Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Justin Bozung ""

Friday, July 5, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Justin Bozung

Justin Bozung is a freelance film writer residing in Detroit, Michigan. He's written for such publications as Fangoria, Whoa, HorrorHound, POTM Videoscope and Shock Cinema magazines. He's one of the co-authors of the upcoming book, The Shining: A Study In Horror to be released in Jan. 2014 and is currently working on a book with notorious filmmaker Uwe Boll.

I'm a sucker for a big dramatic performance and a love story, and I love actors and I really love talking to them about their processes too. For me, a great film experience depends on if I'm able to connect to the story or the characters or the actor's performance on an emotional level. A great film experience for me doesn't have to produce tears, but it should be equal to that or laughter, fear, anxiety or depression.
For me, there really is no such thing as a "good" or "bad" movie. That's really just subjective nonsense. It's all art to me, and if you can't find something wonderful, inspiring or epiphanic inside of each and every film you watch... Then blame yourself and not the filmmaker or the artist that created the work. So give me a "bad" film with a great performance in it anytime. If you love film then how could you deem any aspect or end result of it as "bad" or "flawed, but fun"? All films offer something to their audience, but it's up to that audience to find it wholeheartedly, especially in drama.
In no particular order:

Having had the opportunity recently to interview actor William Sanderson gave me some time to go through almost his entire body of work. In doing so, I discovered quite a little gem that I hadn't seen before. A dirty little cinematic secret if you will, called STANLEY'S GIG. STANLEY'S GIG was never really released. It was intended to be released wide of course, but it could't find distribution after playing a few film festivals, even though it won some audience awards on the circuit. It ended up playing on television a couple times in mid 2000 and then it disappeared. It's just a damn shame too. Produced as a low budget indie by some first time filmmakers...William Sanderson takes center stage here as Stanley; a down and out very Chaplin Tramp like Ukulele musician who takes a job at a retirement home, where he befriends a stubborn and grumpy former jazz singer played incredibly by Marla Gibbs. The two develop a friendship and understanding and the whole thing is just fuckin' magical. This again, as I have stated above, is a low budget indie, and you can see some filmic limitations in the art direction for example, but the performances of Sanderson and Gibbs make this one worth searching out. The music by Ian Whitcomb is simply wonderful as well in the film.

STANLEY'S GIG doesn't try to do anything but touch the heart, and along the way it throws you a couple twists and turns that you won't see coming. In talking to Sanderson recently, he told me that the whole thing was based on someone's actual life story and after the real "Stanley" saw the film he reported to the filmmakers that he could now "die a happy man." This is solely available on DVD on Demand at or through their instant streaming service currently.

A great friend introduced this film to me when it was first released onto home video back in the late '90s, and when I sat down to watch it for the first time I was completely moved and inspired by it. FISHES features a wonderful cast that includes David Arquette in a very un-David Arquette like performance, Brad Hunt, Katherine Erbe, J.E. Freeman, Cathy Moriarty and Allyce Beasley as well. Arquette plays a whacked out suicidal voyeur who meets the troubled and terminally ill Nick (Brad Hunt) as he's about to jump off a bridge. The two become reluctant buddies and they set out on a road trip to fulfill Nick's bucket list of sorts before he shuffles off this mortal coil. It's a odyssey in the literal sense of the word and in their journey we see the guys drop some LSD and then going nude bowling. Eventually they end up in this tiny little town where the film will finish itself up in utter glory. Over the course of DREAM WITH THE FISHES, the two learn a little something from each other and for one, old wounds are repaired, while the other learns to be the person who he has always really wants to be. DREAM WITH THE FISHES is sort of a minor masterpiece.

While really an documentary, Frank Perry's last film ON THE BRIDGE is the essence of film drama. Perry, a genius filmmaker in his own right, prior to his passing in 1995 gave us such incredible must see films as LAST SUMMER (1969), THE SWIMMER (1968), LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD (1963), DAVID AND LISA (1962), MOMMIE DEAREST (1981), MAN ON A SWING (1974), RANCHO DELUXE (1975)....The list goes on and on with Frank Perry. If you haven't see a Frank Perry film you need to stop what you doing now and go and buy up everything you can find by him on DVD today. The man was a genius.

ON THE BRIDGE...In the early '90s Perry was diagnosed with a aggressive form of cancer. ON THE BRIDGE is Perry's self-documenting struggle at trying to beat his cancer, and it's utterly devastating and heartbreaking. Watching ON THE BRIDGE you no longer see a great filmmaker perhaps mugging it up for a film crew. Now you see a man in total desperation and in fear for his self preservation. Even though Perry's not telling you as the audience that he's fearful for his own life you can see it in his eyes. There is a desperation and fear in Perry's eyes that you will never forget after you've seen ON THE BRIDGE.

