The ‘90’s Time Capsule

hackers-1995-hack-the-planet

Benjamin Himes

      Imagine a film, which combined the aesthetics and intricacies of plot from Tron and The Matrix, then covered it in a paint that consisted of ‘90’s culture, and you have assembled the 1995 film Hackers. Oh lord is this film hokey, filled to the brim with techno-babble, skateboards, roller blades, clothing that screams ‘90’s, and sardonic, slacker, and silly attitude. This is a film, when regarding all the sins that are encapsulated within its runtime, add that extra spice where counting sins is not a bad thing; instead, it enhances those endearing tropes and tidbits that created such a fascinating and kitschy world in which anyone who remembers the ‘90’s when they were at a ripe age would go; “Oh yeah, that WAS a thing.”

The idiosyncratic world of Hackers, as well as the pure ‘90’s aesthetic of this film takes the audience to a world that existed not that long ago. Where people of a certain age group reminisce of a time when obscure band shirts, jolt cola, and technology of the time collide, bringing forth a wave of nostalgia that oh-so few things can recreate. If anyone were to have questions regarding the ‘90’s, simply showing them this film would be enough, I cannot stress that any further. While the techno-jargon could be summed up as flashy, Hollywood-isms to make everything the hackers say sound cool to us technologically-impaired movie-goers, the director Iain Softley and writer Rafael Moreau knew precisely what they were doing when making this film; it was not to make an exact replica of the world of hackers, but rather to create a narrative, to make all the sum of the whole look fantastic and bring the audience into a world and ideas that would be further explored in The Matrix.

Let us move on to the cast, a who’s who of actors which consists of Johnny Lee Miller of Trainspotting fame, Angelina Jolie (who needs no introduction), Matthew Lillard who in every sense of the word IS Shaggy if he were a ‘hacker’, Laurence Mason that silly scoundrel who played ‘Tin-Tin’ in The Crow, Wendell Pierce the ‘Bunk’ himself from The Wire, and, oh, let us put him on the list, Marc Anthony as a flunky agent who I almost mistook as John Leguizamo; actually, he would have been gosh darn fantastic! These loveable cast of characters, while a bit stock in their roles at times, do a sublime job of keeping up the ‘wow’ factor and entertain even the most downtrodden curmudgeons.

The film tackles themes of isolation, a sense of community within a core group of outcasts and weirdos, a look into how the world runs around them, and where they fit in regarding their place and how society imprints them within certain social stigmas that, again are reminiscent of films such as The Matrix, Fight Club and Clerks. The theme of postmodernism, changing times in lieu of the new millennium create a narrative of paranoia, a near fascist interest group hell-bent on eradicating this off-shoot of technological communism in the sphere of a capitalistic society that would love to write these kids off as nothing more than slackers and criminals.

Looking for corny flick? A time capsule which, may not hold up as well when regarding themes and motifs in other ‘90’s films that have in a sense been done with greater urgency and critical acclaim, are not a fun as this piece of eye-candy, may elicit feelings of extreme nostalgia and a joy that comes with knowing that while this film may not be a masterpiece, is a sure-fire good time and one that is WORTH that one hour and forty seven minute run time that this film can accommodate.

P.S. You know it is a ‘90’s PG-13 film when the one obligatory f-bomb is dropped at what should be the most dramatic and urgent of time.

Sources:

“Hackers”. IMDb. Amazon. 2/23/16

Hackers. Dir. Iain Softley. Perf. Johnny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Jesse Bradford. United Artists. 1995. Netflix.

 

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A Pre-Sequel Worth Discovering – Shadows of the Empire

Benjamin Himes

        Back in the day, oh, sometime in the year 1996, was the year when I was shown the Star Wars trilogy by my parents; and so began what would become a still-burning passion that has delved into many a medium that incorporated film, books, video games, essentially anything that had the Star Wars logo on it immediately caught my eye.

