Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Drama - Adam Jahnke ""

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Favorite Underrated Drama - Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke is a Senior Editor and columnist for The Digital Bits, one of the leading DVD/Blu-ray websites on the net. Among other things, he's responsible for the annual Hell Plaza Oktoberfest horror-thon and, most recently, Burnt Offerings, a weekly column devoted to Manufactured On Demand DVDs from Warner Archive and other studios. 

Also, check out the Underrated Comedies list he did for me a while back: 

Last Night (1998) – Don McKellar’s Canadian apocalypse movie bears a lot of superficial similarities to last year’s Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World. That movie wasn’t bad but McKellar’s film is smarter, sadder, sharper and ultimately oddly beautiful. He wisely doesn’t bother to explain why the world is coming to an end. It just is and everybody knows it is. The movie is about how these people choose to spend their last hours on Earth. Whether it’s David Cronenberg’s efficient gas-company employee calling every customer to wish them well and assure them they’ll do their best to keep the gas running until the very end, or Callum Keith Rennie’s creepily methodical attempt to fulfill every sexual fantasy imaginable, the things they do make perfect sense for these characters. At the heart of the story is McKellar and Sandra Oh, strangers thrust together by circumstance. Their final scene, set to the tune of Pete Seeger’s “Guantanamera”, is one of the most haunting, beautiful images of love I’ve ever seen.

No End (1985) – As far as I’m concerned, all of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s movies are underrated in the sense that they can never be praised highly enough. Even so, it seems there are a number of fans whose only exposure to his work has been The Double Life Of Veronique, the Three Colors trilogy and maybe The Decalogue (although I suspect a lot of people are potentially intimidated by the size of that 10-hour masterpiece). No End is my favorite of his earlier works and it absolutely gutted me. Grazyna Szapolowska is amazing as a widow, mourning the recent death of her husband, a lawyer. She struggles to keep her life and her son together while also attempting to wrap up one of her late husband’s open cases, all under the gaze of her dead husband. It’s a near-perfect blend of the political and the deeply personal.

The Plague Dogs (1982) – After devastating audiences with 1978’s Watership Down, director Martin Rosen adapted another Richard Adams novel, apparently in an attempt to make the saddest animated film of all time. Two dogs being used in medical experiments escape from the lab where they’re held. Suspected of carrying bubonic plague, they’re hunted down in the wild like…well, like dogs. A completely heartbreaking movie, if you show this to small children, you might be opening yourself up to accusations of child abuse.

Punchline (1988) – A lot of people seem to think this is a comedy, which it absolutely is not. It’s a drama that happens to be about comedians. Tom Hanks has never been as raw or as self-absorbed and unlikable as he is here. It’s a brave, first-rate performance that should have earned him more accolades than it did. A lot of the scenes with Sally Field as a housewife who dreams of becoming a standup are clich├ęd or melodramatic but she and particularly John Goodman as her not-entirely-supportive husband sell them for all they’re worth. But this is really Hanks’ show and he runs with it. His “Singin’ In The Rain” moment is a masterwork of silent acting, revealing depths of bitterness and rage beneath his fooling around.

The Swimmer (1968) – Burt Lancaster gives the performance of a lifetime as Ned Merrill, a middle-aged ad man who decides to “swim home”, following the miles-long route through his neighbors’ swimming pools. As he chats with his neighbors, bragging about his wife and daughters and successful professional life, we begin to suspect that his story doesn’t hold water, so to speak. Based on a short story by John Cheever, this is an odd, challenging, but deeply affecting movie, anchored by Lancaster’s bold, vulnerable performance. I’d be very surprised if Matthew Weiner didn’t consider this to be a key influence on Mad Men.


Scott M said...

Good call on The Swimmer. I love that movie so much. I can totally see the Mad Men connection, too.

Hal said...

I absolutely have to see Plague Dogs.

Punchline is a great call. It was overshadowed by Hanks' also great performance in BIG the same year, but may well have been the better performance of the two.

THE SWIMMER grows on you with each viewing. I just wish the one scene with Janice Rule hadn't been re-shot, because it looks and feels so out of place with the rest of the film. Not a fatal flaw by a longshot though.

highwayknees said...

THe Swimmer is also one of my favorites. I used to watch it and marvel at its "otherness" as kid whenever it came on tv. The photography and direction, performances, the soundtrack, and of course the unique story by the legendary Cheever, all work in some alchemy to cast a spell over the viewer.
And it's not the only quirky beauty from director Frank Perry: Last Summer, Diary of a Mad Housewife, Play It As it Lays,A Christmas Memory, (uh) Mommy Dearest. All but the last are unavailable on DvD. Criminal.

I keep hoping someday someone will release a boxed set of the work of F. Perry. It's overdue! And I'd be the first one in line!

Jill said...

Punchline is a great film. It's been years since I've seen it. Perhaps it's time for me to revisit. As for The Swimmer, this was one of my picks for my upcoming underrated list, but I made a last minute change. I saw it for the first time at TCM Film Festival back in April. Allison Anders introduced it and Marge Champion was there. It was a great print. If I'm not mistaken, it's coming out on Blu-ray later this year...

Ned Merrill said...

I, of course, wholeheartedly approve of the choice to include THE SWIMMER on this list. The aforementioned Blu-ray is coming from Grindhouse.

I'm also an admirer of PLAGUE DOGS. I have a British DVD, which includes 2 different versions of the film.