Rupert Pupkin Speaks ""

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Underrated '99 - Gems from 20 Years Ago!

I've heard it said that 1999 was a watershed year for movies and while that still remains to be seen, it is certainly true that the year itself and its movies have good deal of significance to me personally. You see, 1999 was the year I made a big change in my life. I packed up my things and moved with a couple college friends of mine to Los Angeles. It was a huge deal at the time and it's crazy to me that I'll be here twenty years come this September. I've spent close to half of my life as a Californian and as a kid from the Midwest, it feels weird to say that. I've had a family here and found a career here. When i think about it, it's really where I came to be an adult. Anyway, the point of all this is that it all started in 1999, so my memories are strong and heavy for that time. Seeing movies for the first time in the place where they were made was not a thing that was lost on me. I really felt it. Going to the movies out here felt different somehow, even though I was seeing a lot of the same movies I'd have seen if I was back in Wisconsin, where I came from. The difference was the big city and the allure of Hollywood itself that caught me. I was meeting people that we working on movies that were getting made. All of it felt pretty huge to a guy in his twenties who had been a fan of this stuff pretty much his whole life. So these movies stand out for that reason for sure, but also because 1999 was indeed a solid year for cinema. Here are some of the ones that I remember liking a lot that I feel like have been a little bit forgotten in the past two decades....


