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.