Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Adam Lowes ""

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Adam Lowes

Mild-mannered civilian by day, passionate cinephile and dedicated blogger at night, he's a writer for UK sites, HeyUGuys and CineVue.
On twitter at @adlow76.


At Close Range (1986)
An outstanding, brooding look at the sins of the father visited on the son, At Close Range is one of the best, and wildly under-appreciated, films to come out of US cinema in the 80s. Sean Penn plays Brad Whitewood Jr., a none-too-bright, aimless twenty-something whose world is altered forever when his long-absentee father Brad Whitewood, Sr. (Christopher Walken) shows up unexpectedly one day, offering Brad a job with his team of professional thieves.
Director James Foley (who would undo his sterling work here with flaccid Madonna vehicle Who's That Girl, the following year) stays well away from using the flashy aesthetics of that era, and weaves together a measured and utterly absorbing crime yarn, bolstered no end by superlative performances from the two leads. Walken slides easily from a camp playfulness to that trademark vengeful, deadening look in his eyes, while Penn more than holds his own with his seasoned co-lead. The final scene in the film, where Brad is being cross-examined in court and struggles to confirm that Whitewood, Sr. is his father, is an acting masterclass in buttoned down emotions. We see his face as it registers, in turn, the shame, embarrassment and anger that disclosure holds for him. Unmissable.

This Boy’s Life (1993)
A box office failure at the time, this poignant, beautifully-observed coming-of-age yarn deserves a place with other genre greats like Stand By Me and A Bronx Tale. An adaptation of writer Tobias Wolff’s memoirs, (a then 18 year-old) Leonardo DiCaprio plays the author’s alter-ego Toby, moving from state to state with his flighty, but loving mother (Ellen Barkin) as she strives to find a decent man and provide a better home for Toby and herself. She finally believes she may have found the stability she needs with new suitor Dwight (Robert De Niro), but upon marrying him, Toby soon discovers that his new step-father is a domineering and belligerent bully.

In his first starring role DiCaprio is terrific as the rebellious teen forced to grow up quickly. You really feel for him and how his once carefree world is suddenly taken from him by Dwight’s authoritarian and staunchly disciplined ways. If De Niro occasionally cranks it up a little too far, he’s still a frightening and unpredictable presence. Aided by a gorgeous and uplifting score by Coen Bros. regular Carter Burwell, This Boy’s Life is ripe for rediscovery for a new generation of cinema fans who will hopefully see it as the near classic it is.

Sugar (2008)
Writer/director combo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s followed-up to Half Nelson is a sports film with a difference, focusing on the journey of Dominican Republic pitcher Miguel Santos (AKA Sugar) as he attempts to make it to the baseball majors, via the US minor league system. The filmmakers strenuously avoid anything close to melodrama as Santos (a relaxed and unaffected turn by Algenis Perez Soto in his first acting ever role) adapts to a completely new way of life, and battles with the pressure and expectation which comes with the world he’s entered.
Sugar’s ultimate trajectory offers a very different outcome to the one intended for him, but that journey is devoid of cliché and makes for an engrossing and enlightening latter half of the film, which offers just as much insight into the life of an immigrant, that that of the pressures in competitive sport. Sugar has more than earned a place alongside the likes of Ramin Bahrani’s Chop Shop and Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy as the very best of American neo-neo realism.

A Room for Romeo Brass (1999)
Director Shane Meadows might be best known for This Is England, his 80s-set rites-of-passage flick from 2006, but this film, which marked his second feature-length effort, is every bit as moving and heart-felt. It also features one of the greatest debuts in the history of modern UK cinema, in the form of Paddy Considine. He plays a bizarre but strangely captivating presence who drives an emotional wedge between the titular character and his infirmed, bed-ridden best friend.
Like Ken Loach, Meadows is incredibly adept at capturing the quirks and personalities found in working-class, council estate England, bringing to life an assortment of colourful and memorable characters from that world. Considine’s Morell is a force of nature and the actor (who had received limited acting training prior to the film) delivers a tour-de-force performance, which is initially outlandish and hilarious (watch him attempt to body pop for an audience of pensioners) before becoming more than a little disturbing and unhinged. Meadows managed to coax a similarly mesmerising turn from his star in 2004’s Dead Man's Shoes, but their work here deserves the same, if not, greater praise.

Bonsai (2011)
Sex, love and literature are entwined in Chilean writer-director Cristian Jimenez’s second feature (adapted from an acclaimed novella of the same name). Light on drama but heavy on the sensual and whimsy, Bonsai is a slow, meditative film but it’s also incredibly watchable.
Eight years on from his years as a well-meaning (if a little ineffectual) literature student, Julio is a struggling writer who is offered the opportunity to help a well-known author type up the manuscript of his next novel. Ultimately passed over for the role, he tells his lover (and neighbour) otherwise, and instead begins writing his own story based on the relationship he was in with fellow student Emilia almost a decade earlier. His delving into the past reawakens his passion to write and also brings out a yearning for Emilia, who he has subsequently lost contact with. Julio begins to reassess his life, but an attempt to right any wrongs may already be too late.
Bonsai is a talky affair with little in the way of conflict and plot but Jimenez is very adept at capturing small, yet telling moment of real and very relatable human actions. All of these are often framed in visually-pleasing approach, whether it’s the abstract glimpse of the warm glow of naked human figures in a post-coital embrace, or the two lovers idly watching the world go by in the park.

1 comment:

thirtyhertzrumble said...

AT CLOSE RANGE and SUGAR are both terrific flicks. Looking forward to checking the others out. BONSAI looks especially interesting.