THE WINSLOW BOY (1999; David Mamet)
David Mamet's answer to AGE OF INNOCENCE is one way I might categorize this film, but that wouldn't be quite right. I would say though that if you are a fan of Scorsese's period masterpiece, you may find this one of interest. It's actually the second adaptation of the Terence Rattigan's 1946 play which was apparently inspired by true events circa 1908. The tale here is set in 1911 and follows the Arthur Winslow family and the commotion that is stirred up around Christmas time. Winslow (Nigel Hawthorne) is a London banker who is preparing to celebrate the engagement of his daughter (Mamet's real-life wife Rebecca Pidgeon) when the celebration is interrupted by the abrupt return of his 13-year-old son, Ronnie from The Royal Naval College where he had been a cadet. He has been expelled by the powers at the college based on an accusation that he stole a five shilling money order. Professing his innocence of the charge, Ronnie is taken in by his family and his father seeing an injustice having been carried out, hires a very prestigious barrister - Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam) to help clear his son. What follows is a fascinating and mesmerizing courtroom drama that plays outside the courtroom as well as in and in combination with the repressive civilized customs of the period makes for a powerful watch for sure. So powerful indeed that I believe I called it out as my favorite film of the year at the time. It is still quite a spectacle and one of my favorite "legal films" that I can think of along with things like THE VERDICT, 12 ANGRY MEN and so forth.
Performances by Nigel Hawthorne, Pidgeon and Northam are highlights, but I also like that Pidgeon's real brother was cast as her brother in the film and he is also solid.
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MUMFORD (1999; Lawrence Kasdan)
This is another one of those movies that really made an impression on me at the time, but has since seemingly vanished into the quiet darkness of movies that are good but forgotten. It could be that far less people saw it than I recall, but I feel like its critical appraisal at the time was decent if not outstanding. Looking at the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores now, it would seem that the film was not quite as well thought of as I remember, but I still love it. It's really an incredibly showcase for Loren Dean, who I can't believe didn't go on to much much bigger things. He's been relegated to a good deal of TV work since '99, but he is just outstanding here as a mysterious therapist that shows up in the small town of Mumford and throws everyone off with his very balanced and zen approach to figuring out the village locals and their troubles. He is so zen in fact that I cannot help but feel like I want to adopt some of his ability to take each thing as it comes at me and not let anything be too overwhelming. It's an oddly therapeutic movie to watch in that sense and the incredible cast helps a lot (as does the sure hand of veteran writer and director Lawrence Kasdan). The ensemble includes Hope Davis (who I dearly miss and wish was in more current movies), Alfre Woodard, Jason Lee, Mary McDonnell, Zooey Deschanel (in an early role for her), Pruitt Taylor Vince, Martin Short, David Paymer, Jane Adams, Elizabeth Moss (also and early appearance), Ted Danson and more. It's a remarkable group and the film itself represents what I feel like is one of the later R-rated, middle budget, "movies for adults" that have since kind of dried up in our current theatrical landscape (which is a shame). Like the other entries on my list, this one doesn't have a Blu-ray and that is a shame because I would really love to hear a commentary from Kasdan about it (the old DVD only had a making of featurette) as it is a captivating little movie that I'd love to hear more about. There is a sense of Frank Capra to it for sure, but it goes beyond that in a way that I like very much. Well worth a look.
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ARLINGTON ROAD (1999; Mark Pellington)
A sadly all but forgotten thriller these days (and another Hope Davis movie by the way). She plays girlfriend to a widowed Jeff Bridges in this modern take on Hitchcock. Sorry, I know folks always drag Hitch in whenever somebody makes a decent suspense film but in this case, I really think it applies. The story here deals with terrorism - Jeff Bridges' character teaches a class in it and begins to suspect his neighbor (Tim Robbins) is up to something not-so-above-board and starts to conduct his own little investigation - and this kind of thing can be very problematic for characters in movies to do. That said, I feel like this is the kind of movie and subject matter that Hitchcock might have been doing if he were still around in the late 90s. I also think ti would make an interesting pairing with one of my underrated favorites of his in SABOTEUR. I also feel some heavy PARALLAX VIEW vibes from this and that would be an equally interesting double bill with it. ARLINGTON ROAD isn't perfect by any means - it has a pretty sharp third act turn, but overall it's grounded by Bridges and both Robbins and Joan Cusack (playing his wife) are effective in their roles as well. It also stars the kid from UNBREAKABLE (Spencer Treat Clark - who just popped up again in GLASS) in a small part. I think I was even more pulled in on my rewatch this time as I'm now a parent of course and wasn't even close to that mindset back in '99. It's quite a tense bit of business all told and well executed by director Mark Pellington (who would go on to an even better next film with THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES in 2002). Writer Ehren Kruger would go on to a lot more familiar projects from SCREAM 3, THE RING, and the underrated SKELETON KEY, to three TRANSFORMERS movies and even Tim Burton's DUMBO remake from this year.
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THE WOMAN CHASER (1999; Robinson Devour)
This offbeat, black and white, 1950s-set Film Noir comedy stars Patrick Warburton (in his only headlining effort I believe) as a slick car salesman from San Francisco who moves to Los Angeles to open a lot there. This is prior to his becoming THE TICK but post Seinfeld and he does a nice job. His character becomes bored with the purveying of used automobiles and decides to try his hand as a director and make a movie. The result is an angry and bitter tale of a truck driver who runs down a little girl called THE MAN WHO GOT AWAY that he sees as a masterpiece. I've never read the Charles Willeford novel that the film is based on, but I've heard tell that this adaptation is pretty faithful. Warburton does feel right at home as a character in this universe - that much is certain. It's like the part was made just for him.
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OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE (1999; Michael Corrente)
This coming of agey sort of nostalgic look back at the 1970s could be something of a companion piece to DAZED AND CONFUSED but it's a bit goofier in spots and a bit more heartfelt in others. It's based on Peter Farrelly's novel and was adapted by he, his brother and director Corrente. Was sold as "from the guys who made THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY" and definitely feels like perhaps they were pushed a little in the dumb comedy direction to help sell the thing but who knows, maybe that stuff is all in the source novel. With character names like "Drugs Delaney" and "Jizz" it's hard to tell.
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FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (1999; Sam Raimi)
I can't make a case that this a great movie or anything, but I must say I was affected by it and drawn in by the Costner performance and the structure at the very least. Just the idea of an aging major league pitcher reflecting on his life throughout the course of attempting throw a no-hitter in what is possibly his last professional ballgame is hook enough to keep me involved. The romance stuff feels a little undercooked I suppose (or perhaps Kelly Preston isn't the proper actor to carry off the part?), but I have to admit that I still felt it and the sports movie aspects are always an emotional pull for me. Having not seen this film until just this year, I was pleasantly surprised by my own enjoyment of the movie.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation in Archiving. He is currently responsible for programming at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you've got 'em. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and can usually be found in whichever NYC art-house is showing the most sordid content on a given day.