Fast forward a year, when Christmas 1997 rolled around, an N64 came to our house; and my passion for video games went from occasional fidgeting’s of Game Boy and NES bouts to a full-fledged obsession for everything our N64 had to offer; that and frequent trips to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. One in particular that had my cross-hairs was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, at this point in time the original trilogy was fresh in my mind. What could be better than a middle story that improved upon Empire and Jedi, and the fact that we were treated to a new set of characters ingrained within the universe that were joined seamlessly with the stories of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and the rest of the Rebel Alliance vs. The Empire.

A defining characteristic of this tale was the fact that it was it’s own thing; despite taking place during and after the events of Empire, we were intrigued and invested in the adventures that Dash Render and Leebo were getting into that would eventually set up the events of Jedi. This was not a tale deliberately shoe-horned in for the sake of merchandising opportunities, although I will admit that was an end goal with the creation of this side story. What makes it work is that the creators took their time in realizing this narrative, which it did not have to fit precisely into the narrative weave of Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, and Lando. Rather, they were accessories to a story that was consolidated exclusively around the side-dealings that involved Dash Rendar and Prince Xizor. A story and characters that give context to the overall narrative that takes place within the trilogy without feeling and playing-out as just another slapped-on side mission.

Overlooked Films of 2015 – American Ultra

Benjamin Himes

          By all accounts, I intentionally went in regarding American Ultra as one of those films late summer that studios put out when the blockbusters are still on their runs, and right before the ‘Oscar films’ come out. American Ultra had the misfortune of a commercial run that did not particularly match the tone in which the film conveyed.

          Upon first viewing of American Ultra, it resembles a cross between Pineapple Express and The Bourne Identity; the blend of stoner comedy and action spy genres was an interesting combination that, when taken into perspective regarding our mashup/remix culture, provides a unique view rounded up by a cast that service character archetypes that are familiar within our sphere of film narrative.

          A prime example of what sets this film apart from the rest of the onslaught of quirky, silly, action films that combine elements from other film genres can be traced to the way the film was written. As the main screenwriter, Max Landis has shown a knack for writing, particularly with the overnight success of Chronicle, which itself takes the “superhero” genre and adds the element of found-footage. The actors in American Ultra enhances the audience perception that they understand that this is a silly film, the acting does not have to be top notch yet not as over-the-top as the example shown by Walton Goggins (Laugher).

          Another example of the tightness that this film brings correlates to the pacing and the way action is shot throughout the film. The slower, dramatic scenes are at specific points between action scenes to set up the next scene, which will most likely be a break in the dialogue by a large explosion or hail of gunfire. The chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart is believable, you actually feel as though Stewart genuinely cares for Eisenberg, she is not simply going along with the script in relation to a more famous set of films. The banter between Connie Britton, Topher Grace, and Tony Hale is spectacular; Tony Hale may perhaps be forever typecast for his role as Buster Bluth, but my golly is he the perfect person to play that role whenever it may surface.

          On the whole of the substance over style scale, American Ultra may delve into style, it may come off as a rip-off of genre films of the past. It may give off a vibe of a confused tone as to whether or not it may want to be an action movie or a comedy specifically. Yet, I believe that this is the charm of the film overall, it does not have to be one or the other, it’s vision as a genre-crossing film is sure to please those who enjoy immensely the different directions filmmakers are taking. That at the heart of what they are doing is to distance themselves from what can be declared as homogenization in film.

Disappointing Films of 2015

By Benjamin Himes:

To be clear, this does not mean I hated the films; rather, I went in knowing that on some level, I would enjoy these films. Instead, what I discovered was that when I walked out, I felt a bit let down, something was missing, or what could have been added to the overall film experience.

