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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Underrated '99 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong moviewatching habit. His current projects include #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project ( and Cinema Shame ( Follow him on Twitter at @007hertzrumble.

1999 pushed the boundaries of mainstream cinema... only to have it collapse upon itself within a few short years. Just compare the bold assortment movies that reached multiplexes in 1999 to what we're witnessing in 2019. Fight Club, The Matrix, Eyes Wide Shut, Being John Malkovich, The Insider, Three Kings, Ravenous. Even the supposedly dumb genre movies had a brain. Galaxy Quest, Sleepy Hollow, Notting Hill, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mystery Men, Go. Plus 20 other movies I didn't name. (Lists are fun, but get to the point, maybe?)

Go ahead and just pull up that list of 1999's most-watched movies on Letterboxd and weep for our current state of cinema.

As a result of 1999's immaculate success I found myself hard pressed to draw a line in the sand between the underseen and the underappreciated. For this list, I erred on the side of the latter with a touch for the former. I could have made a list twice as long, but I only had time to revisit a handful of entries on my initial list. You're welcome' or I'm sorry. You decide.

For Love of the Game (Sam Raimi, 1999)
So the off-the-field melodrama might miss the mark a little bit, but no movie about baseball has dealt with the mental side of baseball quite like Sam Raimi's For Love of the Game. Raimi uses innovative camera sets to foreground perspective where another director might have defaulted to a conventional style befitting the TV matinee material.

It's also hard not to equate Costner's Billy Chapel, an aging pitcher nearing the end of his career, with Costner himself. This would surely be the final movie in which 44-year-old Costner took the field. Obviously Bull Durham and Field of Dreams remain superior movies, but For Love of the Game does so much right that I refuse to demonize it as a lesser offering. It's a bittersweet sendoff for Billy Chapel/Kevin Costner, but it works because Raimi makes the viewer want so badly to experience Chapel's success.

People detest this movie largely because they can't believe a champion of guerrilla moviemaking like Sam Raimi would make something as Hallmark-y as this. Send me all your hate mail, but this feels more like a Sam Raimi movie than any of his Spiderman films (none of which I personally find all that interesting).
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Jesus' Son (Alison Maclean, 1999)
Billy Crudup gives the performance of his career has 'Fuckhead,' a drug addict who errs on the side of optimism despite being a perpetual disaster. Naysayers deride the uneven tone. Is it a comedy' A melodrama Who cares' Alison Maclean's film offers a singular vision, a disjointed jumble of emotions, isolation, and infectious (but bleak) humor.

The screenwriters (including the late novelist Denis Johnson, adapting his own work) turned what many perceived as unfilmable into a faithful adaptation and a perfectly cinematic experience. Scattered and jumbled, like the mind of the drug addict, Jesus' Son meanders through memory and tragedy, jumping from one bizarre encounter to the next. Credit to Maclean for embracing the material and to the actors (Crudup, Samantha Morton, Jack Black, Denis Leary, Dennis Hopper, Holly Hunter, Michael Shannon!) for committing to what must have been a leap of faith. In a year filled with great films, this remains in my Top 10 of 1999.

If you watch only one movie from this list, make it Jesus' Son.
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Mumford (Lawrence Kasdan, 1999)
Warm without being overly saccharine, Lawrence Kasdan writes and directs small town folksiness lacking in patronization. A psychiatrist named Dr. Mumford (Loren Dean), a relative newbie in the Oregon town of Mumford (they share the name, that probably figures into the plot!), gives wacko advice to his patients and starts winning away patients from rival therapists David Paymer and Jane Adams. He falls in love with the chronic-fatigued (and all around perfect) Hope Davis, and his rivals, along with the help of an attorney played by Martin Short, conspire to destroy his reputation.

Mumford won't deliver thrills, sexy twists or Drama. Kasdan merely gifts us a thoughtful portrait of a town filled with (mostly) good-hearted eccentrics. If it's about anything in particular, it's a plea to take a closer look at the people around you and appreciate them for what they are, rather than what they aren't. In some ways Kasdan seems at times to be channeling Harvey (1950), if you need help tuning in to the proper bandwidth.

After revisiting Mumford, my takeaway was that the world needs more Hope Davis.
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Liberty Heights (Barry Levinson, 1999)
A surprisingly complex meditation on integration, the loss of Jewish traditions, anti-Semitism, interracial dating, inter-economic mingling, and a Jewish boy dressing as Hitler for Halloween. Like much of Levinson's best work, the film might have easily traded on 1950's nostalgia but instead dives into character and setting and relationships in a way that feels natural and timeless.

Ben (Ben Foster) likes Sylvia (Rebekah Johnson), a black girl who arrives at the school on the back of Brown vs. the Board of Education. He tells his mother (Bebe Neuwirth) he fancies her and his mother screams 'Just kill me now!' They listen to Redd Foxx records and sneak off to see a James Brown concert. Meanwhile Ben's older brother (Adrien Brody) is in love with a gentile and that too causes a familial discord.