Check out his discoveries from last year too:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2018/01/film-discoveries-of-2017-justin.html

BLUE VENGEANCE (J. Christian Ingvordsen, Danny Cuchuck)
Holy shit, where has this been hiding? Tough late 80s genre hybrid of a police procedural and heavy metal horror fantasy with inspired use of NYC locations (including an absolute showstopper of a climax featuring the Canal St. subway station and the Brooklyn Bridge) and some weirdo medieval touches. Pretty singular stuff and a huge discovery for Vinegar Syndrome.
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THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT (Jean Pellerin)
Unapologetic late 90s, Canadian clone of SCREAM with all manner of inexplicable film references (some choice name drops of Errol Flynn and Lon Chaney), appearances by Christopher Plummer and Margot Kidder, gratuitous "shagging" and a whole lot of Stage Fright-esque theater shenanigans. I love this annoyingly meta type of slasher and it delivers on that front plus adds in a creepy clown, it’s weird that this has been slept on for about twenty years.
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ELECTRA (Julian Grant)
Easily the most batshit discovery for me in 2018. If you look up Electra on IMDB, the first plot keywords listed are "serum", "pseudo incest", "rural setting", "bloopers during credits" and "suicide pill". And that's all you really need to know. But honestly, this incestuous super serum dominatrix erotic sci-fi film is the type of movie where someone gets their heart ripped out and then it is slow-mo thrown into someone else's mouth. And it stars Shannon Tweed! Y’all can keep MANDY, this is the type of unhinged psycho cinema that I live for.
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GHOST IN THE MACHINE (Rachel Talalay)
Early 90s technophobia goes the slasher route (this is eerily similar in form to FINAL DESTINATION) with the nonsensical story of a serial killer - The Address Book Killer who, believe it or not, kills people based on address books - getting trapped into a mainframe via an MRI. It doesn't make a lick of sense but it does give reason to use all manner of electricity to kill people in fairly clever ways, including death by bathroom hand dryer! Directed by the underrated Rachel Talalay who also gave us TANK GIRL and the weirdest NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST entry.
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GORDON’S WAR (Ossie Davis)
“He ain’t going anywhere, the rear end is tied down!”

