pair of notorious but incompetent burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), who get more than they bargained for when they try to seize the house with the kid inside, only to find out that he is more than prepared for their arrival.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This and the original live action Ninja Turtles movie (which came out in the Spring of this year) were the two quintessential kids movies as the decade kicked off. The film's writer, John Hughes, had always had a talent for having success with movies built around simple subject matter, such as skipping school (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and kids in detention (The Breakfast Club). With Home Alone, he hit pay dirt. This was the ultimate child empowerment fantasy, as well as a genuinely funny and heartwarming movie to boot. Like the rest of America, I was smitten by the film, and saw it 3 times at the theater with different friends. To many kids of the time, this was the ultimate Christmas movie.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Whenever I catch up with the movie, I am struck by how beautiful it is. Director Chris Columbus saturates nearly every corner of the screen with color and detail. Just look at the scene where Kevin talks to the old man who lives next door in church on Christmas Eve. Not only is it well acted, but the imagery and the use of Christmas choir music is just gorgeous. It's these details, as well as the memorable music score by the legendary composer John Williams (who was surprisingly a last minute replacement), are what makes the movie stand out to me as an adult. I may not love it as much as I did back when it came out, but I still greatly admire the film for the skill that went into making it.
THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER
RELEASED: NOVEMBER 16
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In this sequel to the 1977 animated film, The Rescuers, the heroic mice from the Rescue Aid Society Bernard (voice by Bob Newhart) and Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor) are back on another mission. This time, they must go to Australia to rescue a nature-loving boy (Adam Ryen) who befriends a majestic eagle, and has now been kidnapped by a greedy poacher (George C. Scott), who wants to use the child to get at the eagle. They are aided in their mission by an Outback field mouse (Tristan Rogers), as well as a goofy albatross (John Candy).
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember the movie getting a lot of attention before its release, as not only was it the first time the Disney studio had ever done a sequel to one of their animated films, but also because Disney had hit it big with The Little Mermaid the previous year, and were in the early stages of a rebirth after a string of flops and disappointments throughout the 80s. I had never been a huge fan of the original Rescuers film, even as a kid, but I remember liking this one a lot more. The animation was beautiful and majestic (especially during early scenes depicting the eagle's flight), and there was just more action to this one. I also remember the theatrical release being accompanied by a short Mickey Mouse film, The Prince and the Pauper, which I also greatly enjoyed, though I haven't watched that one in a very long time. Overall, this was a lot of fun for me.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Seriously, this movie is underrated, and should not be buried in the past. The movie was considered a flop, due to the fact it opened the same weekend as Home Alone, which obviously stole all of the attention of kids everywhere. In fact, I remember hearing that the Disney studio pretty much killed all advertising after the first weekend did not meet expectations, so the movie was not given much of a chance. This is still a gorgeous looking movie, and while it's not the strongest Disney film from the 90s era, it's a wonderful adventure film for young children.
THREE MEN AND A LITTLE LADY
RELEASED: NOVEMBER 21
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In this follow up to Three Men and a Baby, lifelong friends and bachelors Peter (Tom Selleck), Micheal (Steve Gutenberg) and Jack (Ted Danson) are still living with sweet little Mary (Robin Weisman) and her birth mother Sylvia (Nancy Travis). But their family is threatened to be separated when Sylvia accepts the marriage proposal of a stuck up British stage director (Christopher Cazenove), who wants to take Mary and her back to England with him. The three guys suspect that he does not have Mary or Sylvia's best interests in mind, and must make their way to England in order to stop the wedding.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: The original film from 1987 was one I greatly enjoyed back when I saw it when I was 10, so I was looking forward to this. Before watching the film for this article, I remembered little about it, I just remembered being very disappointed. It wasn't as funny, and it didn't have the same amount of likability as the first. I also remember thinking it was more like a sitcom than a feature film. With these vague memories in my mind, I sat down to watch it and...
