Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '96 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Monday, March 14, 2016

Underrated '96 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies from Keene State College and Film Preservation from the L Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and presents work as an independent scholar at regional and national conferences, with his most recent paper being Scratch Scratch Fever: Fauxsploitation and the Fetish of Emulated Deterioration. When not writing, he spends his days working as a projectionist at a non-profit film center in New York's Hudson Valley and haunting NYC rep houses showing anything remotely esoteric and/or offensive. He really misses video stores.

Irma Vep (1996; Olivier Assayas)
Assayas’ love letter to film and filmmaking is a hyper-stylized reality bending stage set for Maggie Cheung to steal the show. It’s a fun, uniformly odd piece from a filmmaker that has earned a name for himself by being unpredictable. You’ll definitely be queing up Les Vampires to watch shortly after the end credits hit the screen.
Crash (1996; David Cronenberg)
A hugely controversial adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s nearly clinical novel that shows the morbid connection between sex and car crashes, Cronenberg’s very NC-17 film is everything that we want from the filmmaker: provocative, challenging and, ultimately, rather beautiful. This is the best love story of 1996. You won’t go through a car wash the same way again.
The Funeral (1996; Abel Ferrara)Ferrara’s 90s work was some – if not most – of his best: King of New York, Bad Lieutenant and The Addiction all came out in the first half of the decade. But almost always, unfortunately overlooked is his masterpiece of organized crime subtlety, The Funeral. It’s a restrained work coming from someone as notably abrasive as Ferrara but the cast – Christopher Walken, BenicioDel Toro, Vincent Gallo, Isabella Rossellini, Annabella Sciora – all make it work and the recreated 1930s NYC (on a limited budget) looks great. Makes a really fun double bill with the following year’s Hoodlum.
Last Man Standing (1996; Walter Hill)
I’m not sure that the world was asking for another Yojimboadaptation in 1996 but when did Walter Hill ever care about what the world wanted? As nihilistic, unflinchingly violent and downright mean as you’d expect from the filmmaker while at the same time being respectful to its source(s). Reception for this one wasn’t great when it came out but time has been kind to it and Bruce Willis in that silly hat doing the all-too-90s “two gun salute” is great fun.
Original Gangstas (1996; Larry Cohen)
Put Pam Grier and Jim Brown together in the 1990s and what do you get? Yes, you get Mars Attacks! But you also get Original Gangstas, and you can add Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree to the cast too. Cohen’s film plays out like a big Blaxploitation reunion that we all got invited to, only everyone forgot to show up in the 70s so they pushed it back a couple of decades. It’s a strange, B-movie answer to the urban gang films that were all the rage in the 90s – Menace II Society, Juice, BoyzN the Hood – yet it has a couple of surprisingly potent dramatic moments as well. This deserves a lot more attention than it has gotten.
Set It Off (1996; F. Gary Gray)
How do you follow up a masterpiece like Friday? Well, if you’re F. Gary Gray, you go and make a really intense action movie about four female bank robbers with trust issues. Surprisingly powerful character work and features heist action that would make Michael Mann tense.
Eraser (1996; Chuck Russell)
I was ten years old in 1996 and nothing mattered to me more than seeing Arnold shoot a big gun, and he does that here. A lot.He also fights an alligator. Or a crocodile. I can never tell the difference. And you probably won’t be able to here either with that beautiful ’96 CGI at work. It’s also always a treat seeing James Caan be an asshole (which he also does rather well in the otherwise dreadful Adam Sandler buddy-action flick Bulletprooffrom the same year).
The Substitute (1996; Robert Mandel)
I have a soft spot for those “teacher” movies where someone comes in to clean up the school and they get in all sorts of shit in the process (see Dangerous Minds, Blackboard Jungle, Sunset Park, etc) but they never go as far as I want them to. And then there’s The Substitute with Tom Berenger basically still in Sniper mode teaching kids right from wrong. It’s silly genre cinema at its most satisfying.
Barb Wire (1996; David Hogan)
Ok, fine, it’s bad. We all know that Barb Wire isn’t a good movie. But it’s pretty much the Pam Anderson version of Cleopatra set inside a nightclub. The opening credits – where Anderson is basically naked and wet – is the 90s equivalent of Barbarella’s opening. As inspired as it is gratuitous. If Eraser was everything that I outwardly wanted as a ten year old in 1996, Barb Wire is everything that I wanted but didn’t want to tell my parents. Makes a fun double bill with the also comic inspired, post-apocalyptic and female lead Tank Girl from the previous year.
The Glimmer Man (1996; John Gray)
I certainly wasn’t going to not include the movie where Steven Seagal feeds a Wayans brother “powdered deer penis” and cuts up bad guys with a credit card.

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