Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '85 - Ira Brooker ""

Friday, March 27, 2015

Underrated '85 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer and editor living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He barely remembers what it's like to watch a well-regarded movie anymore. He writes all over the place, and especially at atalentforidleness.blogspot.com, irabrooker.com and @irabrooker.
(P.S. - check out his Underrated Action/Adventure list:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2014/08/underrated-actionadventure-ira-brooker.html)
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Tenement (1985; Roberta Findlay)
In a just world, Roberta Findlay would be a highly sought-after guest at business seminars. Maybe more so than any modern filmmaker, she perfected the art of hitting all the right notes to bring in a paying audience while telling a reasonably coherent story and avoiding the frills and flourishes that would bulk up expense reports. That she happened to employ these skills in the service of exploitation cinema seems to have been a matter serendipity. Regardless of genre, Findlay knows more about how to make a movie than just about anyone in the game.

Tenement might be her masterpiece, a nasty, sweaty wallow in violence and nihilism that takes a chillingly neutral view to its own depravity. A gang of flamboyantly attired junkies gets rousted from its squat pad in a New York City apartment building, then comes back that night to exact vicious, vaguely motivated vengeance on the tenants. That’s about all there is by way of plot. From there on out it’s all sweat and tension and torture and impalement and improvised execution devices. Gang members and civilians die horribly and indiscriminately and Findlay never tries to inject a message or a moral into any of it, unless “You sickos like blood and guts and naked ladies, right? Give the ticket take five bucks and that’s what I’ll show you” counts. I have to say I’ve heard far worse messages than that.

Hard Rock Zombies (1985; Krishna Shah)
Hard Rock Zombies is a tough film to categorize. It’s technically a horror comedy, but the horror is by no means scary and the comedy is more rooted in weirdness and surreality than actual gags. It’s infused with a Troma-esque vibe of self-aware, zero-budget, gross-out anarchy but keeps a straighter face than Kauffman and company generally attempt. And it features one of the most delightfully left-field character reveals I’ve ever seen. (I’m itching to tell you what it is, but you really ought to experience it for yourself.)

A quite bad but era-appropriate hair metal band rolls into a rock-hating small town called Grand Guignol intent on playing a show for people who don’t want to hear it. In short order the band members get thrown in jail, craft a creepy love ballad for an underage fan, fall in with the local chapter of undead monsters, and get themselves turned into zombies. And from there it gets weird. Not all of it works and the proceedings sometimes lurch too far over the top, but it’s a ton of fun. (The townspeople’s attempt to protect their heads from zombie attacks is one of my all-time favorite bits of zombie comedy.) If you can dig on genre-juggling, throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks weirdness like Alabama’s Ghost or early Troma, this oughta be right in your ballpark.

Heaven Help Us (1985; Michael Dinner)
I have very little patience for post-American Graffiti nostalgia jaunts and even less for John Hughes-ian teenage coming-of-age movies, which makes for some pretty rocky stretches on my ‘80s movie viewing landscape. Yet somehow this Catholic school throwback does it for me. For one thing, it’s not overly romantic about its period - a lot of things about 1965 look pretty crummy from this angle, not least of which is rampant corporal punishment in our nation’s private schools. 

Andrew McCarthy and Kevin Dillon are solid as the respective sensitive hero and gold-hearted bully, but it’s the supporting players who really sell it. How am I not gonna like a movie with John Heard as a hipster monk, Yeardley Smith as a baby-faced nerd, future porn star Stephen Geoffreys as a hypersexual schoolboy and Larry “Bud” Melman as a deranged bridge attendant? Sure, Donald Sutherland is barely conscious as the head of school, but his apathy is canceled out by Wallace Shawn’s brief but unforgettable fire-and-brimstone lecture on the dangers of carnality. Maybe the sum of Heaven Help Us isn’t quite as great as its assorted parts, but those parts are choice enough to make it one of the few ‘80s teen movies for which I’ll go to bat.

Sloane (1985; Dan Rosenthal)
Now, don’t get me wrong - Sloane is not a good movie. Sloane is in fact quite a bad action movie of the ilk that could have only come out of the 1980s. But Sloane is nonetheless an immensely watchable movie for one reason only: Robert Resnick’s performance as Phillip Sloane, possibly the most intensely unlikable action hero ever to anchor a movie. 

Less a man than a sentient bundle of smug, Sloane plunges into the Manila underworld to rescue an embezzler’s kidnapped wife, armed only with his wits, his utter lack of charisma and his snide condescension toward every soul who crosses his path. Oh, and also some automatic weapons which he employs frequently and lustily against dozens of Filipinos, regardless of provocation. Take all of this, stir in a healthy dose of misogyny and one of the most inexplicable late-movie plot twists ever filmed and you’ve got Sloane, a movie that demands to be seen if only because we all have some manner of penance to pay.

Interface (1985; Andy Anderson)
This might be the most 1985 movie of 1985, a priceless relic of the brief era when personal computers were sliding from a nerds-only obsession to an in-home tool and family plaything. The action centers on a small-college computer club that runs an illicit hacking-for-hire business to fund its elaborate LARP-style paintball games (the club members dress up in voice-distorting cyberpunk masks and take commands from an all-knowing computer program). When a chance encounter with drug dealers turns the hackers into accidental vigilantes, they lean into the role and soon find themselves executing evildoers and letting their innocent computer professor take the rap.

Shot on location on a Texas campus for what couldn’t have been more than the meagerest budget, Interface might have been a real gem if it had stuck with its hacker vengeance storyline. Unfortunately, much of its middle third is squandered on the falsely accused professor trying to crack the case while engaging in tedious screwball antics with a victim’s widow. Even so, this is well worth watching as an amiable, ambitious time-capsule from a starry-eyed era when we were willing to believe computers could do just about anything if you just knew which buttons to press, up to and including electrocuting your enemies over the telephone.

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