Today in Movie History: May 7

We’ll start today’s entry off with The Mummy. No, the other one. No, the OTHER one, the 1999 Stephen Sommers adventure yarn that pitted Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz against Arnold Vosloo’s CG-laden Egyptian villain. It’s little more than popcorn, but as popcorn, it’s quite delightful and attains the same breezy charm as the Indiana Jones movies it so clearly emulates. (If you want to see how difficult that can be, just watch the misbegotten Tom Cruise reboot.)

It’s also interesting for a reason that goes beyond being an unusually durable summer blockbuster. At that time Memorial Day weekend traditionally belonged to a Lucas and/or Spielberg joint and marked the official beginning of the summer movie season.  1999 was the year The Phantom Menace opened on that weekend. Universal didn’t want to compete with a perceived 600-lb gorilla. So they opened this one a few weeks early, hoping to clean up before Episode 1 blew everything else away. The strategy proved sound — the film was a big hit and made the bulk of its money well before The Phantom Menace opened — and has since been emulated by a number of other films (notably various entries in the MCU). Today, “blockbuster creep” has become commonplace and summer movies now start at the beginning of May instead of the end of it.

 

Today in Movie History: January 30

Charlie Chaplin has been on our minds a lot of late, and today saw the release of one of his masterpiece: City Lights, the story of Chaplin’s ubiquitous Little Tramp and the blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) who falls in love with him. It’s vintage Chaplin at its finest, and if you don’t get a little misty-eyed at the finale, you might not actually possess a soul. City Lights opened today in 1931.

Way, way WAY down the totem pole, we find a couple of decidedly scruffier movies that nonetheless hold plenty of guilty pleasures. We’ll start with Taken, Pierre Morel’s reactionary revenge piece that benefits immeasurably from Liam Neeson’s steely hero. (It gave the actor a signature catch phrase in the bargain.) It opened today in 2009.

The other movie was Deep Rising, Stephen Sommer’s glorious monster mash in which a Lovecraftian horror attacks a luxury cruise liner. It doesn’t trade in the uglier stereotypes of Taken and — while goofy in the extreme — makes for a much more enjoyable experience overall. It opened today in 1998.

(Incidentally, both of the above movies featured Famke Janssen… just one of the reasons why we love her.)