Film Review - Ramona and Beezus
Film Review - The Oxford Murders

Reliving the Summer of 1990 - Week Nine


Joining the spider convention of “Arachnophobia” and saving America with the “Navy Seals.”



Nutshell: Arriving reluctantly in small town California for a medical position, Ross Jennings (Jeff Daniels) soon learns the job offer has been rescinded, the locals are hostile to newcomers, and a large, aggressive spider from Venezuela has taken up residence in his barn. As spider bites start to kill off the locals, Ross begins to understand the scope of the problem, with a horde of smaller drones taking over the town, leaving the good doctor overwhelmed and profoundly freaked, forced to take on the arachnid invasion all by himself. 


1990: Because I was rather hesitant to encounter horror movies as a child, “Arachnophobia” was more of a personal moviegoing achievement than simply a film I adored at the time. In 1990, I was wading into the murky waters of scary movies, slowly building a tolerance to the spooky stuff after years of steadfastly refusing the demonic invitation. It’s a shame too, since I probably missed out on some splendid scare-flick exhibition opportunities growing up.

“Arachnophobia” was slightly different from the horror norm at the time. Spider invasion features were already a cornerstone of chiller cinema, but the picture enjoyed elevated production values and received a major summer release, backed by the newly formed Hollywood Pictures (a division of Disney) and the godlike touch of executive producer Steven Spielberg. This was no Cormanesque B-movie curiosity, but a major event, bringing a common fear to the big screen for everyone to enjoy…or recoil helplessly from.


Mixing horror and comedic ingredients (necessitating the goofy marketing brand, “Thrill-omedy”), “Arachnophobia” was a slickly crafted scare-o-thon from director Frank Marshall, who did his best to make the crawly picture approachable, but remained mindful of the concept’s inherent ick. Earning its PG-13 badge, the movie pushed creepiness far enough to trigger major waves of willies from the audiences I attended the film with, making the moviegoing experience almost as amusing as the picture. Spiders. They really bring it out of people.

I was wholeheartedly smitten with “Arachnophobia” in 1990, which I believe had more to do with personal bravery than matinee satisfaction. The fact that I could sit through something so…ghoulish and come out the other side smiling thrilled me, with the film contributing a delightful creepy-crawly shock to the mid-summer slog.


2010: Watching “Arachnophobia” today reveals the hand of Spielberg more than ever. It’s the prototypical Amblin creation, blending scares and laughs within an idyllic neighborhood setting, iced over with some tasteful gore and a pack of colorful supporting characters. The recipe is easier to spot these days, but the years haven’t lessened the picture’s morbid impact. Especially with the crushing disappointment of 2002’s “Eight Legged Freaks” in the rear-view mirror, “Arachnophobia” seems like a minor classic, manufacturing its spider menace through frightening realism and crafty editorial tricks.


I can’t imagine what an absolute pain in the ass it must’ve been to put this film together, but the effort positively glows onscreen, with Marshall prodding his tiny stars through various environments, haunting the human characters superbly as they creep around the frame. Perhaps the exposition is clunky and the film takes its time to warm up, but “Arachnophobia” maintains a sizable fear factor, slapping the viewer around with sneaky spider action, toying with phobias and tension before it strikes. The movie retains a wide mean streak as well, with characters not only bitten, but dying from the venom, piling up the bodies to emphasize the threat. The comedy featured in the film doesn’t quite hold the same stress-relieving opportunity it did in 1990 (John Goodman clowns it up as a know-it-all exterminator, complete with a tinkly, kittenish scoring cue to announce his peaceful presence), but the chills are timeless, with Marshall orchestrating clever sequences that draw out the arachnid approach to excruciating lengths.


Spiders are exactly why “Arachnophobia” pulls genuine terror out of viewers instead of simple reactive twitches to Dolby jolts. Most people have a bugaboo about bugs, making the entire picture one long squeeze of apprehension -- a delightful bath of pure fear. The film preys upon that dread in a wonderfully cinematic manner, elegantly keeping the antics lighthearted enough to encourage a viewing, but eventually digging into spiderific panic -- pure candy to horror junkies on the prowl for the perfect thrill.

“Arachnophobia” holds up well, though I miss the communal experience that came along with those screenings years ago. There’s nothing quite as enchanting as a sold-out theater experiencing nightmarish stuff together, with a chorus of squeals, screams, and nervous giggles filling the air.

