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Summer Of '91 (#110 of 5)

Summer of ’91 John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood

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Summer of ’91: John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood

Columbia Pictures

Summer of ’91: John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood

The idea behind John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood was simple enough: to translate the reality of “hood life” to film in much the same way that the Eazy-E song of the same name did to music. But while Eazy-E and the rest of his N.W.A. compatriots’ penchant for juvenile jokes and hell-raising—best exhibited by their infamous music videos for “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Straight Outta Compton”—helped catapult them to worldwide fame, such antics limited the appeal of their social commentary. John Singleton took similar concerns and tried to reach out to a broader audience by creating a conventional, self-serious melodrama that reveals the daily life of a Los Angeles kid learning, true to the lyrics of the Ice Cube single that led the film’s soundtrack, “how to survive in South Central.”

Summer of ’91 Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again

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Summer of ’91: Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again

Paramount Pictures

Summer of ’91: Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again

With Dead Again, Kenneth Branagh takes a shot at unseating Brian De Palma as the master of the Hitchockian homage, and one can’t help but appreciate the attempt. Especially when the result is as gleefully fetishistic as this 1991 film, which has the hots for numerous classics by the Master of Suspense, and fashioned in ways that allow cinephiles to visually pick out these drool-worthy influences. The ridiculous story, however, takes its cue from North by Northwest, whose equally incredulous plot served as the hook upon which its director hung his effective bag of tricks. Hitch once said, “Logic is dull,” and it’s a quote that writer Scott Frank takes to heart: Dead Again’s director-inspiring hook is a mystery about reincarnated lovers who may or may not be heading down the same murderous path as their predecessors.

Summer of ‘91 Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break

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Summer of ’91: Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break

20th Century Fox

Summer of ’91: Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break

In the summer of 1991, the received wisdom on Kathryn Bigelow—especially in the wake of Point Break—was that she was a rising star, making a mark on Hollywood where other women directors had not, by applying her talent to traditional action genres. Here was a woman who made men’s films, not women’s, and was rewarded for it by both critics and the box office.

Those turned out to be half-truths. Today, anyone who’s been paying attention can see that in adopting the male gaze, and in making two films in which women barely mattered and one in which they barely appeared, Bigelow wasn’t selling out, but was illuminating more about women than a dozen “women’s movies” ever could. It wasn’t about making it in a man’s world; it was about confronting and puncturing the eternally adolescent self-importance of “men’s work”—sabotaging not only the buddy action movie, but the whole testosterone-soaked world of moviemaking both on screen and off.

Summer of ’91 James Cameron’s Terminator 2

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Summer of ’91: James Cameron’s 	Terminator 2: Judgment Day

TriStar Pictures

Summer of ’91: James Cameron’s 	Terminator 2: Judgment Day

James Cameron has built his reputation on being a director who shows audiences something they’ve never seen before, and won’t see delivered with the same artistry and confidence ever again. Twenty-five years after its release, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is still a prime example of that audacity, as both spectacle and a downcast meditation on humanity’s future.

The original Terminator is, itself, a curveball of a film, using hardcore apocalyptic sci-fi as the framework for what is, essentially, a low-budget horror film about two kids running from an emotionless killer. But even compared to wrapping a story about men versus machines around a story not far removed from an average Friday the 13th entry, T2’s opening act plays Boggle with the status quo in ways that may never fly again in high-budget sequel cinema—a lesson Hollywood learned fast just a short year later when Batman Returns and Alien 3 were released. Brave but gentle Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is now a dead-eyed, doomsaying survivalist, locked in a sterile psychiatric hospital after attempting a terrorist attack on a computer factory. Her son, John (Edward Furlong), the heralded savior of the future yet to come, is the archetypical suburban white-kid rebel in a hip-hop shirt who listens to Guns N’ Roses while playing video games at the mall.

Summer of ’91 Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

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Summer of ’91: Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

Universal Pictures

Summer of ’91: Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever

The interracial love story that anchors Jungle Fever is the least interesting element of Spike Lee’s 1991 joint. It’s the dull circle from which more compelling plot tangents offshoot. While the director is game for a surface-level exploration of the trials and tribulations of forbidden love, his once-controversial subject matter is merely a selling point designed to get asses into theater seats. Once Lee hooks his audience with the promise of sin, he pivots his social commentary to a tragic secondary character, just as Douglas Sirk did in Imitation of Life. This is appropriate, because Jungle Fever is the equivalent of a 1950s message picture. Expertly wielding his influences, Lee throws a dash of Delbert Mann and a soupcon of Stanley Kramer into the proceedings. Though the outcome is at times woefully dated, it’s also the origin of several ideas Lee would return to in subsequent films.