Rupert Pupkin Speaks ""

Friday, December 15, 2017

Underrated '97 - Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is a moving image advocate, writer, and curator based in Los Angeles. He spends his days working at Annapurna Pictures in West Hollywood, CA. He is also a contributor to MUBI, The Village Voice, and LAist (R.I.P.).


HIGHBALL (Noah Baumbach, 1997)
An underrated, sadly disowned micro-budget feature shot in six days. Fast, loose, ugly, messy, fun.
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ERNEST BORGNINE ON THE BUS (Jeff Kulik, 1997)
Ernest Borgnine tours America in his treasured luxury coach 'The Sunbum.' Not really a movie in any traditional way, but who cares! He's hungry for Dairy Queen, wistful about all that life has to offer, and gives the best, simplest advice: "Have fun. That's what it's all about. You'll last longer, believe me."
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NOWHERE (Gregg Araki, 1997)
Is this actually underrated? I can't tell. It's such a part of my DNA at this point in my life, I don't have the necessary critical distance to gauge whether this is the queer-pop fantasia everybody secretly loves (as with 1987's BORN IN EAST L.A., minus the queer-pop fantasia angle) or it's what everyone's aching to discover. No film out there better captures the isolationist era of Nineties teendom and its corresponding cultural implosion.
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NIAGARA, NIAGARA (Bob Gosse, 1997)
Earlier this year, I caught this incredible film on a double bill with WICKED (Michael Steinberg, 1998) at the New Beverly and it was love at first sight. Like BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and even Sam Fuller's THIEVES AFTER DARK (1984), this is a story of a hopelessly passionate, criminal romance. Here's my one-sentence pitch: "Two young shoplifters meet cute, break bad, and embark on a romantic road trip to Canada from whence there is no return." So damn good.
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SPAWN (Mark A.Z. Dippé, 1997)
Even Roger Ebert wasn't immune to the demonic charms and fart humor of SPAWN. Fight me.
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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Underrated '97 - Peter Fabian

Peter and I were video store comrades back when I was in college. He's been a movie lover for a quite a while and I am always interested to hear what he thinks of films, both new and old, good and bad.
Follow him on twitter @kiwified77.

Looking back on it, 1997 was indeed a pretty great year for films (stone me if thou shalt but I still adore TITANIC). It was a great year for me personally. I'd left the indie video store in Madison where I'd become outnumbered by pretentious film cynics who openly mocked customers' choices, and thanks to some of my film school classmates, got a job working at the local Blockbuster. To this day it's one of the best jobs I've ever had. It was an often boisterous but supportive enclave of geeks whose passion for the weird and unwatched was precisely what my dehydrating film thirst needed. We were the happy victims of a virus, and the source of much of the contagion in that store was the quiet, unassuming celebrator of all things film that I call my friend Brian, or, according to the banner above, Rupert Pupkin. Happily, that friendship and mentorship continues and I'm always proud to be part of his celebrations.