Perry travels around the East Coast and meets with other cancer patients and survivors and begins a dialogue with them. He meets with fund-raising organizations. He does virtually everything he can think of in an attempt to beat his illness while being attacked by it at the same time. While Perry may not vocalize it in the film directly, by the end of ON THE BRIDGE one gets the sense that perhaps he has come to terms with his illness and his own mortality.

I have never seen a film like ON THE BRIDGE before. It does so much to transcend traditional documentary. Sadly, Perry passed away from his cancer shortly after the film was completed. Strangely though, ON THE BRIDGE is listed as being released in 1992, and while Frank Perry passed away in 1995, the end credits on ON THE BRIDGE mention something to the fact that Perry passed away before the film was finished? ON THE BRIDGE was never released however. Perhaps it was shown at the Film Forum in NYC a couple times in the late '90s but it has yet to receive a release of any kind officially. Now, just because it hasn't been released officially doesn't mean that you can't find it. Wink...Wink...Nudge...Nudge

ANGEL-A (2005)
Hot damn! I'd be lying if I told anyone that I wasn't totally in love with the films of Luc Besson. From LE DERNIER COMBAT (1983) to LA FEMME NIKITA (1990) to his most recent THE LADY (2011), Besson does "it" for me over and over, and this film really is one of my favorite Besson films, ANGELA. Also known in some circles (and I hate spelling it this way) ANGEL-A. I hate the that particular spelling of the film's name because it dumbs the work down for it's audience. I mean, clearly, because of that spelling we already know that it's a film about an angel, right?

Shot in Paris and in striking black and white, ANGELA finds this quirky French ex-con man named Andre trying to go "legit". Being in big and black debt in Paris though makes that a bit difficult for Andre, so knowing that he'll more than likely be killed anyhow, he decides that he'd rather take his own life than suffer that fate at the hands of another. In desperation, Andre tries to kill himself by jumping off a bridge. In doing so, he notices a beautiful, tall, blond, statuesque beauty that has decided to do the same with him. As the two are about to jump in unison off the bridge, Andre decides to save the woman instead and when he does so a chain of events are set in motion that will alter both of their lives.

ANGELA is utterly brilliant. Filmically, it's structure is impressive. There's a dash of cinema verite as well as the French New Wave hard at work here. It's this perfect blend of drama and comedy and it's all mixed up and baked into this quirky little love story about these two very unlikely allies, and one that finishes itself out in a sequence that takes place where the film began originally, and it is just so beautiful. It's one of those moments visually and cinematically that would've made the great Sergei Eisentstein the director but even greater film editor blush with royal envy.

Written and directed by controversial Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, IMPORT/EXPORT is an epic account of two people's lives and how they attempt to change them by migrating across the Eastern Europe block. Clocking in at two and half hours, Seidl, hated or loved by many cinephiles gives us a slow-burn and melancholic look at the lives of those depressed emotionally, and economically in an area of the world where there seems to be no hope. Olga, a single mother an member of the internet pornography industry sneaks out of the Ukraine in the middle of the night leaving her mother and her infant daughter behind in an attempt to make a better life for her and her family in Austria. An Austrian kid named Paul, who lives with his mother and stepfather and gets into trouble as a gang member defects to the west into the Ukraine in search of a better life and future for himself. Masterfully juxataposed stories mixed with the usual Seidl ambiguity make one hell of a film that once you've seen it will not only make you search out Seidl's other films but will also haunt you for many years that follow.

FALL (1997)
As far as I know I'm the only person I know that has actually seen or is actually a fan of Eric Schaffer's FALL. When it was released, FALL, was called everything in the book from being stupid to self indulgent to ego derivative...For me, Schaffer's FALL is a masterpiece. At it's core it is perhaps the definition of male fantasy incarnate but there is something heartbreaking about that idea here. Writer and Director Schaffer himself, plays a one hit wonder novelist turned cabbie in NYC that by chance meets and falls in love with a super model who is disenchanted with everything in her life. Now, on paper I know that reads a bit silly but the end result really is wonderful. Schaffer and actress Amanda De Cadenet are sort of cosmically in tune with each other in FALL and the film takes a look frankly and graphically, at relationships and sexuality while at the same tries to make the audience swoon with heartbreak, as of course, their star-crossed meeting and blooming relationship was never really meant to happen from the very start. I'm a sucker for these types of films time and time out.

So TOUGH GUYS is in my Top Five favorite films of all time. It's not one that a lot of people have seen to date and that's because it was destroyed critically when it was first released and this caused it to drift off into obscurity even after it was released onto VHS in the mid '80s. It's difficult for me to understand why. It's perhaps one of those films that is so far ahead of it's time that maybe now it's ready to be hailed as the masterpiece that I consider it to be today.

