1991: Part 1

Dogfight. Directed by Nancy Savoca. The most remarkable thing about Dogfight is that it evokes the feeling of the pre-JFK-assassination 1960s much better than previous, more successful films did (I’m looking at you, Dirty Dancing). The soundtrack, including Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” Joan Baez’s “Silver Dagger” (used effectively in one of the most poignant scenes) and John Fahey’s “Sunflower River Blues,” really makes you feel as though you’ve been transported to San Francisco in 1963. The leads, River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, are a perfect match. Seeing Phoenix’s character heading off to fight in the Vietnam War gave me an eerie feeling. I try not to confuse actors with the roles they play, but in this case I couldn’t help shivering a little at the thought of Phoenix’s death two years later. As a mere movie fan (not to mention having been only one year old when he died), I can’t in all honesty mourn him the same way that his family and friends did and do; what right have I? But all the same, as a human being, I can’t imagine anything sadder than dying in the street when you’re only 23. No matter who you are, that’s a horrible way to go. The fact that it happened on Halloween is the bitter icing on the cake.

Only the Lonely. Directed by Chris Columbus. I suppose when most people think of actors who died too young, they think of those brooding, somewhat troubled souls: James Dean, River Phoenix, Heath Ledger. Their deaths have become idealized, romanticized Hollywood legends. Four months after Phoenix’s fatal overdose, John Candy died of a heart attack at the age of 43. (And River Phoenix died on John Candy’s birthday: Halloween.) He may have been twenty years older, but his death is equally as tragic. On the other hand, Candy had a wonderful presence on film (especially in the physical sense – there is a great gag in Only the Lonely involving Candy being able to completely hide Ally Sheedy behind his massive frame). When I watch his films, I think less about his death and more about the person he’s portraying. It’s just unfortunate that Candy was not given many opportunities to do dramatic acting in his relatively short career. 1991 was a great year for him: Only the Lonely was a romantic comedy with some drama mixed in; Delirious stars Candy as “a soap opera writer gets hit on the head and wakes up as a character in his own show”; Nothing But Trouble earned him a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actress (besides playing “Dennis”, he also played “Eldona”); and, perhaps most interesting of all, JFK offered a straight dramatic role as attorney Dean Andrews. Anyway, the only films I’d seen with John Candy before Only the Lonely were comedies: Spaceballs, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Little Shop of Horrors (yes, it’s also a musical and a romance, but none of that involves him). Only the Lonely provided Candy the chance to be a leading man in a updated version of Marty and the result is quite lovely. The “family drama” angles of the film work well. Maureen O’Hara and Anthony Quinn are also enjoyable as the haranguing mother and lusty neighbor (respectively). Most importantly, the romance between Candy and Sheedy is believable.

Point Break. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. I wrote in the 1986: Part 1 post that I’m a fan of Keanu Reeves. Therefore it should be no surprise for you to learn that I love, love, LOVE Point Break. It’s two hours of non-stop testosterone, or as the poster puts it, 100% pure adrenaline. Who knew a movie where Keanu Reeves plays an FBI agent who has to go undercover as a California surfer could be so thoroughly riveting? The soundtrack, filled with early 90s rock by Ratt, Concrete Blonde, School of Fish, L.A. Guns, an early (pre-“All I Wanna Do”) song by Sheryl Crow and also Jimi Hendrix. The dialogue – especially the car scene in which Gary Busey’s character expresses his desire for meatball sandwiches – is oftentimes hilarious but, more than anything else, never sounds contrived. As good as the chemistry is between Reeves and Lori Petty, just as convincing is the chemistry between Reeves and Patrick Swayze, who sports a blond mullet and has an almost religious aura about him (playing a guy named “Bodhi” adds to the mystique, as well as being just as nutty as Reeves’ character being named Johnny Utah). Seeing Point Break on the big screen made it all the more exciting; Kathryn Bigelow did a top-notch job and I am proud that she has cemented her place in history by being the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. If anyone could do it, it was (and is) her. Point being: AWESOME MOVIE.

Raise the Red Lantern. Directed by Zhang Yimou. I first heard of Raise the Red Lantern in high school, in my 9th grade Global Studies class. My class was studying China and our teacher suggested Raise the Red Lantern as a film to watch and write a report about. In the end I chose to read The Good Earth (what a horribly depressing story), but by chance I was able to catch Raise the Red Lantern playing at a local movie house later in the year. It was my first time watching the magnificent Gong Li, whose refined elegance is matched by her powerful acting. From the very first scene, which is a close-up of her face, she conveys a strong combination of strength and pain with her expressive eyes. The film is beautifully shot, full of vibrant colors and impressive imagery. The heart-stopping finale, which brings Gong Li’s character Songlian full circle, moved me to tears.

Soapdish. Directed by Michael Hoffman. Alright, so my main motivation for watching this send-up of soap operas was to see Robert Downey, Jr. and Kevin Kline. As wonderful as they are in the film, the performances that really stand out are from the women. Cathy Moriarty, whom I did not much care for in Raging Bull, is flat-out hilarious as Montana Moorehead. I had no idea she had such terrific comic timing, even though she’s constantly on the verge of caricature. The way Moriarty needles RDJ and stomps around the set is perfect. Sally Field, the film’s main star, is allowed to be a little wackier than usual and Whoopi Goldberg is terrific as the soap’s head writer and Field’s longtime confidante. Even Teri Hatcher and Elisabeth Shue, the latter of whom I’d never seen in anything else (though I know she was nominated for an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas), have some funny moments. Although the ideas behind the story are crackerjack, the improvised dialogue is what truly shines. (Just watch this scene!) Soapdish is absolutely one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

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