Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '96 - James David Patrick ""

Monday, March 21, 2016

Underrated '96 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong habit of obsessive movie watching. His current project, #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project can be found at thejamesbondsocialmediaproject.com. Find him on twitter at @007hertzrumble.

If I had to pinpoint my most formative years of movie watching - the years in which I watched hordes of good movies, bad movies, foreign movies, irrelevant movies - I'd have to choose the years of 1995 and 1996. I was now licensed to drive a car and consequently haunted video-rental stores, chatted up the clerks and thereby learned that I could order bootleg tapes of movies not available here in the United States on this newfangled thing called the Internet. I was soon introduced to Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Andrei Tarkovsky. Even some Agnes Varda because the one female clerk demanded I watch ClÇo from 5 to 7. Also, during these years a friend and I began a movie review website. That little website got full-page coverage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and our reviews popped up in syndicated slots on other entertainment pages, including one created by MTV's Adam Curry. I'm still confused about why we received so much traffic. I guess it just pays to be early to the party. We were just high school kids watching anything and everything we could get our hands on. Not a whole lot has changed, I suppose... and many of the movies I consumed during this time period remain entrenched in my list of all-time favorites. The 1990's boast a lesser reputation for a number of legitimate reasons, but if anything were to reclaim the decade from Zubaz pants and Smash Mouth, I'm betting on the cinema.
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Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (Kelly Makin, 1996)In 1996, Kids in the Hall sketch comedy and Mystery Science Theater 3000 were the center of my universe. It's hard to convey my need for both of these movies to be amazing. When I walked out of KITH: Brain Candy, I felt quite confident that I'd just seen a certifiable classic, to be worshipped and adored by many generations to come. Now I drop Brain Candy quotes on unsuspecting innocents. Lines like "The pills are made of monkey cum" and "It was only a couple of flipper-babies!" The quotable depths of this movie know no bounds. Of course, nobody gets the jokes and they just look at you funny and back away slowly, but that's the price you pay for loving a movie that made $2.5 million at the box office and makes hilarious light of depression, repressed homosexuality and the purely evil underbelly of the pharmaceutical industry.
Unforgettable (John Dahl, 1996)
John Dahl carved out a curious niche as a director of solid neo-noir films that nobody bothered to watch. Most notably: Red Rock West and The Last Seduction. And then there's this odd, occasionally goofy and preposterously convoluted thriller starring Ray Liotta and Linda Fiorentino. Unforgettable is the intersection of a 1930's mad scientist horror flick from the Universal catalog and a 1980/90's cocaine noir that borrows the premise of The Fugitive. Everyone believes Ray Liotta killed his wife, but Ray Liotta didn't kill his wife so he's going to inject himself with his dead wife's brain fluid in order to witness her murder firsthand and clear his name. Pay no mind to some of the conflicting ways in which the movie cheats by redirecting and diverting expectation. Unforgettable may be fairly maligned for being "absurd" but the film's harshest critics can't seem to understand that it's also a lark - a fast, flashy bit of trash cinema wrapped in mainstream packaging.
Mother (Albert Brooks, 1996)
A science-fiction writer (Albert Brooks) moves back into his childhood home to live with his mother (Debbie Reynolds) in order to understand why his relationships with women have all gone haywire. On paper, Mother is a pretty traditional Albert Brooks comedy. A solipsistic neurotic comes to terms with his failures in love and life. Mother differs from the rest because of Reynolds. Debbie serves up one of the most delicious, understated comedic performances of the past few decades. While Brooks frantically seeks meaning and a connection with his mother, Reynolds remains an anchor. Conversations about miserly grocery shopping habits and underestimating the private lives of older parents spotlight rather traditional generation-gap talking points, but these small, poignant conversations between mother and son pay off with a rewarding depth of character. Mother also introduced the very important concept of protective layers of ice to lock in ice-cream freshness.

Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, 1996)
Fun fact: Irma Vep was the first DVD I ever bought. The year was 2000ish, and I didn't even have a proper DVD player. In 2016, I'm not sure Irma Vep's all that underrated or overlooked, but I'm looking at the Letterboxd page, and it says that only 1,376 people have logged a watch of Irma Vep. (As a point of completely arbitrary comparison, 4,307 people have logged a watch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.) Olivier Assayas' films have never quite reached the heights of this twisty film-within-a-film meta meditation about a has-been director remaking the Louis Feuillade silent film serial Les vampires. The great Maggie Chung plays a caricature of herself (perpetually clad in skin-tight latex) as the actress taking on the iconic, female lead. Sprawling and lacking in focus, Irma Vep is about fetishization and otherness and the language of cinema. It's about failure, success and subjectivity. Assayas presents themes like buckshot and reduces the narrative to individual scenes, not entirely unlike how the Kids in the Hall succeeded in turning their sketch comedy into a 90-minute narrative. Neither film relies on depth but rather the individual ideas and images that come together to form something greater. Irma Vep might be lesser than the sum of its individual parts - but perhaps by design, as I think this actually contributes to the film as an exercise in self-reflexivity. At the level of the scene, Irma Vep is often brilliant, visually complex and infinitely memorable.
The Daytrippers (Greg Mottola, 1996)
The Daytrippers feels like the indiest-indie movie that ever indied. Regular fringe-Hollywood players Hope Davis, Live Schreiber, Campbell Scott and Parker Posey join up with Stanley Tucci and the late, great scene-stealer Anne Meara to tell a tale that has little to do with the plot description. Even Marcia Gay Harden makes an appearance. A woman (Davis) discovers a love letter written by her husband (Tucci) to an unknown lover and piles her barely functional family into the car to track him down. The Daytrippers has the feel of a road trip movie even though the players in this film cover very little actual distance. The events unfold, one after the other in loosely connected episodes, revealing the open wounds in each of their relationships. Perfectly acted and paced like a metronome, Greg Mottola's (Superbad, Adventureland) debut feature manages to ground even his most eccentric characters with subtle humor and real-world fears when they easily could have slipped into caricature. Had these characters been more out of touch, a little more hyperbolic, you'd have yourself a Noah Baumbach feature. Mottola aims smaller and as a result this tremendous film remains a slept-upon gem, wallowing on a full-frame DVD while Baumbach's (arguably lesser) 1995 film Kicking and Screaming gets the full Criterion treatment.
Box of Moonlight (Tom DiCillo, 1996)
Worth watching because it's 90 minutes of Sam Rockwell and John Turturro goofing around like bored teenagers. Plus Catherine Keener as a completely ineffective phone sex operator. Sam Rockwell's character, known only as "The Kid," makes a living selling stolen lawn ornaments and lives in the cross-section of a trailer. Al Fountain (Turturro), a construction foreman with a tragic case of the stick-in-the-muds, wanderlusts himself into a roommate situation with The Kid, and the pair of lost souls match up like an off-the-grid odd couple. Box of Moonlight offers plenty of these quirky bits of brilliance, but hits some obvious notes about Al's emotional stasis and midlife crisis. Moonlights excels because Turturro and Rockwell manage to convey something more profound than what's contained within the pages of the script. Writer/director Tom DiCillo also helmed the overlooked Living in Oblivion the year prior. His feature film career never really took off, which seems a shame considering it started with two excellent bits of understated cinema.

2 comments:

beamish13 said...

LOVE Brain Candy. Have you seen the large amount of deleted scenes from it on YouTube? The last quarter of the film was completely reconceived after Paramount didn't like it, but it's great stuff

thirtyhertzrumble said...

I'm surprised Paramount was ever willing to go along with the idea of a KITH movie. I'm not sure I've ever seen the deleted scenes. I'll have to watch.