Today in Movie History: July 2

Summer is known for its bombast, and few are more bombastic than Independence Day, Roland Emmerich’s gloriously goofy update of old 50s alien invasion movies. It also owes a debt to Irwin Allen’s all-star disaster flicks from the 1970s, with a large cast running to and fro in the midst of all the mayhem. It’s utterly ridiculous from start to finish, though it benefits from some very charismatic performances (topped by Will Smith’s gung ho fighter pilot) and terrific effects.. notably the aliens’ iconic destruction of the White House. Independence Day opened today in 1996.

Emmerich has the benefit of being largely harmless in his idiocy. Michael Bay can’t even claim that much cover, with his tone-deaf emotional tone, rampant misogyny and general asshattery pounding any joy in his movies flat. Case in point, Transformers the first in his infamous adaptations of the ubiquitous toy line which offended purists and lovers of cinema alike in equal measure. Nonetheless, it made a lot of money… and… and nothing else. Seriously. Shia Le Beouf’s mom talks openly about masturbation. It’s that awful. It also opened today in 2007.

If it’s real summer movie magic you’re looking for, you need to go back to 1982 and Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH. It tells the surprisingly dark tale of a mother mouse (voiced by Elizabeth Hartman) hoping to save her sick child and seeking the aid of the superintelligent rats living in the local rose bush. It’s unquestionably the high point of Bluth’s canon and a reminder that Disney/Pixar are far from the last word on animation masterpieces.

We’ll close with Shaft, Gordon Parks’ seminal Blakploitation film, featuring Richard Roundtree as the cat who won’t cop out. In and of itself, it’s not an especially good movie — a run-of-the-mill police potboiler in many ways. But as a statement of inclusion and the emergence of real African-America filmmaking, it’s priceless. And of course, there’s the immortal Isaac Hayes’ theme song, no less awesome today than it was when the film opened in 1971. We can dig it!



Today in Movie History: February 5

Let’s cut to the chase: the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers opened today in 1956, bringing Cold War paranoia straight into small-town America. Its alien invaders — who duplicate our human forms while removing the pesky humanity from our souls — served as the inspiration for the zombie apocalypse genre to follow, and while it remains a product of the 1950s, it’s still powerful enough to scare the peewuttons out of you if you let it. (You can check out our Halloween review of it here.)

Thirty years later, a much different horror movie opened, and while it can’t quite match Body Snatchers, it serves as pretty potent nightmare fuel on its own. The Serpent and the Rainbow, dealing with the darkest corners of voodoo during the last days of Baby Doc Duvalier’s reign in Haiti, marks a high point in the career of horror maestro Wes Craven, and its loose basis in fact gives it a punch that many of his other films lack. It opened thirty years ago today in 1988.

Over in Uncle Walt’s corner of the pond, Disney enjoyed a massive commercial successes with Peter Pan, opening today in 1953 and forming a cultural touchstone for Boomers growing up at the time. Personally, I find the film problematic — and not just because it includes a song called “What Made the Red Man Red?” — but it’s hard to argue with the benchmark it set for the House of Mouse.