The Culture Tsar is pleased to be making a return to praising and damning works of popular culture in all their varied forms. This week, he had a rare opportunity to sit down with a few movies he hasn’t seen in quite some time. Sometimes our memories can play strange tricks on us, causing us to elevate or diminish films far beyond their actual merits. Of course, sometimes those memories are entirely accurate. Upon a recent rewatch, for instance, the plot and premise of Prometheus made more sense but that didn’t make the movie any less terrible than the Culture Tsar recalled.
Without further delay, then, let’s take a look at the fruits of this filmwatching labor:
What the Culture Tsar remembers: A decent, but deeply flawed film that’s only memorable for the spectacular dragon effects. For God’s sake, the nerdy, curly haired guy from Ally McBeal plays the hero (Peter MacNicol). If it wasn’t for the dragon (which was THE standard for movie dragons until 2002’s Reign of Fire), nobody would remember this movie.
Upon rewatching: Holy shit, this movie is actually really good! The whole look of the film is great, effectively evoking the dreary, grim environs of 6th-7th century Northern Europe. Aside from a few questionable costuming choices (the king’s garb and the captain of the guard’s dumb helmet), everyone looks like they belong in that pitiful little kingdom. The performances and the writing are much stronger than I remember. Peter MacNicol is great as the unlikely hero, striking a believable balance between bumbling and bravery. While the dragon effects are a bit dated, most of them still hold up quite well. If you enjoy fantasy films, you should absolutely rewatch this one. It’s MUCH better than you remember.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
What the Culture Tsar remembers: A stunning film with intense action sequences and fantastic character moments. It lost out to Gladiator for the Best Picture Oscar and the Culture Tsar distinctly recalls bitching about how it was robbed. A modern classic.
Upon rewatching: Eh…maybe not. Time has not been kind to this movie. Maybe the action sequences were far more groundbreaking at the time, but they aren’t particularly impressive by today’s standards. The “flying through the air” stunts are awkward and not very convincing. While many of the character moments are still quite good (Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat both deliver standout performances), the movie drags, and the mid-story flashback subplot involving the governor’s daughter and her bandit lover is tedious. While the Culture Tsar still enjoyed the film, it’s definitely dropped quite a bit in his rankings of great films.
Dark City (1998)
What the Culture Tsar remembers: One of the Culture Tsar’s all time favorite films. Wonderfully evocative and creepy, with great character moments and inspired art design.
Upon rewatching: Still one of the Culture Tsar’s favorites. The film’s sets and scenery look a bit different in high definition, which only enhances the sense of artificiality permeating the entire city. That artificiality extends to some of the cast, with William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly both turning in strangely stilted performances that perfectly convey the discomfort just beneath the surface of their characters. Kiefer Sutherland makes a good turn as the crippled doctor, which is all the more interesting considering he would be playing uber-manly man Jack Bauer in 24 just a few years later. This film certainly deserves its reputation as a cult classic.
Predator 2 (1990)
What the Culture Tsar remembers: In a barren wasteland of shitty sequels, Predator 2 managed not to suck. Competent, but not particularly memorable, the best thing you can say about it is that it didn’t embarrass the franchise. What more can you ask from a sequel, really?
Upon rewatching: Turns out, you can ask a whole hell of a lot more. And Predator 2 delivers. WAY better movie than the Culture Tsar remembers! The writing is good, the characters are fun, and the action sequences get quite inventive. Sure, the effects are a bit dated, but they were about as good as could be expected for purely optical effects of the late 1980s. The image of “near future” 1997 Los Angeles as a warzone of gang warfare only seems like a caricature because it didn’t actually turn out that way. Back in the late 1980s at the height of the “war on drugs” and the crack cocaine epidemic, it was a perfectly plausible future. That aside, the movie does a good job of taking the rules established in the first film and building upon them to give the audience something it hasn’t seen before. In fact, Predator 2 is probably only a couple of great one-liners away from being better than the first movie. That might seem like overly high praise, but when you start adding up the memorable sequences, Predator 2 compares to the original quite well.
The Culture Tsar hopes you’ve enjoyed this little exercise and encourages you to take a look at your own backlog of movies you haven’t watched for some time. There might be more gems (or duds) among them than you remember.
Lastly, a special thanks to everyone who migrated over from the old Culture Tsar website. There may come a time when the Culture Tsar branches out to a separate site again, but for now he’s working to keep everything consolidated. Hopefully, that will lead to more posts like this one in the near future.