Based off of his best selling novel, and written and directed by Norman Mailer, TOUGH GUYS is what it must look like visually to be dizzy. You could call it a neo-noir, or a coastal noir, a psycho noir, or a weird cluster fuck of who-dun-it, but at the end of the day really all that matters in TOUGH GUYS are the films moment's of brutal insanity. None of the characters in TOUGH GUYS really have anything to lose, and none of them really care about the other regardless of what they say on camera. Star of TOUGH GUYS, Ryan O'Neal, openly and very publicly criticized Mailer on the film's release because of Mailer's decision to leave moments in the film with O'Neal that O'Neal he himself had deemed "bad" from an acting point of view.

You have to see it for yourself, because words really can't do any justice to TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE. It's weird, it's insane, it's a film noir, everyone is sort over-the-top in it from an acting point of view. It's dark, it's twisted and perverted. Editorially, it's completely off it's rocker too, but it all WORKS, and completely brilliantly. You will never see another film like it, and after you've seen it, TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE will change how you look at cinema forever. It is truly a unique experience of psychotic dizziness.

Man, I love ONE TRICK PONY...Musician Paul Simon is "Jonah", a musician past his prime and glory who is relegated to playing dive concert venues across the midwest while trying to keep up with his duties as a father back in New York City and record an album at the same time. It wasn't until years following the release of ONE TRICK PONY that Simon revealed in a lengthly Playboy Magazine interview that "Jonah" in PONY was really himself at his very worst of times personally and creatively. Directed by the great and super under-rated Robert M. Young, ONE TRICK PONY shows us that Simon could probably have been a great actor if he had wanted to. Scenes with Simon and the child actor that plays his son in PONY are so wonderfully sincere and on the mark. Simon, at the time of ONE TRICK PONY'S production was dating actress Shelley Duvall and she was originally cast in the role of Jonah's ex-wife (played in the film by Blair Brown) but was forced to drop out in pre-production because she was over schedule shooting in England on Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980).

ONE TRICK PONY also features some of Simon's best work musically and it features great cameos by Rip Torn as a nasty NYC executive, Lou Reed as a dipshit Spector like record producer and the great Allen Garfield as well. The music Simon wrote for PONY is irresistible. You will want the soundtrack.
(ONE TRICK PONY is viewable on Warner Archive Instant:

'DOC' (1971)
The second Frank Perry film to make this list...Often over-looked as one of the strongest revisionist westerns of the "Easy Riders, Raging Bull" filmmaking generation, Frank Perry's DOC is a stunner. Featuring colossal performances by Faye Dunaway, Harris Yulin and Stacy Keach, DOC really doesn't offer up any of that stereotypical Western attitude or idealism that could've been still residing around town from the Hollywood of the '50s. DOC isn't a Peckinpah film with a lot of necessary violence or machismo but yet it still has that residing in it to a certain degree. It's a hot and sweaty character study. The story of course is familiar to many here but yet it's Keach as DOC that delivers the goods. Keach really starts to explore in the character of DOC and the results are unforgettable. In talking with Keach recently, he told me that Perry and him didn't always see eye-to-eye during the shooting of the film. Apparently there was a lot cut out of the film as well that Keach wishes would've made the film. It really doesn't matter because while this story is so well known to so many now, the relationship between Keach, Dunaway and Yulin will have you on the edge of your seat. Plus when Keach has to gun down someone close to him, you won't be able to fight back the emotion.

Love Vincent Gallo or hate Vincent Gallo, you shouldn't be able to deny the power of THE BROWN BUNNY. Gallo is "Bud Clay", a motorcycle racer traveling back to the West Coast from a race on the East Coast. Clay has lost the love of his life and as he travels home he attempts to get a grip on her death and the remorse, pain, regret, and guilt that he's feeling. THE BROWN BUNNY is a masterpiece. It's a film of inspiration as well. Of course, people, when they mention or remember THE BROWN BUNNY only remember the controversial scene which features Gallo and actress Chloƫ Sevigny in a very graphic sexual situation together. In fact, when the film was released, a still from said infamous scene was billboarded on one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles at the time to promote the film. But the film is so much more than that sexual scene.

THE BROWN BUNNY pushes it's audience through a intense gambit of dark emotions and feelings too. There is pain visusalized on the celluloid of THE BROWN BUNNY. It's a film that hurts me when I watch it. It causes me pain and sadness and I usually end up in tears halfway through the film. And what about the sex scene? Why is it such a big deal to many? Why did the American film critics destroy THE BROWN BUNNY. We always hate or try to destroy what we don't understand, don't we? There's a famous story about Robert Ebert and Gallo arguing about the film, but you can read about that on your own time. At the end of the day, you may not appreciate THE BROWN BUNNY and that's fine...I just happen to think that it's one of the greatest films in the history of cinema. You can do with that what you will.


SteveQ said...

There's a special place in my heart for Tough Guys Don't Dance, the weird little movie that could.

The director's cut of Brown Bunny is infinitely better than the version that was shown to reviewers.

George White said...

Gig also stars the amazingly named Tammy Tavares. Heaven must be missing an angel with a name like that.