Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '96 - Gems from 20 Years Ago ""

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Underrated '96 - Gems from 20 Years Ago

So I'm kicking of my "Underrated Year" series with 1996 this year and we'll proceed backwards a decade with each of the lists that will follow. 1996 was a very interesting period in my movie watching. I was in college and working at a video store so there were very few mainstream or indie movie releases that I didn't at least see a VHS cover for. '96 is actually a really great year for movies in general, but for some reason I feel like those films don't get talked about as much these days and I hope to correct that a little. It was sorta tricky to whittle down this list to a small number of titles, but here is what I came up with in in terms of films from that year that I feel like don't get enough love.
LONE STAR (1996; John Sayles)
I've mentioned it here recently, but I was a huge John Sayles fan in college. I saw BABY IT'S YOU (based on a Danny Peary recommendation) and it immediately became one of my favorite films at the time. So when LONE STAR hit the local art house theater in Madison, Wisconsin - I had to see it very soon after it opened. I loved it. I loved it so much I took my parents to see it the next weekend. It was just such a well-observed picture of a small community in Texas and how things have changed there but not all that much. It's got a really neat flashback integration structure and I don't think I'd seen too many films that had attempted its stylish transitions between the time periods. This movie was also one of my major introductions to Matthew McConaughey as an actor (and he is quite good in this movie in a small but pivotal role). John Sayles seemed to enjoy a larger popularity in the 1990s with the rise of  the independent filmmakers who were all the rage during that period. He has since lost a little bit of his notoriety, but I find this to be very silly as he made a ton of great films and I highly suggest folks dig back through his filmography for some solid viewing.

TREE'S LOUNGE (1996; Steve Buscemi)
Buscemi made his feature directorial debut with this excellently observed, bittersweet, slice-of-life character piece. He was very influenced by Cassavetes for the movie and even went so far as to cast Seymour Cassel(a Cassavetes regular) in the movie. He also cast himself, his brother and his son. Buscemi plays Tommy, an out of work mechanic who is much more committed to his role as a regular at the local bar - Trees Lounge. He also drives an ice cream truck from time to time. TREES LOUNGE gives a lovely sense of place (in this case, suburban Long Island) and people and his helped greatly by a magnificent roll call of talented actors. Buscemi is joined by Chloe Sevingy, Carol Kane, Mark Boone Jr., Anthony LaPaglia, Elizabeth Brocco, Debi Mazar, Estzer Balint, Daniel Baldwin, Sam Jackson, Kevin Corrigan, Mimi Rogers and Michael Imperioli. It's a ridiculous cast and each member shows up to add some color to the picture. This gives TREES LOUNGE a touch of an Altman feel (and Buscemi has said Altman was an influence). The film also reminds me a bit of early Jim Jarmusch for some reason and there's some Scorsese in there too (which makes a lot of sense since Scorsese was also influence by Cassavetes). It's great and needs a Blu-ray.

THE DAYTRIPPERS (1996; Greg Mottola)
Sure, we all know who Greg Mottola is NOW, but back in 1996 he was just getting his start with this little indie feature. It was little at the time and isn't talked about too much these days (and hasn't gotten a Blu-ray release as of yet), but you'd never know it based on the cast. Parker Posey was the It Girl of the 90s so anything she appeared in found at least a small audience. Sidenote - it still baffles me that Parker Posey isn't in more films today. She's a delight and it is easy to see why we were so taken with her twenty years ago. The rest of this ensemble includes Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis (another 90s darling that I miss seeing in films), Anne Meara, Liev Schreiber and Campbell Scott. It's a great character dramedy that has lots of colorful people encountered along the way. A

BLOOD AND WINE (1996; Bob Rafelson)
Bob Rafelson is one of my favorite directors from the 1970s and one that gets mentioned the least of all his peers (Scorsese, Spielberg, De Palma, Hopper, etc). He brought us some classic Jack Nicholson films like FIVE EASY PIECES and THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS. It's always pleasing to me when a filmmaker who hit some artistic home runs early in his career can dig deep and pull out something interesting two decades later. And with his old leading man no less. Rafelson even calls BLOOD AND WINE the final entry in the trilogy of Nicholson films he made (FIVE EASY PIECES and KING OF MARVIN GARDENS being the other two). Jack Nicholson plays an affluent wine dealer who has fallen deep into debt and decides to try his hand at robbery to help even things out. As is often the case in the noir universe (and this movie definitely takes place there), things don't go 100% according to plan. Yet another crew of talented folks inhabit this thing -  Michael Caine, Stephen Dorff, Jennifer Lopez, Judy Davis, and Harold Perrineau to name a few. It's a twisty crime flick, heavily doused in fatalism and you should see it.

SCHIZOPOLIS (1996; Steven Soderbergh)
The Steven Soderbergh that made SCHIZOPOLIS has gone away I think. I always looked at this one as his own modern interpretation of Godard or some French New Wave-y sorta thing. As disjointed and random as this movie can be, it's also very funny and that's one thing I really adore about it. In DESPERATE need of a Blu-ray upgrade from the Criterion Collection. Check out Soderbergh's intro to the movie to get a taste of it's glorious goofiness:

LAST MAN STANDING (1996; Walter Hill)
I wrote off this Walter Hill western/gangster/Noir hybrid for far too long. I don't even recall if I watched it on VHS when it first came out, but I assumed it was just a third rate YOJIMBO knockoff. It is that, but Hill brings his wonderful sense of genre mashup to the thing and that combined with Bruce Willis in full badass mode is more than enough to keep me entertained. Also, Hill shot it in 2.35 which gives it some extra Leone flavor. Other highlights include the almost Michael Bay-esque action setpieces and the Ry Cooder score (which reminds me a bit of John Carpenter in spots). Available as a Blu-ray double with THE LAST BOY SCOUT. Worth picking up.

1 comment:

john k said...

Great to see some love for LONE STAR.
Kristofferson was never better than in this wonderful film.