Double Feature Theater: Mismatched 1990s Vol. III

Double Feature Theater: Mismatched 1990s Vol. III

Between my feature on the Netflix DVD blog and my Mismatched 1990s post on here a couple weeks ago, I’ve made 12 double feature connections, touting 24 different movies from the decade that brought us Zubaz, Parker Lewis, and weaponized slap bracelets. I don’t know how many people are actually enjoying this series (and this play-at-home exercise) but I know creating this list has provided me with so much idle-time fun I’m determined to make this a regular series on the bl-g even if no one seems to be reading it. (And I have the analytics to back that up!) Listen, some people do the crossword; I pair movies that don’t look like they belong together. (But they do!)

Today I’ll bring you four more pairings from my ever-growing list. Tweet me your beautifully mismatched pairings at @007hertzrumble and I’ll keep on churning out words that inspire, well, someone to watch double features of which few (any?) programmers would approve.

 

matinee irma vep double feature

Matinee (Joe Dante, 1993) & Irma Vep (Oliver Assayas, 1996)

The Creators of Waking Fever Dreams Double

I wanted desperately to include Matinee in one of these pairings, but I stumbled when selecting its mate. I first scribbled in the entomologically-related Arachnophobia. Between insects and John Goodman, the match seemed all too obvious. What we really needed was a movie that borrowed Joe Dante’s brand of wry self-awareness and also offered another kind of peek into the movie business. I scanned my DVDs, a pink spine leapt from the shelf almost immediately. At last I had my Matinee match in Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep.

In Matinee, John Goodman’s Lawrence Woolsey directly recalls William Castle and Joe Dante has projected a spiritual facsimile of the 1950s — the moviegoing culture, the popular science fiction films, the nuclear fears. From these familiars, Dante spins a universally relatable story about the loss of personal and cultural innocence.

Assayas’ movie depicts a washed-up, passionless director named René Vidal who’s remaking Les Vampires, the classic French silent serial, without any real purpose behind the chore. Played by actor Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine Doinel in many Truffaut classics), Vidal’s clearly meant to be a disillusioned holdover from the New Wave. He hires iconic Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung because he liked The Heroic Trio and supposes she’d look good in a cat suit. (Poor Vidal is crushed to learn that all of Maggie’s stunts were performed by a double.) It’s raw, winking and at times knowingly listless — Assayas uses the form itself to satirize the dysfunction of the French film business.

Both movies take a look at a culture through the lens of cinema, blending cinema myth with historical references and popular culture. These are two movies I wish I could experience again for the first time and in playing them together I think I just might be possible.

 

pump up the volume buffy the vampire slayer double feature

Pump Up the Volume (Allan Moyle, 1990) & Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1992)

Teenage Activism! Double

Mark, an introverted, insightful teenager played by Christian Slater, broadcasts pirate radio from the basement of his parents’ house. He spins a Leonard Cohen theme song and uses his outsider status as a platform to spout rhetoric about what ails his American society. He’s angsty and he knows it. When another student commits suicide, “Hard Harry” uses his soapbox to tell others to do something about their sadness — teens will be teens, however, and wave of self-flagellation breaks out in the community. The institution wrongly accuses “Hard Harry” — so what is Mark to do? It’s a potent, but still rough-gem-type performance from Christian Slater who’s in the midst of finding his footing as a leading man after Heathers and Gleaming the Cube.

Like a dagger through the heart, Buffy came to me instantly as a mirror-image to Slater’s recluse. Buffy’s a super rich, super cool, super cute high school senior with her whole pristine life ahead of her when Donald Sutherland interrupts her utopia to tell her that she’s actually a “Chosen One” destined to, like, ohmigod, kill vampires and stuff. It’s almost a miracle that Buffy became a hit TV series considering this big screen outing that feels like a rough first draft (studio meddling crippled Joss Whedon’s screenplay) — but that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some something to offer for the second half of this double feature. Though imperfect, Buffy the Vampire Slayer gifts us a few Whedon zingers, a delicious Paul Reubens performance, and peak Kristy Swanson, another talented actress that suffered because she was probably too pretty to get a decent script (though I’d argue that The Chase deserves some love). Swanson does what she can with the material, but she’s given the impossible task of being a total ditz and an empowered female ass-kicker at the same time. As a midnight-type movie, however, Buffy serves up a fun, but flawed capper on an evening of cinema.

