What Pop Culture Screams 1997 to You?
The summer of 1997 reflects a time when the Summer blockbuster was trying to transition into the tentpole (so called because they hold up the profit line from all the riskier projects) industry we know today. Natural disaster films like “Volcano” and “Anaconda” and the annual film starring Harrison Ford as a gruff hero of sorts (i.e. "Clear and Present Danger", "The Fugitive", "Patriot Games"), “Air Force One” took up their spaces on the calendar. Efforts to sequalize big hits were burning into the ground with epic failures like “Lost World” and “Batman and Robin.”
It was at this time when the formula was more of a prototype than a sure thing that Barry Sonnenfeld released "Men in Black" from a comic book that was not a well-known existing property. Carrying the biggest budget of the year on a movie this (for lack of a better word) weird might not make sense in retrospect, but it was on the heels of a time when visually idiosyncratic film makers Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton had their biggest commercial successes ("12 Monkeys" for the former; Batman series and "Edward Scissorhands" for the latter). It was as good a time an effort in the vacuum of a working formula to try a blockbuster that was visually weird and stylistically unique. It also had Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones who always seem to epitomize the 90s for me.
I like to think of myself as a reluctant extrovert, although I am likely not the only person with a duality between getting energy from personal interactions and being exhausted by all the complications therein. As a human-interest journalist, I love the opportunity to dive into unique subcultures what's the luxury of not having to declare myself a part of any of them. That's why being a caterer on the "Party Down" crew seems like a perfect fit. Every gig I take will, at the very least, be eventful for starters. I will be at liberty to partake in the event (the show's in-universe rules will find a way to stretch my fifteen-minute break into full-on party mode) should I desire, but if I'm feeling reticent, my uniform will allow me to stay in wallflower/observer mode without fully committing to being part of the scene. I would also get a lot of enjoyment out of watching my slightly depressed coworkers alternate between flirting with each other and destroying one another's egos.
Romantic comedies are a viable genre when handled with care, but there is no narrative trope that is more sorely in need of reexamination than the penchant to romantically pair off any two characters who make googly eyes at each other as the standard happy ending. Aside from how it bears little resemblance to real life and encourages unhealthy expectations, it really dilutes the magic of a romantic ever after if it’s already a foregone conclusion. Nowhere does this seem more of an egregious mistake than the 2012 indie film “Safety Not Guaranteed.” Aubrey Plaza plays emotionally detached young adult Darius (in other words, Aubrey Plaza in full snark mode), on a quest with two other journalists to uncover the truth behind a strange man (Mark Duplass as Kenneth) who thinks he can time travel. Darius’s casual cynicism gets put through the blender, as she makes her way into Kenneth's circle of trust only through empathizing with him. In and of itself, this should be enough to make a great story. Furthermore, because it’s an indie film, it would have been a great opportunity to buck the oldest trend in the book and not pair the characters up. After all, they have no chemistry, the age difference between the two characters borders on gross, and it’s quite possible that Kenneth is mentally ill. Instead, the predictable end result takes down the movie a couple pegs to forgettable.
The easiest way to answer this question is to scroll down my all-time list of favorite films, cross-reference with the proper time period, and voila! But watching a brilliant movie I know will be brilliant and that I also know (with a few exceptions) my fellow movie watchers will also appreciate, will be a foregone conclusion.Therefore, my criteria has to be brilliant yet baffling: Trying to predict audiences’ conflicting reactions to something as full of raw anger and as adeptly staged as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff” would be a hoot. Films like “Five Easy Pieces” or “The Graduate” are great films I have trouble fully grasping the thematic context of because of my distance from the counter-culture movement and experiencing these films during their times could be enlightening.
The one that keeps sticking in my head is “Brazil." Terry Gilliam’s dedication to visual purity often overshadows his extremely inventive storylines and this is one where the balance between the two really shine. Opinions will vary, but this is his first film which could be considered a classic and I would enjoy seeing people discover the idiosyncratic storyteller ascending to a new level of coherence, appeal and complexity in his work. It’s also a film that takes a while to get so the post-film discussion would consist of a lot of “huh”s but it would be a lot of fun piecing the puzzles and symbolism of the film together.
I get confronted with this question every time I desire some comfort TV and tune in to find “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons” (who the Gods of syndication have been eternally kind to) are pretty much always on. While this wouldn’t be an unpleasant use of a half-hour, I have some strange resistance to revisiting either of the series that came to culturally define the decade in which I came of age. Maybe, it’s an act of rebellion against the perceived quality of these shows: While I tend to rail against hipsterish attitudes of consciously defining your tastes against the mainstream, I can’t help admitting that the high placement of both these shows on best-of-all-time lists drives me to want to define my tastes from this decade differently.
Beyond that, there’s plenty of pedestrian reasons to resent these shows. How can I not resent The Simpsons like a privileged child for being cancellation-free when every other show (including superior sister show “Futurama”) has to contend with the axe? How can I not blame the show’s success for Jerry Seinfeld’s leverage to get away with passive-aggressive behavior or Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s frustrating lockhold on lead actress awards in the present day? There’s a myriad web of reasons not to like these shows and while I find it difficult to put my finger on exactly what keeps me from turning to channel five, I know that I’ve been able to resist the urge for a decade.
What Pop Culture Becomes More Meaningful as You Get Older?
I've gradually gone from liking "Dead Poets Society” but not understanding the ending, to thinking it is a perfectly realized film. As a child, Robin Williams’ character of John Keating was so right and the stuffy administration so wrong that I found the film’s “Oh Captain, My Captain” scene to not make up for all the tragedy that had been happening in the third act. How could Williams As I’ve grown into adulthood and learned firsthand the myriad of ways in which an employer can screw you over (including some not particularly well-received stints in the education sector), I’ve come to appreciate the “Oh Captain My Captain” scene as a pretty solid outcome for an anti-establishment type in an employment landscape that discourages such free thinking and isn’t necessarily fair. Besides, what is the job of a teacher other than to impart a lesson onto his students? He might not have stayed until the end of the school year, but he can rightfully say "Mission Accomplished".