PRIVATE PARTS (1997; Betty Thomas)
By no stretch am I a Howard Stern fan, but the fact remains this movie has no business being this good. With nearly the entire posse of Stern's acolytes turning in more than passable performances, particularly Stern himself, PRIVATE PARTS ascends its low brow expectations and becomes a surprisingly charming love letter to Stern's (then) wife. I also have to credit it with introducing me to one of my favorite actors, the always excellent Paul Giamatti. Perhaps it's pure PR and perhaps it's not, but it's sweet and hilarious and worth a watch even for the hardered anti-Sternite.
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BRASSED OFF (1997; Mark Herman)
Between his turns in the unfairly fan-abhorred Star Wars prequels and his wonderful globe-cycling series “Long Way Round,” Ewan McGregor became my absolute favorite actor. In going back through his filmography, I came across this lesser know gem about a beleaguered coal town band. Often marketed as a comedy, and I'm not sure that's entirely accurate, it's full of great performances by McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald, the late great Pete Postlethwaite, and Jim “Deja Vu” Carter. Bittersweet, hopeful, and at the same time cynical, BRASSED OFF is perhaps less about a community overcoming obstacles than the human cost of progress.
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FORGOTTEN SILVER (1997; Costa Botes & Peter Jackson)
I did a terrible thing. After falling in love with Peter Jackson's genius mockumentary about fictional Kiwi inventor Colin McKenzie, I goaded my parents into watching it, intentionally leaving off the “fictional” part. As they watched and slowly fell in love with McKenzie and his indomitable spirit and heroism, laughing and crying over the brilliantly staged “newly found footage” of his amazing life, I felt an increasing pang of guilt. Of course I didn't tell them until the (also fake) credits rolled. Now I know how the duped New Zealand television audience felt upon it's original airing, because boy, were my parents pissed. But... worth it.
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THE PEACEMAKER (1997; Mimi Leder)
I've often heard reactions to this George Clooney/ Nicole Kidman action thriller as dismissive or downright scornful, which always puzzled me. Clooney's Thomas DeVoe is a character I really enjoyed watching, with just enough rogueish charm and frat boy arrogance backed up by his ability to Get Shit Done. His dynamic with Kidman's Julia Kelly keeps aloft what is admittedly a bit of a by-the-numbers plot based on an insightful and frightening article written by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn (perhaps better known as Olivia Wilde's parents). Leder turns out to be a skilled director of character-based action. It's part of what made her DEEP IMPACT vastly superior to ARMAGEDDON. I've always been a sucker for international espionage and political thrillers, and this one hits many of the right notes for me and its final scene steps away from its characters perfectly.
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BREAKDOWN (1997, Jonathan Mostow)
This one took me by complete surprise. A rather random rainy day selection that turned out to be one of the best thrillers of the year. Paced as taught as an electrified fence with yet another masterful performance by my man Kurt Russell, BREAKDOWN is the kind of stuff they could show in film classes. Russell and Kathleen Quinlan play such familiarly human characters that we bond with them immediately and the film is smart enough to base every beat on that humanity. The late great JT Walsh plays a villain who is most horrific for his own realism, a sweetly domestic neighbor down the road a ways, unmasked as a guiltless and relentless killer. Reminiscent of Spielberg's masterful DUEL, BREAKDOWN could rightly be afforded a spot amongst the best late 20th century thrillers like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and THE FUGITIVE.
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KULL THE CONQUERER (1997; John Nicolella)
Springboarding off his popularity from the TV series Hercules :The Legendary Journeys, Kevin Sorbo plays Robert E. Howard's predecessor to Conan (the barbarian, not the host) in what could fairly be called a fantasy swashbuckler. Smart enough not to take itself too seriously, but not smart enough to capture the goofy charm that made Hercules so popular, KULL THE CONQUERER is still a fun romp that got worse than it deserves. Sorbo wasn't going to win any awards, but he still makes a great camp hero, with engaging supporting characters and an unchained Tia Carrere who seems bound and determined not to be outcamped by anyone. More Sinbad than Conan, it's worth a couple hours for a lazy Saturday matinee.
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OPERATION CONDOR (1997; Jackie Chan)
Part of New Line Cinema's rush of Jackie Chan rereleases in the wake of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX's success, OPERATION CONDOR is actually ARMOR OF GOD 2. They later released the first film as OPERATION CONDOR 2:ARMOR OF GOD and changed -okay, you now what, the whole thing is stupid and messy and all you really need to know or even care about is this has more great Jackie Chan action intermingled with a Indiana Jones-style chase for Nazi gold. Highlights include a zorbing escape from vaguely racist natives caricatures, an excellent motorcycle chase and jump, a scramble fight across teetering scaffolding in the Nazi base, and a has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed fight in an underground wind tunnel.
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THE EDGE (1997; Lee Tamahori)
I love survival stories, and THE EDGE is about as cerebral an entry in the genre as one could expect. Skillfully directed by Lee Tamahori, the Kiwi director behind the brutally great ONCE WERE WARRIORS, it's a character-based struggle that packs in all the genre story tropes: man against nature, man against beast, and predominantly man against man. David Mamet scripts, and delivers his patented testosterone-soaked power struggle, this time between a volcanically jealous Alec Baldwin and a reservedly powerful Anthony Hopkins. It also features an early turn by the terrific Harold Perrineau of whom I'd become a fan after his excellent work in SMOKE. The real star of this show however? The Pacino of animal actors, Bart the Bear.
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LIFELINE (1997; Johnnie To)
Don't call it “the Hong Kong BACKDRAFT.” Okay, you can all it that, but you still need to see To's firefighter action drama starring the magnetic Ching Wan Lau (from BIG BULLET, FULL ALERT, and EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED). Ching Wan Lau's charisma holds your attention hostage in so many of his roles, and expect full-on Stockholm Syndrome on this one. Similar to the underrated DEEPWATER HORIZON, LIFELINE gives you time to learn and appreciate its characters before tossing you headfirst into a blazing primary action set piece that would make the cast of BACKDRAFT wet 'em. Like so many Hong Kong productions, limited budgets and liability laws put the actors into the action and create a realistic tension unknown in stateside work by anyone who doesn't want to be sued out of existence. A Must See for Hong Kong action fans.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Underrated '97 - Patrick Bromley