ARACHNOPHOBIA Daniels Bloodied


Navy Seals

Nutshell: Trouble in the Middle East burns brightly when the U.S. Government learns a terrorist group has commandeered a small arsenal for future havoc. Enter the Navy SEALs team, led by Lt. James Curran (Michael Biehn) and Lt. Dale Hawkins (Charlie Sheen), who barrel into foreign lands to thwart disaster and rescue innocents, yet the team finds this current crisis a difficult nut to crack. With the help of a television journalist (Joanne Whalley), the squad finds a way to crush the terror threat, risking their lives once again as they make the impossible possible with their highly trained combat skills.


1990: My memory doesn’t serve up much for “Navy Seals,” which makes some sense, considering the generic nature of the film and its appearance late in the summer, after “Fire Birds” chased the same pro-America, pro-military tone, outlined from the long, profitable shadow of “Top Gun.” The feature also arrived during Charlie Sheen’s golden age, where the actor burned off his “Platoon” and “Wall Street” credibility by starring in a string of actioners and comedies that paid very well, but didn’t offer much of an acting challenge and, more often than not, required a drunk, slightly coked-out appearance. Lordy, he was so method.

As any film with explosions, military brotherhood, and international villainy, “Navy Seals” soothed my young soul at the time. The movie presented a smorgasbord of violence and pallin’ around that was easy to digest, buttressed by an engorged depiction of valor that was relatively new to me at the time, back when the world was a more black and white place of engagement. The Brichives offer “Navy Seals” only a modest endorsement, with a complaint about the connective tissue between the assault sequences being “flat and boring.” Sheesh, even then I had no patience for melodramatic hooey sold by a cast that had no business trying to come across sympathetic.

NAVY SEALS Explosion

2010: Now it’s easy to sense “Navy Seals” as the swan song for action cinema of the 1980s, playing off the genre with a crunching metal riff of military bravado and a steamy pile of Middle East complications. I understand why I was so tolerant with the picture as a teenager, but now? “Navy Seals” is an embarrassing film to watch, chock full of atrocious dialogue, hammy acting, and a blinding jingoistic attitude that offers retro appeal, but feels hopelessly out of date today. Dangerously passé.

“Navy Seals” is a glorified Cannon Films production, with a slightly boosted budget to lasso a C-list team of actors who only marginally comprehend what type of movie they’re making. The lines roll around their tongues like stones, with Biehn hilariously disengaged from the film, strolling through his performance with all the excitement of a man who has to wake up every morning and act opposite Charlie Sheen. He’s awful in this movie, but there’s not a soul in the cast who can make the clunky, broheim dialogue sound natural. Instead, the ensemble plays into the heat of the moment, which forces the film into melodrama it can’t handle. Shoot things up, thrown around racist terms, drink oceans of booze -- that’s a vocabulary director Lewis Teague can handle. Genuine emotion or plausible human characteristics are beyond his gifts.

But these Navy SEALs. These men of land, sea, and air. They’re such complex creatures to begin with.

They have fun.


They cry.


They play golf shirtless.

NAVY SEALS Shirtless Golf

They read.


They jump from planes.


They wake up in the ocean.

NAVY SEALS Wake Up Ocean

They leap recklessly from moving cars.

NAVY SEALS Leap from cars

They’re sensitive.

NAVY SEALS Sensitive

They show concern (I think).


And they shoot “ragheads” in the frickin’ face!


And sometimes, not often, but sometimes…well, they die. *snif*


“Navy Seals” was made a punchline of sorts in Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” used as an example of a film only idiots rent. I’m not touching that mean-spirited generalization, yet a return trip to the picture certainly opened my eyes to the feature’s…ahem, cinematic limitations.

It’s a cheap slab of brawn wrapped up in the American flag, and while I understand the film’s escapist appeal to a certain audience out there who can appreciate the clean shave of a simple actioner, I was bored silly by the Crayola mechanics. “Navy Seals” hasn’t aged well, and now I rather hate my younger self for ever buying into the mentally challenged antics of the film. At least “Fire Birds” offered strawberry gum. “Navy Seals” only brings about a procession of eye-rolls and extreme Sheenpulsion.

NAVY SEALS Sheen and Biehn

Coming next week…

Where I discover it is possible to detest a motion picture with a body-quaking, godless intensity.


And Harrison Ford suffers through an accusation of murder…with a bad haircut.



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