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron/Jurassic World – On the other side of the Mad Max narrative, Jurassic World and Age of Ultron each gave us a follow up that is all too familiar; when the first movie is incredibly successful, why mess with that formula? I understand that this is the safest route in regards to increasing the profits of the previous films, audiences will no doubt understand and be able to follow the film narrative-wise. And yet, is this homogenization worth it in the long run? Is the promise of instant profits worth it when in the future, critics and audiences alike are more or less on the same page when it comes to the notion of “Oh we can skip this, it’s not worth the time and effort.” Call-backs are fine and all when used sparingly and at precise moments in pause of the narrative and plot, but when the entire film is filled with these set-ups, it begs the question on whether or not this means future films will be a homogenized call-back to a formula that was held in high regard when it was introduced. The luster fades, the excitement and the suspense wanes as we count beat for beat precisely what will happen next. Granted, these films did incredibly well, Jurassic World on nostalgia and the notion that it appeals to the broad spectrum of audiences, and Age of Ultron on the Marvel tag. Both also fall trap to the recurring element of forgettable villains, who, in all aspects of the flow of both films, should be on-par, or exceeding the heroes in memorability. The real complaint at the heart of this section, is the growing concern of complacency when it comes to the making of sequels, the notion of not trusting audiences to see a different story in relation to the success of the first film, that they will not reciprocate the passion and the drive to make the time to see something they believe is different and will not yield the same feelings that the first film worked so hard to set up.
  • Crimson Peak – Let me start this by saying that this film looked good, insanely detailed in the set pieces and the overall aesthetic director Guillermo Del Toro was going for; this is a trait that he has excelled at for his entire career. Blade 2, while still a part of the Blade franchise, branched out from what the original film accomplished, and was improved upon greatly with Del Toro at the helm. Crimson Peak has that spooky aesthetic, the undertones of something greater at play that is implicit within the environment, the look of the ghosts haunting the main character, and the end twist that unfortunately was telegraphed throughout the entirety of the film. Crimson Peak suffers from being an example of all flash and little substance that is indicative with the narrative beats within the film.
  • Spectre – Daniel Craig has, for better or worse, been one of the definitive polarizing actors who has played James Bond for the past decade. Initially dismissed due to his blonde hair and blue eyes and cold tone not matching up to what we have come to expect when visualizing the character archetype of Bond. Casino Royale and Skyfall were quick to shut down most skepticism and disregard for what Craig could bring to the table. Quantum of Solace, an exhale when compared to the chops shown by the two films sandwiched between it, can be likened to ‘the sophomore slump’. Spectre however, when the trailers dropped, walked in with an insane amount of swagger off the coattails of Skyfall and tease of Christoph Waltz being cast as Ernesto Blofeld, the foil and the classic villain archetype to the suave debonair of Bond. The film felt boring, there was never a point where the action had a supreme climax, where it felt as though Bond would not make it out alive. The sense of urgency was entirely lost upon myself and several others’ who have seen the film.
  • Focus – Oh what could have been; a star-clad frontcourt of Will Smith and Margot Robbie appeared on paper to be the perfect combo of style and sass. Unfortunately, what is on paper and what actually takes place to recreate what is on paper often do not add up to what the overall hype is about regarding the end product. Focus is one of those films where the first half came out swinging, playing as an Ocean’s Eleven inspired stylistic crime film, only Smith and Robbie are the main focus of the film’s premise with background characters going with the ebb and flow of their relationship. But when the second half of the film occurs after the first big heist, Will Smith drops Margot Robbie like a bad habit and takes time to ‘find himself’, to reevaluate his position in life and wonder whether or not he made the right decision bringing her along for the ride. The end plays out in its own form of a deus ex machina to let us know that despite the narrative flow the first half of the film had built, that ultimately it does not matter, because Smith and Robbie through sheer will and testament must end up together all packaged up and wrapped with a shiny bow.

Favorite Films of 2015

By Benjamin Himes:

Disclaimer, I was only able to see twenty-three films in 2015.

Without further adieu, here are my top five favorite films of 2015.