The inverse connections between Slater’s Mark and Swanson’s Buffy give us plenty upon which to chew. Two young stars, both the same age, finding their way in Hollywood — Slater getting meaty material that gives his charisma room to play while Swanson’s forced to play rigid stereotypes.

 

demon knight airheads double feature

Demon Knight (Ernest Dickerson, 1995) & Airheads (Michael Lehmann, 1994)

Under Siege (with a Red Herring!) Double

I know I say I’m proud of many of these pairings, but I’m really excited about pairing the first theatrical Tales From the Crypt feature with this beautifully dumb comedy about a band that takes a radio station hostage because they want people to hear their demo tape.

In Demon Knight, Frank (William Sadler) guards a sacred key that can arbitrarily unlock unspeakable evil. The charming, but also demonic Billy Zane wants the key to initiate the Apocalypse. Tired of running from the forces of evil for 90-some years, Frank holes up in a boarding house in New Mexico and with the help of the quirky townsfolk and makes his final stand. Despite an excellent cast of supporting players featuring Jada Pinkett, CCH Pounder, Dick Miller, Charles Fleischer, and Thomas Hayden Church — the movie’s owned by a bonkers Billy Zane as “the Collector” who waffles between smarm, charm, slapstick and downright menace at the flip of a switch.

What do you get when a band called The Lone Rangers (Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi) takes over a radio station with water pistols and demand that their demo go out over the airwaves? (But how are you alone if there’s three of you?) Airheads, in its own way, represents a film about a group of freedom fighters resisting the man. The stakes aren’t apocalyptic, the comedic tone goes broad — and maybe I shouldn’t enjoy this movie, but goddammit I do — and I will watch it whenever I come across it on the tele. Take a gander at the supporting players: Michael Richards, Michael McKean, Judd Nelson, Joe Mantegna, David Arquette, Chris Farley, Reginald E. Cathey and Ernie Hudson. Even Harold Ramis has a cameo. The movie features of-the-moment pop references (Kurt Loder!) and plenty of lazy narrative. The item around which the movie revolves is just the band’s demo tape and not the literal key to the world’s existence — but I can’t help but feel joy just thinking about placing these movies back to back.

in the company of men bound double feature

In the Company of Men (Neil LaBute, 1997) & Bound (Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 1996)

The Dudes Get What’s Coming to Them Double

Start with Neil LaBute’s black comedy about retro-sexism invading the modern world and conclude with the Wachowski’s neo-Noir, slapstick, erotic thriller about two lesbians screwing over gangster named Caesar (Joe Pantoliano).

I almost don’t want to explain these movies to anyone that hasn’t seen them. LaBute’s film showcases men at their worst — I once assumed to the point of caricature, but now, unfortunately, I know these assholes exist. Aaron Eckhardt (as Chad) and Matt Malloy (as Howard) play their roles straight. Chad’s oppressive misogyny defines and motivates his entire character in the film. The language is at once searing, funny, and reprehensible. I’ve discussed this film with people (both men and women) who couldn’t endure the film because they couldn’t enjoy the satire behind the delivery. While I understand that perspective — LaBute punishes these characters, both the initiator and the idle onlooker.