Levinson addresses a complex moment in time with enough finesse and sincerity that even when Liberty Heights stumbles in the final act, it's earned enough of your good graces to forgive the plot-heavy twists.
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The Big Kahuna (John Swanbeck, 1999)
I feel like we're not supposed to talk about Kevin Spacey, but I can't scrub away the excellent work he's done up until this point in his career. And I can't wash away the surprise I felt when I journeyed to a theater to see The Big Kahuna thinking I was getting a business-oriented light comedy and wound up in a theatrical meditation about religion and modern human connectivity. The Big Kahuna happened.

Larry and Phil attend a trade convention in Wichita as representatives for an industrial lubricant company. Bob, a young man from the research department, joins them in the hotel's hospitality suite. Larry explains that they're passing time while they wait for the convention to end so that they can arrange a meeting with Dick Fuller, CEO, aka 'The Big Kahuna.' Much deep conversation ensues.

Through the cinema of 1999, we'd started to take stock of how modernity had created distrust and distance between otherwise proximate humans. American Beauty had likewise hammered home this notion of isolation. Spacey won his Oscar for Sam Mendes' film, but The Big Kahuna represents the superior performance. Based on the play Hospitality Suite by Roger Rueff, Spacey, DeVito and Peter Facinelli make their three-way conversation a dynamic dialogue about industrial lubricants, friendship, and religion. For those that don't mind their drama intimate and stage-bound.
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Happy, Texas (Mark Illsley, 1999)
The beauty of these Underrated lists is that it gives cause to revisit long forgotten movies. As I sifted through 1999, I came across this vaguely familiar poster. I checked out the description, and a theatrical trip to see Happy, Texas came flooding back. I queued it up on Amazon and re-engaged with a movie I found positively charming in 1999.

Two prisoners (Jeremy Northan and Steve Zahn) escape from a chain gang and wind up in Happy, Texas where they pose as homosexual beauty pageant organizers and bide their time until they can rob the local bank and escape into the wilds. Complications ensue when the gay town sheriff (William H. Macy) falls for Northam, Northam pines for a bank teller (Ally Walker), and Zahn can't resist the pageant coordinator (Illeana Douglas). Zahn sidesteps the problem of his supposed sexuality by claiming 'That whole gay thing is just like a hobby.'

Surprisingly lacking in cringe-y stereotypes, Happy, Texas (mostly) manages to sidestep the pratfalls associated with a 20-year-old comedy about homosexuality due to the value of the performances. Zahn gets the laughs. Northam plays it straight. William H. Macy grounds the movie by playing his sheriff with the perfect amount of tender honesty. It's hard to understand why director Mark Illsley only made two movies in his career when this, his debut, proved to be such a nimble mixture of humor and pathos.
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Inferno (John G. Avildsen, 1999)
As a late 90's straight-to-video Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle, certain truths must be expected and understood in order to enjoy Inferno (aka Desert Heat). Many expenses were spared and no decent copies of this movie exist on home video. You'll just have to trust me that a movie featuring Pat Morita and Bill Erwin as JCVD sidekicks should be viewed.

Eddie Lomax (JCVD) drives out into the desert on his motorcycle with the intention of getting stone drunk and committing suicide. Some local goons steal his motorcycle, shoot him, and leave him for dead. He survives by speaking to the spirit of Danny Trejo and finds a new purpose in life - revenge for stealing his beloved bike. It's John Wick, substitute Danny Trejo (playing a Native American?) for Bridget Moynahan and a bike for the beagle. There's more gunplay than big kicks - take that for what you will and nobody seems to be taking this enterprise at all seriously. For starters, Vincent Schiavelli plays an Indian (subcontinent not native) and Pat Morita plays a kind of wannabe Englishman. It's like they hired the cast and pulled roles out of a hat.

As the last feature made by Rocky/Karate Kid director John G. Avildsen, it's worth exploring as a capper on the director's 28-year career. When Van Damme rolls up sporting a cowboy hat and an unshaven face you'll want to laugh, but you'll also demand the subsequent ass-kickings because those guys that shot him and stole his motorcycle needed their comeuppance.
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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Just The Discs - Episode 103 - CLEOPATRA SUPER FLY!

Stephanie Crawford is back to talk Blaxploitation this round as we dive deep on CLEOPATRA JONES (and it's sequel, which is NOT yet on Blu-ray) as well as the original SUPER FLY -- both Blu-rays from Warner Archive.

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Disc Covered on This Episode:
CLEOPATRA JONES (Warner Archive)
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SUPER FLY (Warner Archive)
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Monday, April 22, 2019

New Release Roundup for the week of April 23rd, 2019

A FACE IN THE CROWD on Blu-ray (Criterion)
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NOIR ARCHIVE - VOLUME 1: 1944-1954 on Blu-ray (Kit Parker Films)
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THE RECKLESS MOMENT on Blu-ray (Indicator)

LILITH on Blu-ray (Indicator)

THE SNAKE PIT on Blu-ray (Indicator)

DRAGONWYCK on Blu-ray (Indicator)

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
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THE STRANGE DOOR on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
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THE LAND UNKNOWN on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
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SCARED STIFF on Blu-ray (Arrow Video)
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PARADISE ALLEY on Blu-ray (Shout Factory)
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SHOOTING STARS on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
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UNDERGROUND on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
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SUPERCOCK on Blu-ray (Garagehouse Pictures)
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ALIEN on 4K Blu-ray (Fox)
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THE WITCH on 4K Blu-ray (Lionsgate)
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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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