And with that, Ossie Davis kicks off one of the most impressive stunts and chase sequences to hit NYC's streets in the 70s or any other decade. Feels like the Paul Winfield glue between his characters in TROUBLE MAN and ORIGINAL GANGSTAS, with the men-on-a-mission dynamic of the latter in full force. Some incredible use of Harlem locations here, released in the same year as Larry Cohen's one two punch of BLACK CAESAR and HELL UP IN HARLEM.
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HEART OF THE DRAGON (Sammo Hung)
What the hell is this? Basically the Jackie/Sammo version of RAIN MAN that I never knew I needed, with the pair playing brothers: one's a cop (Jackie) and the other is basically a child in an adult's body (Sammo, who goes full Robin Williams in JACK here). It boils down to about 3/4 melodrama/comedy and 1/4 super hard action with some fairly brutal combat and a chase scene that's as good as you'd expect from these two.
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HER NAME WAS LISA (Roger Watkins)
Starting your porn film with its leading lady laying dead in a casket is a bold move and about exactly what you’d expect from someone like Roger Watkins. Not one to shy away from darker themes in adult cinema, Watkins’ is at top form here mixing taboo material like drug use and sexual violence into a type of cinema usually meant to arouse. But this is porn made by someone who seems to have no intention of arousing anyone and it fits more in line with the seedier side of American cinema from the 70s than its porno chic contemporaries.
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IMPULSE (Graham Baker)
An earthquake lets out some toxic sludge and makes a small town go all THE HAPPENING (but, like, with homicide instead of suicide) resulting in crazy pyromaniac kids, a murderous sheriff with an assault rifle and one lengthy exhibitionist front lawn frolic (which I guess is why the poster looks like something much more erotic than this is?). Pretty bonkers stuff, but I guess that makes sense when you're teaming up the writer of BICENTENNIAL MAN and the director of ALIEN NATION.
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I, THE JURY (Richard T. Heffron)
Larry Cohen penned this kinked up Mike Hammer story (from a Spillane source) and it's just as excessive as you'd hope with early 80s NY a cesspool for all sorts of depravity and Armand Assante as Hammer to trudge through it all. Inspired use of a hibachi grill and cement truck and the climax featuring FIRST BLOOD-esque wilderness traps (in the same year FIRST BLOOD was released) takes this to Regan era machismo heights.
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ONE SINGS, THE OTHER DOESN’T (Agnes Varda)
Pretty much everything you'd want in a Varda created partial musical about reproductive rights. It's like a feminist WILD IN THE STREETS by way of those PTA directed Haim videos.
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STREETS (Katt Shea)
Katt Shea takes THE TERMINATOR and ANGEL and mashes them into this bizarre genre cocktail of a young prostitute fleeing a psychotic LA cop with a weird gun that makes at least one head explode. I'm not sure what this is or exactly how successful it is at being that, but it's inspired and Applegate is fierce.
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TWO MOON JUNCTION (Zalman King)
Holy shit, this is the best. Gratuitous showering, a beefy lead dude who apparently doesn't own a shirt until the last ten minutes, Sherilyn Fenn at her histrionic best, surreal circus scenes, plenty of southern drawl and a gender (and age) swapped version of the PORKY’S shower gag.
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V.I. WARSHAWSKI (Jeff Kanew)
I mistook this for a cheap early 90s action flick but it's really a 90s crime comedy where Kathleen Turner and a 13 year old girl run around Chicago beating up and yelling at men like some PI version of GLORIA. It's pretty great.
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WILD SIDE (Donald Cammell)
Only Donald Cammell could get away with making a wildly sleazy 90s erotic thriller (of the Gregory Dark variety) wherein a satin robe wearing, cigar chomping Christopher Walken rants about Trojan condoms and then has his chauffeur put one on him while Anne Heche watches (and makes a cocktail?). Baffling.
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WILLIE DYNAMITE (Gilbert Moses)
The color palette alone in this makes it the blaxploitation equivalent of DICK TRACY. It's criminal that this isn't mentioned in the same breath as canon genre fare like SHAFT or THE MACK, but it's proof that a major studio (this is from Universal) was just as capable at making their mark alongside - and at times at the expense of - their scrappier contemporaries.
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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Just The Discs - Episode 102 - THE MANITOU! with Brendon Small!

The great and delightful Brendon Small is back and he's brought his synthesizer and it is awesome. This time we take a long look at THE MANINTOU (1978) via the new Scream Factory Blu-ray. If you haven't seen THE MANITOU, it is just one of those movies that is made for the WTF canon and needs to be watched immediately! Oh and listen for some rare Tony Curtis outtakes in this one - how we got them is a mystery...

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Disc Covered on This Episode:
THE MANITOU (Scream Factory)
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Monday, April 15, 2019

New Release Roundup for the week of April 16th, 2019

BEND OF THE RIVER on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
https://amzn.to/2XeiCyv
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MELVIN AND HOWARD on Blu-ray (Twilight Time)
https://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/37115/MELVIN-AND-HOWARD-1980/
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THE MANITOU on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)
https://amzn.to/2GlLkb6
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SUPERSTITION on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)
https://amzn.to/2UjG0Zy
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HARD TICKET TO HAWAII on Blu-ray (Mill Creek)
https://amzn.to/2X9HM1c
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MALIBU EXPRESS on Blu-ray (Mill Creek)
https://amzn.to/2Iu2aWr
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THE TAKE/BLACK GUNN on Blu-ray (Mill Creek)
https://amzn.to/2X9pi0r
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KEOMA on Blu-ray (Arrow)
https://amzn.to/2GjCCtI
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HIGHWAY PATROLMAN on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
https://amzn.to/2GcNet2
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GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)
https://amzn.to/2Z5dVsh
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THE SNAKE PIT on Blu-ray (Twilight Time)
https://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/37116/THE-SNAKE-PIT-1948/
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THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN on Blu-ray (Twilight Time)
https://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/37118/THREE-COINS-IN-THE-FOUNTAIN-1954/
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STAGECOACH on Blu-ray (Twilight Time)
https://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/37117/STAGECOACH-1966/
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THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING on 4K Blu-ray (Fox)
https://amzn.to/2KuMNQl
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