FREQUENCY: a nostalgic sci-fi reverie of American family values (2000 in Film #17)

This year, 20 years on from the year 2000, I’m going to celebrate the first year of cinema in the 21st century by looking back at some of the films across the year at the turn of the millennium which took No #1 at the box office for their opening weekends.

This week, released on the weekend of April 28th, Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency  

As someone who is a sucker for a good time-travel yarn, Frequency scratched an itch for me as a viewer, even if it did so in more of a sedate manner than this sub-genre is used to.

When most people consider time-travel stories, certainly at the movies, their mind will go straight to the iconic staple of that genre: Back to the Future. There had been films concerning interlopers across time before, of course; 1962’s La Jetee, later remade as Twelve Monkeys, or earlier with George Pal’s seminal 1960 version of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and numerous after that, but Robert Zemeckis’ film sent time-travel into the cultural consciousness and made it *fun*. It added wonder to what has always been a knotty science-fiction concept, even when played for eccentricity or colour, as it was often on television particularly in the 1960’s with shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who or The Time Tunnel.

Frequency is a different texture of time-travel film because it not only takes the subject matter more seriously, but it frames the broader science-fiction concept underpinning it in overly non-science-fiction terms. Gregory Hoblit’s film is about loss, about coming to terms with the past, and about the desire and fantasy wish-fulfilment of changing your own personal history. Life didn’t pan out for Jim Caviezel’s John Sullivan the way he might have imagined after his heroic fireman father, Frank (played with all-American sincerity by Dennis Quaid), dies in a fire when he is just a little boy, and their strange, almost magical connection via an old CB radio—thanks to a mystical aurora borealis in the sky—gives them the chance to not just connect, but actively play around with temporal physics. It’s a personal father and son drama with time-travel trappings.

In that sense, Frequency owes a debt to anthology science-fiction such as The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, in attempting to ground the subject matter in a level of humanity. The message is simple: you *can* go home again.

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Blu-Ray Review: Lock Up (1989)

Sylvester Stallone’s career was on a high around the time Lock Up, one of his lesser known pictures, came to bear at the tail end of the 1980’s.

The same year as the popular Tango & Cash, three years after the towering success of the unforgettable Rocky IV, and a year after the guns blazing bravado of Rambo III, Lock Up sees Stallone riding his natural charisma and innate mix of machismo and vulnerability to diminishing returns. A direct attempt to challenge himself beyond the two major franchises which have marked his career, Lock Up suffers from simply being quite bland, rote, underwritten and stocked with cliches. Stallone’s spiritual successor a quarter of a century later, Escape Plan, at least has the virtue of being absurd. Lock Up seems to want you to believe it’s all quite plausible.

In truth, it’s about as high concept as films like this come. Stallone’s mechanic, Frank Leone, is a good guy who just happens to be in jail, serving his time as he awaits release and a life with his girlfriend, only to become the victim of the sadistic, vengeful Warden Drumgoole, of the infamous Gateway prison – a maximum security prison where the lowest of the low are sent to rot in hellish conditions. Can Frank find strength in adversity and gain the respect of his fellow prisoners? Can he expose Drumgoole’s cruelty and corruption before he ends up dead? Can he be reunited with the woman he loves?

It’s a Stallone movie. Of course he can. It’s just that this time, the journey along the way isn’t nearly as thrilling, charming or action packed as usual.

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RAMBO: LAST BLOOD – a violent, hope-free reflection of a vengeful America

Last Blood, ostensibly the final chapter of the Rambo saga, serves as a fitting portrait of America’s dark, lumbering national psyche.

In a film which starts predictable and just keeps getting more so, Last Blood gives us a growling, jaded old warrior in John Rambo. Having survived Vietnam (twice), Afghanistan and Burma’s killing fields, this veteran now fights entirely on home turf for the first time since the franchise began. Rambo ranches cattle, looks after his adopted Mexican immigrant family, and for fun appears to build an entire underground lair filled with weapons beneath his traditional American prairie homestead. This isn’t even a Rambo planning for the apocalypse. This is a Rambo living his *own* eternal apocalypse, trapped somewhere between a grizzled Rooster Cogburn and damaged Captain Willard, living only in the reveries of his tortured past and the hope of a young girl in which he sees a future. Which naturally gets snatched away, as it wouldn’t be a Rambo film if Stallone’s hero didn’t traverse a river of pain to attain some inner peace.

Last Blood, however, maybe unknowingly, doesn’t seem to know if Rambo is a hero at all anymore. As an audience we may appreciate Sly’s innate, snarling Italian-American nobility—in the same manner we consider his Austrian compatriot Arnold Schwarzenegger—but Adrian Grunberg’s film is at pains to remind us this guy isn’t Rocky Balboa. Rambo is psychologically haunted by Vietnam, even all these years later, literally replaying events from First Blood and the conflict in his mind. When Gabriela (Yvette Monreal), his naive ‘ward’, ends up the victim of lawless Mexican organised crime gangsters, Rambo unleashes one-man savagery on anyone even tangentially connected to them. He admits he just wants revenge, pure and simple. He is past healing. He will live in his anger for the rest of his days.

Rambo feels like the haunted reflection of a growling, aged, vicious and vengeful America at the end of a long road. It’s dreams and hopes are dead. Now all that’s left is monstrous.

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Last Action Hero (1993)

Last Action Hero is both ahead of its time and perfectly positioned *within* the era it was made, such is the paradox of a forgotten curiosity of 1990’s action cinema and the stratospheric career of Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Here’s my story and why I’m writing about Last Action Hero some twenty five years on from its release. I was 11 years old when Last Action Hero was released in cinemas, in the US one week after Steven Spielberg’s decade-defining Jurassic Park. In theory, I was the perfect age to consume a film which is entirely about the youthful obsession of a similarly-aged child, Austin O’Brien’s Danny Madigan, with action adventure cinema. Jurassic Park I badgered my parents to take me to see three times yet I didn’t go anywhere near Last Action Hero. It didn’t even register with me. It has taken me until age 36 to actually sit down and watch it, and this is after spending at least the last twenty years being an enormous fan of Schwarzenegger’s movies and career. Last Action Hero was always the Arnie film I missed.

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