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Oh boy, was my 13-year-old self right about this one. This is such a corny and contrived movie. The only thing missing that would make this movie complete torture is a prerecorded laugh track and reaction sounds. Sure, the first movie was pretty corny and could be sappy, but this movie just comes across as being brainless. Nothing works - Not the jokes, not the plot that finds the three main guys racing and stumbling around instead of interacting with each other, and certainly not the chemistry of the returning actors, who seem to be cashing a very big paycheck here. This one was a chore to catch up with.
RELEASED: NOVEMBER 30
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: An adaptation of the hit Stephen King novel where a writer named Paul Sheldon (James Caan), who is famous for writing a series of romantic melodramas, gets in a crippling car accident on a snowy road and finds himself at the mercy of his self-proclaimed "number one fan", Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). As she nurses him back to health, she happens to get her hands on his newest book, where he kills the main character at the end. Annie becomes enraged by this, and begins to show psychotic tendencies when she smashes his legs, and keeps him locked away, forcing him to write a new book just for her where the character lives. Now Paul must try to find a way out, and escape from his captor.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I had read the novel Misery earlier that year. It was actually my first Stephen King book. I loved it, and was excited to see the movie. Fortunately, my mom was interested in seeing it too, and agreed to take me to see it. I remember finding this to be a wonderful adaptation of the novel, with Caan and Bates giving pitch-perfect performances as the two leads. Bates would go on to win an Oscar for this film, and I remember finding it well earned, as her performance was simultaneously filled with dark humor and genuine dread and terror, and it played out so well. This was just a really fun psychological thriller.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed. I haven't read the novel in years, but I've seen the movie many times, and I love it now as I did then. Bates is just so perfect here. It's one of the great female villain performances of the past 20 or so years. The movie also does a great job of tone, mixing bizarre and often very bleak comedy with genuine suspense. In my mind, this is one of the better King film adaptations, and it's probably the one I revisit the most frequently.
RELEASED: DECEMBER 7 (LIMITED)/DECEMBER 14 (WIDE)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: In a dark and gloomy castle overlooking a pastel suburb, a mad scientist (Vincent Price, in his final role) creates a young man named Edward (Johnny Depp), but dies before he can complete him. Created without hands, Edward instead must wear massive shears at the end of his arms, and lives in isolation until a friendly Avon Lady (Dianne Wiest) discovers him, and brings him home to live with her family. There, he befriends her teenage daughter (Winona Ryder), and a shy romance begins to bloom between the two. However, the outside world may not be so accepting of poor Edward.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Tim Burton was fresh off his success with Batman the previous year, so I remember this movie was hugely hyped as being one of the big blockbusters of the holiday season almost the instant it was announced. I was definitely excited to see it, and raced out to the theater as soon as it finally hit my town. And while I remember enjoying the film greatly, I also found it not quite being the movie I expected it to be. The ad campaign had heavily emphasized the quirky aspects of the story, and almost made it out to be a comedy. But the film itself was largely a romantic drama, and somewhat of a tragedy. Despite it not being the movie I was expecting, I still remember liking this one. It just wasn't as fun as the ad campaign made it out to be.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This is a somewhat messy film with moments of real beauty. I absolutely love the opening, with the ice-blue 20th Century Fox logo and snow falling, followed by Danny Elfman's haunting opening theme with intriguing images tying into Edward's background playing over the opening credits. It's so mysterious, and is probably one of my favorite openings to a movie of all time. The film that follows is one that has a lot of good moments, but never quite lives up to the mystery created by the first five minutes or so. The movie often doesn't seem to want to know if it wants to be an out-there comedy or spoof of suburbia, or if it wants us to take it seriously. The script tries to mix the styles, but it comes across as a bit jarring. Now, don't get me wrong, there is a lot to like here. I just think this is a movie that Burton and his screenwriter never quite got the perfect handle on.