But if LaBute’s punishment doesn’t feel severe enough, enter Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Bound — a movie about two creative, independent, funny, passionate women (Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly at the height of their powers) who take it upon themselves to punish the wicked… and take their money. Walking out of the theater in 1996 after seeing Bound I declared it an instant classic. I’ve never reconsidered that statement. It’s one of the ten best movies of the 90s because it twists genre convention into something new and inimitable. In his review Roger Ebert compared it to the Marx Brothers, The Last Seduction, Blood Simple and the best of Woody Allen all in the same sentence. If you haven’t seen Bound, you’re probably scratching your head, but he’s not wrong. Loving Bound is oh so right and the punishment they dish out feels like the appropriate consequences for the men in In the Company of Men.

 

Double Feature Theater: Mismatched 1990s Vol. III

Double Feature Theater: 4 More Mismatched 1990s

The official first part of my “Unorthodox 1990s Double Feature” list will appear on the Netflix DVD blog sometime this month. That list features, obviously, pairs of movies that are both available to rent through the Netflix DVD service. This list features the misshapen double features that could not be included on that list because either one or both films were unavailable for rent. It goes without saying that I find value in each movie individually — but in some instances (see: Encino Man) I believe the juxtaposition enhances a film by bringing in new ideas that might not have otherwise been present (or necessarily intentional).

Time for an obligatory and perhaps superfluous introduction to the double feature.

A merely adequate double bill keeps you awake and engaged, whereas the best double feature bills create opposing and complementary forces that allow for a dialogue between films. In his New York Times feature, “In Praise of the Double Feature,” J. Hoberman states “the double feature created the art of programming.” Home moviewatchers fancy themselves festival programmers every time they plan a multi-movie lineup or invite friends over for a marathon. Picking any two random movies from your shelf requires no nuance or consideration. That’s not programming. Good doubles (or triples!) hold our interest throughout and leave us wanting more – no matter how much movie we endure. But what’s the difference between adequacy and excellence? 

While there’s scholastic value in comparing The Thing From Another World (1951) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), for example, it requires no creative matchmaking to associate an original with its remake. Likewise, it’s not viewer-friendly to program tonal stasis. Since we’ve made the 1990s the topic at hand, consider the following coupling: Malice (1993) and Pacific Heights (1992) – dark, effective 90’s thrillers with similar narrative backbones. Monotony sets in after more than three hours of income properties gone horribly wrong. The juxtaposition of seemingly disparate films, however, teaches us something about how we watch movies. The greatest doubles allow viewers to discover new threads of connectivity that might not have been otherwise apparent.

For the sake of conversation, I’ve come up pairs of films from the 1990s that might seem incompatible. These movies are curious yins to misshapen yangs. Some connections will be more obvious, while others might benefit from – dare I say – discussion with other humans. Don’t just take my word for it – look to find your own mysterious connections and plan some of your own double features. 

As I brainstormed dysfunctional 1990s doubles my list grew to voluminous proportions (24 and counting!). I’ve presented four suggestions here (with more to follow on this bl-g and Netflix DVD’s Inside the Envelope) – and I’ll share the B-sides in the near future. In the meantime, Tweet me your bizarro double features from the 1990s at @007hertrumble.com. Let’s start a revolution.

 

double feature kuffs gridlock'd

Kuffs (Bruce A. Evans, 1992) & Gridlock’d (Vondie Curtis-Hall, 1997)  

Class, Privilege and Self-awareness Double

This duo of underseen and underappreciated 1990’s comedies traffic in the same brand of knowing artifice. Early 90s Christian Slater oozes charm even as the film backslides into Ferris Bueller in Beverly Hills Cop. The feather-lite Kuffs might make you feel guilty for enjoying every second of its genre regurgitation, but winks and nods ameliorate its sins.

The flipside of Kuffs could very well be Vondie Curtis-Hall’s debut feature, Gridlock’d, starring Tim Roth and Tupac Shakur. Released four months after Shakur’s death, Gridlock’d showcases the best of his burgeoning on-screen talent. Alongside Roth’s manic comedy, Shakur anchors the film’s gritty depiction of two heroine addicts trying to get clean, in spite of bureaucratic apathy preventing them from entering a rehabilitation program. It’s funny, savagely political and occasionally heartbreaking. Look at the pair of films with that tricky subject of class and privilege in mind — but also how each uses tone and pacing to propel narrative.