  • Mad Max: Fury Road – A sequel in a pool of sequels that managed to stand out among the flock and surprise everyone in the process. The visual aesthetic also stood out in a sea of grim, muted, ‘realistic’ films that left little to the imagination and breathed a “we’re making it this way because this what people want to see” attitude. Yet perhaps the defining trait of Fury Road is the dedication to technical, practical, and editing within the process of how the film was made that gave audiences a fresh take on films that are set in the desert, and rely heavily upon action sequences involving massive vehicle collateral. The acting, while serviceable at times gave us the monstrous performance of Hugh Keays-Byrne; a residual from the original Mad Max, gives a menacing and boisterous performance as Imortan Joe. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron provide the perfect foil for each other as they continue along the narrative, having an innate trust that is built as the film goes on.
  • Sicario – Director Denis Villleneuve, director of such films as Prisoners and Enemy brings us his nihilistic tale, Sicario. We see Villeneuve take his visual style seen in Prisoners and bring it to the world of the Mexican Cartels. In the narrative of the film, everyone previously involved within the erratic world of counter-terrorism knows their places and have a contingency plan in regards to taking out a major player in the realm of the drug trade. The missing part in their cocktail of cacophony is the idealistic, straight-shooting, DEA agent played by Emily Blunt; as the plot thickens, she learns quickly and naively that her ideals and principles have no place in a world where getting the job done by any means necessary takes place. Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro’s character’s make it known that what she signed up for is nothing like what she was doing back in the states. Leading to the theme of nihilism permeating within our minds and leaving us with questions that do not have specific answers.
  • The Hateful Eight – Not since Reservoir Dogs has a film by Quentin Tarantino felt this claustrophobic, a film that takes places mainly within one specific area that dances along with the plot and the motivations of the characters on screen (as well as off). A murder mystery that throws out the book regarding pacing and anticipation in the realm of Tarantino’s master plan of suspense. With actors such as Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, and of course, Samuel L. Jackson, we are treated to an ensemble cast that plays off each other’s witty banter and double-sided glances which culminate in the grand, bloody orchestra of the second-half of the film. I was fortunate enough to see the film on Christmas day on the widened screen, shot in 70mm with the intermission. An aesthetic long gone within the world of popular cinema; one that would be lost upon the societies of today, and yet it did not feel as though it were a cheap trick or slight novelty.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service – Producer turned director Matthew Vaughn has proven that he is the master of adapting comics to the big screen. Seen with X Men: First Class, and Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service did not disappoint. Never taking itself too seriously and being aware of the world in which it inhabits; this is the “007 film” of 2015 that felt the most like the past examples of spy movies that are over-the-top, filled with gadgets, and have that touch of sly, dirty humor that we have come to know and love when it comes down to the bone. By the way, Colin Firth as an action star proves that dramatic actors, when given the chance, can put on a gracious and outstanding performance given the correct parameters that correlate favorably with a film like Kingsman. Newcomer Taron Egerton and ‘been there, done that’ mainstay Michael Caine spruce up the charm as they face off against, who else but Samuel L. Jackson; who goes against type in a way that had me and several others laughing and quoting him as much as possible.
  • It Follows – Released at the beginning of the year, when horror films such as these are considered to be not as important. It Follows carries traits and semblance from horror films of the eighties regarding the haunting soundtrack and, for the most part, a lack of parental figures as the teens try to escape the unnamed entity that chases them. What works in spades for this film is that we the audience are not given context, exposition, or backstory regarding the origins of the entity, and what can be done to stop it. During the quiet moments when the distance between the entity and the teens gives them time to breath, we are privy to the conversations and the fleshing of the characters as they try to decipher the situation. At the heart of the film, it can be said that It Follows is a cautionary tale of safe-sex practice; on a deeper level, it develops as a tale that no matter where we are in life, there will always be demons trailing us as we go our way; that our actions have consequences, and that the answers are never as clear-cut as we might think.