Today in Movie History: July 27

I was never what you’d call a Prince fan, but one has to give it up for Purple Rain, his splashy cinematic debut that placed him on the pop-culture radar for good. The Purple One won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score for it, and it turned out to be the last time that category was offered at the Academy Awards. Purple Rain opened today in 1984.

If there was a moment when people on this side of the Pacific sat up and realized that Korean cinema was something worth watching, it probably came with The Host, a one-of-a-kind giant monster movie that flashed with wit and imagination, but also a strange fatalism that lifts it well above button-pushing scare tactics. It remained the highest grossing South Korean movie of all time for several years, and opened in its native country today in 2006.

While we’re on the subject of foreign films, we should probably mention Allegro non Tropo, an Italian effort to emulate/parody the model of Disney’s Fantasia. It finds the same spirit as that earlier film, but with plenty of subversive bite that Uncle Walt was never comfortable with, and if it can’t quite match Fantasia itself, it certainly does a sight better than Fantasia 2000. (The “Bolero” sequence has become legend among animation fans.) It opened today in 1977.

I debated whether to mention The Amityville Horror, an inexplicably seminal fright fest based on rampant fraud and delivered with the kind of lugubrious self-importance one normally expects from pro-wrestling promoters. It sucks. Hard. But for some reason, some people consider it a horror classic. These people would be wrong. The movie opened today in 1979.

And since we’re going there, we may as well close with this little nugget: the first live-action Transformers movie opened today in 2007. You may commence weeping for cinema’s shattered soul… now.


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!