Patrick Bromley is the Editor-in-Chief of F This Movie! (fthismovie.net) and a contributor to Daily Dead and Blumhouse. He hosts the F This Movie! podcast and is a co-host of the horror-themed podcast Corpse Club.
I’m a big believer that 1997 was one of the best years for movies since I have been alive. Several of my favorite movies came out this year: Boogie Nights, Starship Troopers, Jackie Brown, The Ice Storm, Lost Highway…I could go on and on. But there are plenty of smaller movies that fell through the cracks or have been forgotten over the last two decades, and that’s a shame. Here are some of the standouts for me:


Touch (dir. Paul Schrader) Paul Schrader’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel is lighter and more comedic than the writer/director’s usual work, casting Skeet Ulrich as healer who experiences stigmata and becomes the center of a tug-of-war between organized religion, TV talk shows, cutthroat agents, you name it. With an incredible cast that includes Bridget Fonda, Christopher Walken, Tom Arnold, Gina Gershon, Janeane Garofalo, John Doe, Conchata Ferrell, Paul Mazursky, Lolita Davidovich, and Breckin Meyer, Touch is an eccentric and odd little film. The tonal mix doesn’t always work and not everyone appears to be acting in the same movie, but the spirit of the thing feels faithful to Leonard’s writing. Also worth noting: the score is composed by Dave Grohl, who also contributes a couple of songs. As far as I know, it’s the only proper film score he’s ever written.
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A Life Less Ordinary (dir. Danny Boyle) I know the movie is often dismissed as Danny Boyle’s post-Trainspotting “slump,” but I have always and will always love it a lot. Cameron Diaz (back when she was choosing interesting projects) stars as an heiress who stages her own kidnapping with the help of down-on-his-luck Ewan McGregor. Ian Holm is her father who doesn’t want to pay the ransom. Oh, and Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo play angels who try to make Diaz and McGregor fall in love by putting them in dangerous situations. Part road movie, part romantic comedy, part fantasy, part musical, A Life Less Ordinary leans into all of its goofiness and gleefully celebrates all of the genres to which Danny Boyle is paying tribute. The results are super charming.
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Playing God (dir. Andy Wilson) This quickly-forgotten crime drama from 1997 was supposed to turn David Duchovny into a movie star (his first big-screen leading role post-X-Files) but wound up disappearing from theaters in just a couple of weeks, recouping only a third of its already-low $12 million budget. While it’s often directed like a made-for-TV movie by Andy Wilson (a TV veteran making his only theatrical feature), Playing God is an underrated neo-noir with all the elements in place: flawed hero damning himself on the way to redemption, two-bit gangster looking to make it big, sultry femme fatale, deadpan narration. Hell, it's even set in Los Angeles, and while it's set mostly during the sun-soaked day instead of the rain-drenched night, it captures a certain hazy, sleepy feel that's both right for the city and for the main character's drugged-up state. Besides, how can you resist a movie that features lines like "Sometimes in life, we are given a choice between being a slave in Heaven or a star in Hell. And Hell does not always look like Hell. On a good day, it can look a lot like L.A.”? Throw in an early performance from Angelina Jolie, a really fun Timothy Hutton villain, and some crazy John Hawkes and you’ve got perfect Saturday afternoon viewing.
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The End of Violence (dir. Wim Wenders) This sprawling, ambitious mess may not be one of Wim Wenders’ greatest films, but it is so interesting and compelling as it unfolds that it winds up being a movie I return to more than some of his widely recognized classics. Wenders creates beautiful, haunting images and an atmosphere of quiet, contemplative reflection in this multi-character story that wants to say something about filmmaking and American culture in the 1990s, even if it’s not always completely successful. The cast alone makes it work a look: Bill Pullman (one of my very favorite actors), Frederic Forrest, Andie McDowall, Henry Silva, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Traci Lind, Loren Dean, Gabriel Byrne, Nicole Ari Parker, and even the great Sam Fuller in a supporting role. Some post-Cannes recuts may have compromised Wenders’ original vision, but the movie is unfairly dismissed as plodding and pretentious. I find it to be neither.
