More a creepy self-portrait than a gothic fantasy (or suburban satire), Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton letting it all hang out, purging all those feelings of anger, fear and frustration that come with being an “outsider,” a cinematic cleansing that was probably prompted after what must’ve been the exhausting, soul-crushing task of bringing Batman to life. This is Burton’s first collaboration with the man who would become his muse and alter ego, Johnny Depp; it’s also his first — and last — project with one of his personal heroes, Vincent Price (simply wonderful as Edward’s inventor/father). Winona Ryder plays the hot cheerleader Burton never got to have, a popular hottie who comes to love the wild-haired freak who’s got a knack for creating startling and unique pieces of art; Anthony Michael Hall is the hunky jock who used to be a nerd (in Sixteen Candles,The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, etc.) and is therefore a traitor, one who must be (spoiler!) killed. Yeah, it’s all a little icky when you look at it like this, isn’t it? Still, Edward Scissorhands is nothing if not a brave and original piece of work, featuring astonishing production design and a particularly excellent performance by Depp.
An anthology film that probably looked a lot better in the imagination as its makers thought it up while drunk in some L.A. bar (hey, it’s a theory as to this thing’s origin), Four Rooms features four talented directors slumming it as they each tell a story taking place in a different room of a five-star hotel on New Year’s Eve, all linked by an ever-mugging, cartoonish bellhop named Ted (Tim Roth, not so much slumming as lost without not just one but four directors). Allison Anders’ “The Missing Ingredient” has a coven of witches checking into the Honeymoon Suite to perform a ritual to reverse a curse put on their goddess; the “missing ingredient” for their potion is semen, and one guess as to who they get it from. Alexandre Rockwell’s “The Wrong Man” has Ted being forced to participate in a fantasy hostage situation between a weirdo husband and wife (David Proval and Jennifer Beals), a scenario that involves the bellhop narrowly missing someone’s vomit coming from the floor above. Speaking of vomit, Ted explosively upchucks when he sees what he describes as a “dead WHORE!” in the bed of Room 309 in Robert Rodriguez’s “The Misbehavers,” the director’s pre-Spy Kids portrait of youngsters getting into grown-up trouble (which features a fun, Gomez Addams-style performance by Antonio Banderas as their dashing father). Finally, in the Penthouse, Quentin Tarantino‘s actually-not-too-bad “The Man From Hollywood” features a movie star (Tarantino himself) and his entourage indulging in alcohol-fueled bets with rather macabre conditions. Tarantino and Rodriguez would later find much greater success with their drive-in double bill, Grindhouse; everyone else stayed far away from any variation on this type of format following this disaster.
The first Friday (1995) is a curious piece, a sort-of South Central variation on Clerks that suddenly turns into Boyz N the Hood in the final act — a schizo shift that ended up foreshadowing the career of producer-star Ice Cube, who’s since veered wildly from stoner comedies to violent dramas to family-friendly flicks with no clear idea of where he’s going with all this other than feeding his bank account. By the third film in the Friday franchise, Friday After Next, any and all gangsta shit had apparently been purged (most of it, anyway), satisfied with simply being a live-action cartoon in which a mean ol’ landlady will threaten to sick her homosexual ex-convict son on you if you don’t pay the rent on time and the cops won’t shut down your house party if you bribe them with weed. Actually, the opening scene is rather funny, featuring Craig (Cube), who’s finally moved out and gotten his own crib, spending the early morning of Christmas Eve wrestling with a robber dressed as Santa Claus (Rickey Smiley) whilst frantically trying to wake up his sawing-logs roommate, Day-Day (Mike Epps). Santa ends up running off with their money and Christmas presents, which forces the roomies to get jobs as security guards — and, later, to throw a “rent party” in an attempt to recoup the stolen cash. Ridiculous and pointless, but also endearingly so — how can you not but feel the holiday spirit with a movie in which there’s a shop called “Pimps and Hoes?”
A rural satire that’s a lot more clever and subversive than it’s given credit for, Funny Farm stars Chevy Chase as Andy Farmer, a New York sports writer who moves with his wife, Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith — whatever happened to her?), to the seemingly picture-perfect town of Redbud, Vermont so he can write a novel. There’s trouble from the start, as they don’t get along with the suspicious, cranky locals and their own marriage is put to the test when Elizabeth tells Andy that she doesn’t like his book — and that she’s been secretly furthering her own career as a writer of children’s books. They finally decide to divorce and make a deal with the residents to create a large-scale charade in making Rosebud look like the town Normal Rockwell always wanted in order to lure prospective house buyers, which includes pulling off the best small-town Christmas celebration you could ever imagine. A smart dark comedy misleadingly marketed as a showcase for Chevy Chase’s pratfalls, Funny Farm actually features some of the former Saturday Night Live player’s best acting work, which probably comes courtesy of director George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Slap Shot), calling the shots on his last feature film.
It’s Christmas in L.A.! Director Doug Liman’s Pulp Fiction-ish tale of drugs, sex and mayhem is one of the most underrated films of the ’90s, a wicked rush of a movie that features scene-stealing turns by Timothy Olyphant and William Fichtner. There are several interconnecting stories here, one of which features Olyphant as a shirtless, Santa hat-wearing drug dealer who (rather menacingly) quotes The Breakfast Club simply because one of his new customers is named “Claire” (Katie Holmes) getting swindled by a (semi-) clever supermarket cashier who’s grown sick of the minimum-wage life (Sarah Polley); meanwhile, there’s trouble in Vegas when ne’er-do-well dealer Simon (Desmond Askew), the only member of his party who didn’t get food poisoning from the buffet, hooks up with two girls from a wedding party — Simon’s actually being staked out by Officer Burke (William Fichtner), an oddly creepy cop who’s enlisted two of Simon’s customers (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr) to help him make the bust. Funny, smart and downright dangerous at times, Go needs more people to love it — won’t you join our awesome club? Warning: Cats can see your soul if you get too high, a lesson hard learned by the hapless Mannie (Nathan Bexton).