Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Jack Criddle ""

Friday, July 19, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Jack Criddle

Jack Criddle is a filmmaker, video editor and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He has produced short, promotional films for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and stained glass artist Debora Coombs, among others. He is currently co-writing a feminist horror screenplay entitled THE COLD KIND OF PRETTY. His work can be seen at

Twitter: @southboundsix

I made a short biographical film about 1930’s shlockmeister Dwain Esper (, producer/director of REEFER MADNESS, MARIHUANA: THE WEED WITH ROOTS IN HELL and the jaw-droppingly amazing MANIAC. This is perhaps the closest he ever came to directing a “good” film in the conventional sense of the word. Esper, and his wife and writing partner Hildegarde Stadie, based the story off of Statie’s great uncle, a doctor turned medicine show huckster and opium addict. Although the picture is filled with much of what would become the trappings of the exploitation subgenre – debauched drug parties, nasty medical footage, and old fashioned racism - it is elevated by Harry Cording’s lead performance, and by the script, which paints a frightening and realistic portrayal of addiction.

I had never heard of this silent drama until I was introduced to it in a Chinese film class. Ruan Ling-yu plays a single mother forced to work as a prostitute in order to pay for her child’s education. Director Wu Yonggang proves himself a champion of making the political personal, with Ruan’s never-named Goddess and Zhizhi Zhang’s Boss standing in for all of 1930s China’s oppressed and oppressors. Wu uses innovative techniques like synching up Ruan’s rocking her baby to sleep with the pendulum of the wall clock, which counts down to the starting hour of her nightly beat. He also breaks the fourth wall during a brutal attack scene, implicating the audience as an aggressor. It’s honestly one of the best international films ever made, making Wu’s absence from the canon of well-known film history a glaring omission.

Shohei Imamura’s 1983 adaptation of this Shichiro Fukazawa story is my preferred version of the tale. A 19th century Japanese village has a rule that when someone reaches the age of 70, they must travel to a remote mountain destination and be left there to die. Longtime Imamura collaborator Sumiko Sakamoto is phenomenal as Orin, the mother of the Ken Ogata character, who steadfastly resolves to take care of all her family business before insising her son take her to where she will starve to death. Imamura’s bawdy humor and deep human compassion help elevate a wonderful, heartbreaking but never depressing story.

COP LAND (1997)
I find Sylvester Stallone’s performance in in this overlooked James Mangold drama to be the best of his career; he more than matches the acting chops of co-stars DeNiro, Keitel, and Liotta. As humble, low-key New Jersey sheriff Freddy Heflin, Stallone idolizes the NYPD cops that live in his small town, but becomes torn when he has to choose between exposing their corruption and mob ties, or covering up for them. Though I think it’s admirable that Stallone has managed to sell filmgoers on his larger-than-life action-star persona well into his sixties, I’d love to see him do more films like this, where we get to see him be human.

EXPIRED (2007)
Cicilia Miniuchi’s tale of a romance between two L.A. parking officers is one of my favorite recent examples of one of my favorite subgenres: the feel-bad date flick. Samantha Morton’s Claire is an emotionally fragile, open-book soul, whilst Jason Patric’s Jay is a hateful, oversexed, emotionally stunted man who uses his job as a way to lash out at the world. The story is a perfect antidote to Hollywood “opposites attract” rom-com drivel, as the couple meet, fall in love, make each other miserable and eventually split up, although one is left with the feeling of hope that they’ll each get it right, with someone, eventually. Did I mention that the film is hilarious? And still, I have a hard time properly calling it a comedy. But it is a movie that deserves to be much better known.

Filmmaking duo Josh and Benny Safdie’s portrait of an unreliable single father – loosely modeled off of their own – is one of contemporary cinema’s best portrayals of one of its worst parents. Given two weeks per year’s custody of his young boys, divorced slacker Lenny (a brilliant first-time performance by FROWNLAND director Ronald Bronstein) seems more like a fun older brother than a father. His brief time with his sons consists of games and childish adventures, as well as glaring parental mishaps, like accidentally, temporarily poisoning the kids with sleeping pills. It’s a testament to the Safdies’ strength a storytellers that they neither glorify nor condemn Lenny’s behavior, but rather offer the film as a timeless, cinematic memory-bubble filled with the troubling beauty of irresponsibility.

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

I love COP LAND! I only saw it within the last couple years & couldn't believe I'd never heard other movie geek friends talk about it. And the score by Howard Shore--! Dig Stallone brooding and sad while listening to Springsteen records late at night...