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All Over Me (dir. Alex Sichel) In a better, more just universe, Allison Folland became a big movie star after this movie. She plays an introverted teenager living in New York who is realizing that she’s fallen in love with her best friend (Tara Subkoff). Twenty years later, the movie is super dated because of just how much it’s about the ‘90s “riot grrrl” music scene; even co-star Leisha Hailey, who has a sweet romance with Holland’s character, was a member of the ‘90s girl group The Murmurs. The music is also great, the Hell’s Kitchen atmosphere authentic, the writing and direction thoughtful and sincere. It’s Folland’s performance, though, that makes the movie for me. It should have made her a huge movie star — or, at the very least, a big star on the indie scene. Instead she wound up stabbing herself with knitting needles in one scene in The Happening. Good job, Hollywood.
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Mean Guns (dir. Albert Pyun) If I’m making a list of underrated movies from the ‘80s or ‘90s, there’s almost no chance there won’t be at least one Albert Pyun movie on it. One of Pyun's most experimental movies is also one of his purest action efforts -- it is, by design, a wall-to-wall shoot 'em up. Ice-T plays a crime boss who gathers 100 criminals and lowlifes at a vacant prison and has them fight to the death; last one standing gets $10 million. That's the whole movie. Characterization is thin, but the action is inventive and plentiful; in what has to be the movie's boldest and most fascinating choice, Pyun scores the whole thing with mambo music. The director's cut is pretty much the only way to go with this one, because it's the only version that retains the 2.35:1 scope photography. Most commercially available versions of the movie present it in a full frame broadcast TV aspect ratio, and Pyun's widescreen compositions and the action geography are the best things about the movie.
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Eye of God (dir. Tim Blake Nelson) The directorial debut of character actor Tim Blake Nelson is a devastating, unfortunately overlooked drama about abuse with tragic consequences. Martha Plimpton stars as a waitress in a small town in Oklahoma who started up a romance with a convict (Kevin Anderson) while he was in prison; upon his release, they are finally united but things go terribly wrong. Told in a fractured structure, Eye of God is some heavy, heavy shit, as heartbreaking as it is devastating. The incredible supporting cast includes Nick Stahl, Hal Holbrook, and Richard Jenkins, who has my favorite scene in the movie. I wish this movie got more attention.
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As always, thank you to Brian Saur and Rupert Pupkin Speaks for allowing me to participate in these fantastic series of columns, which not only provide me with countless new movies to track down but serve as a regular reminder that this blog — and, by extension, Brian himself — is one of the best celebrations of all kinds of movies all year long.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

New Release Roundup - December 12th, 2017

ELECTION on Blu-ray (Criterion)
http://amzn.to/2y89RZR
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THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP FESTIVAL on Blu-ray (Criterion)
http://amzn.to/2nHXLqi
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BRANNIGAN on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
http://amzn.to/2AKRLC9
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CODE OF SILENCE on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics):
http://amzn.to/2zPZJKS
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PLATOON LEADER + SOLDIER BOYZ on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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PULP on Blu-ray (Arrow)
http://amzn.to/2Bihd2H
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HARD COUNTRY on Blu-ray (Scorpion Releasing)
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CAGED MEN on Blu-ray (Code Red)
https://www.diabolikdvd.com/product/caged-men-code-red-blu-ray-all-region/
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PICKUP on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)
http://amzn.to/2B1zK2N
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ANDY MILLIGAN'S SEEDS + VAPORS on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)
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LEGEND OF THE LOST on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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PARIS HOLIDAY on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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THE TRIP TO SPAIN on Blu-ray (Shout Factory)
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CHINA MOON on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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THE MIDDLE FINGER on Blu-ray (Troma)
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