LOOK WHO'S TALKING TOO
RELEASED: DECEMBER 14
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Baby Mikey (voice by Bruce Willis), the star of the surprise 1989 comedy hit is back, and this time he has a baby sister named Julie (voice by Roseanne Barr) to contend with for attention from his parents, Mollie (Kirstie Allie) and James (John Travolta), who are having marital issues of their own. Subjects such as sibling rivalry and potty training are dealt with in this thrown-together sequel.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Much like Three Men and a Little Lady, I found that I had suppressed my feelings about this movie over time. At least with Three Men... I remembered I was disappointed with it. I had absolutely no memory whatsoever of this film, other than I had seen it with my best friend at the time. This did not bode well for me, but I grit my teeth, said a few "Hail Mary"s, and started watching in order to catch up with the movie that time forgot...
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Wow, this may be even worse than Three Men...If the sight of John Travolta doing bad imitations of Pee Wee Herman and Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't turn you off, then surely the scene when Mikey has a nightmare where the toilet comes to life, and demands he feeds him his "poopie" surely will make you wonder what America was thinking when we made the first movie a hit. The actors are unappealing, and the wise cracks from the babies are about as fresh as a stinky diaper. Yeah, I'm going to be doing my best to forget this one all over again.
RELEASED: DECEMBER 21
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: John Kimble (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a tough as nails police detective on the trail of a drug dealer (Richard Tyson). The dealer's ex-wife is the only person who can testify against him, and she's gone into hiding. John tracks her down, and is forced to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher, hoping to track her down, as well as her young son, who both may be in danger.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Here is a movie that was met with a fury of pre-release hype, and then kind of petered out, thanks to the unstoppable juggernaut that was Home Alone. The movie was advertised as a holiday family film, but in all honesty, the first half and final climax were quite violent and standard Schwarzenegger action fare. I remember the movie being somewhat controversial, as it was heavily marketed to kids, despite how violent and dark the movie sometimes was. Even I remember watching the film, and being a bit confused as to how I was supposed to react, as parts of it seemed to want to be a family comedy, and other parts an action thriller where kids' lives are in danger, and people are shot dead in cold blood. While not terrible, it was kind of a mess.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: My memories were again spot-on with this one. With director Ivan Reitman (who directed Schwarzenegger in the family comedy Twins) on board, and the kid-friendly ad campaign, you would think this would be showing the softer side of Arnold. And while it eventually does, you also have to go through the parts of the movie that play like your typical violent Schwarzenegger vehicle of the 80s and 90s. Honestly, this seems like a movie that was severely tampered with during production. Maybe the film executives were trying to make a family film, but also wanted to throw some action elements in as well, and the two halves just did not gel. The end result is a watchable movie that just doesn't know what audience it's going for.
RELEASED: DECEMBER 21 (LIMITED)/JANUARY 11, 1991 (WIDE)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Based on a true story, this film tells of a medical doctor (Robin Williams) who takes a job at a psychiatric hospital, and finds himself drawn to a group of comatose patients whom he thinks are more alert and "awake" than the medical staff believes. He focuses on one patient in particular, a man named Leonard (Robert De Niro) who has been comatose since he was struck by a disease as a boy. Through hard work and determination, the doctor is able to reach a medical breakthrough, and bring Leonard and others like him out of their ailments, and help them enjoy life.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This is another movie I saw with my mom back in the day, and I remember finding it incredibly moving. The performances of Williams and De Niro really sold this story, and gave it just the right amount of emotion, without going into the all-out melodrama that it easily could have fallen into. This is not so much a "disease" movie, as it is about the relationship that grows between the doctor and patient as they explore the world together, and the tragedy when the cure turns out to only be temporary. This was a tear jerker in every sense of the word, and a great one at that.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed. I still love this movie, and consider it to be one of Williams' better dramatic turns. De Niro is great here also, and gives a certain innocence to his performance that we don't usually get to see from him up on the screen. This is a movie that is not really remembered by many today, and that's a real shame. I had a great time catching up with this one.
And that will conclude the season that was Fall 1990! I hope you enjoyed it, and look forward to my future cinematic adventures as I revisit the past.
1991 will be here soon, so until then, keep the past alive!