 

double feature spice world fear of a black hat

Spice World (Bob Spiers, 1997) & Fear of a Black Hat (Rusty Cundieff, 1994)

The Evolution of A Hard Day’s Night… Double

Here’s the thing. If you look at Spice World as the Spice Girls imploding the concept of the Spice Girls from the inside so that only people who don’t like the Spice Girls get the joke, this movie is GENIUS. From our holy thrones of 2019 we condemn Spice World as a movie that shouldn’t have been made about a girl group that shouldn’t have existed and was born from an artificial pop-culture landscape we pretend doesn’t still exist. But it was, and in 1997 it made all kinds of sense.

Rusty Cundieff’s This Is Spinal Tap for the first decade of rap provides the perfect counterbalance. Fear of a Black Hat lovingly mocks the genres conventions while Spice World… well…. as I said, might have been made as a subversive attempt to end the madness. I’m not going to tell you how to feel about the former (I love it), but I can only suggest that this pairing amplifies the singularity of both experiences.

double feature encino man zero effect

Encino Man (Les Mayfield, 1992) & Zero Effect (Jake Kasdan, 1998)

The Shapes of Shepherds Double

Pauly Shore plays a modern Virgil, ushering Brendan Fraser’s born-again caveman through the nine layers of hell California. (I’ve just been informed that now that I’ve compared Encino Man to Dante’s Inferno I’m being forced into early bl-gger retirement. I’m told it’s for the good of everyone.) I think it’s time to redeem the affable but incredibly insipid comedy from the trash heap of 1990s cinema. Ouuuuoooooooooooo, buddy — lest we forget the film became a $40 million success at the box office (on a $7 million budget) and spawned beautifully inarticulate catchphrases like “If you’re edged cuz I’m wheezin’ all your grindage, just chill.”

By placing it alongside the forever underseen caper comedy Zero Effect (a movie I plug ad nauseam), I’m hoping to highlight the tradition of “the shepherd” and its many forms. Ben Stiller plays Steve Arlo, stressed out assistant to the unbearably eccentric detective/songwriter/social misfit Daryl Zero (a delightful Bill Pullman). Consider the ways in which each supports (and endures) their Cro-Magnon protagonists and how this tradition also extends to the literary/cinematic legacies of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Expand the bounds of this challenge to include the Holmes riff Without a Clue (1988) for a cracking triple feature.

double feature party girl cool as ice

Party Girl (Daisy von Scherler Mayer, 1995) & Cool As Ice (David Kellogg, 1991) 

The Manic Charms of 1990s “It” Persons Double

When I first conceived this pairing, I dismissed it as madness. Would anyone else see the mainline connections between Vanilla Ice’s so-bad-its-still-bad-but-wildly-entertaining disasterfest and Parker Posey’s coming-out party as the 1990’s indie It Girl? Nevertheless, the thought of attending this pairing with a eager crowd stuck with me. Bold personalities in uniquely 90s films that don’t necessarily work as narrative. Party Girl’s pastiche of dialogue-laden character sketches serves to highlight Posey’s Holly Go-Lightly via Denise Huxtable librarian. She’s a free spirit, throwing parties and creating her own fantastical existence.

Speaking of “fantastical existence,” let’s talk about the big screen debut of Robert Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice. No more than a year separated the release of the hit single “Ice Ice Baby” and Cool As Ice — and yet the artist, who fancied himself a legitimate rapper, had already become a punchline, ridiculed by peers and scorned by the same public that made him an ironic instant success. A cornball mixture of The Wild One, the David Lee Roth aesthetic, and low-budget thriller — but most viably Cool As Ice showcases Robert Van Winkle’s charisma and misguided, workmanlike devotion to the Ice persona.

 

Tune in to the next Double Feature Theater… when in the same sentence I’ll champion Neil LaBute and the Wachowskis!