Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '96 - Todd Cauley ""

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Underrated '96 - Todd Cauley

Todd does a ton of writing for the Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema Blog, (
He also appears on this episode of the GGTMC podcast talking about their favorite first-time watches of 2015:
The Phantom
I think it’s fair to say that Simon Wincer rarely, if ever, made anybody’s list of favorite directors (excluding, possibly, those of his friends and family).  That isn’t meant as a slight, because I think the man has a highly skilled eye for visuals (just think of how often imitated “that shot” from Free Willy is, if you doubt).  The thing is, he was attached to this adaptation of Lee Falk’s classic comic strip character, and I believe that it, too, is equally underappreciated.  The film hews closely to being an Indiana Jones film with a protagonist in tights, but unlike the pure, ridiculous cartoon aspects of something like, say, Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, Wincer and company keep this affair light and fun; emphasis on fun, as opposed to simply camp, which can go either way.  Treat Williams and Billy Zane are perfectly cast as the unctuous villain and stalwart hero, respectively, and Kristy Swanson plays it well as the tomboy-ish love interest (okay, she’s much more damsel in distress, but, hey, it’s Kristy Swanson).

The Frighteners
Before he became something of a technocrat (willingly or not), Peter Jackson was one of my favorite emerging directors of the late Eighties.  Here was the type of filmmaker who would sit in a grocery cart with a camera just to get a tracking shot.  And he loved gore and weird shit.  Co-founding Weta Workshop, he began to branch out into using digital tools to tell his stories, and with The Frighteners, he got the chance to strut his stuff with a lot more financial backing, thanks, in part, to Robert Zemeckis.  While some of the computer generated effects in the film haven’t aged well and looked a bit janky even in 1996, and some of the humor goes over like the proverbial lead balloon, the film still bears the earmarks of that hungry director who filmed himself eating some poor slob’s brains out with a spoon only nine years before; much of it still feels handmade.  Another major attraction of this film for me is Michael J. Fox, an actor whom I’ve always admired, and here he was, finally in a film with a subject that was right up my alley (Teen Wolf aside).  And let’s not forget Jeffrey Combs’ untethered performance as the government agent who’s seen just a bit too much.

Beautiful Girls
Let’s face it, the late Ted Demme will forever be overshadowed by his older brother John, and while I can’t necessarily argue with that assessment, I maintain that the younger Demme brother certainly had talent to burn.  Take Beautiful Girls, for example.  Here’s a film that actually enabled me to stomach Rosie O’Donnell for the duration of her screentime.  It’s the half-comedic, half-melodramatic story of men in arrested development (mostly), and its lead, Timothy Hutton (another actor for whom I can’t understand all the disdain), does a great job of being likeable while still being something of a jerk.  The relationship he has with Natalie Portman’s character is a bit odd (but then, this was at a time when Portman was no stranger to odd onscreen relationships with older men), but it still manages to be charming enough and innocent enough to work.  And for anyone who has ever had to endure large groups of people singing along to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, there’s a scene here that will either have you singing along or rubbing your temples.  I sing along every time, despite myself.

Tremors 2: Aftershocks
The direct-to-video sequel to Ron Underwood’s original throwback to classic creature features, is, in my estimation, almost as good as the original.  Here’s a movie that actually manages to make the absence of one of the leads from the first film work for it (not talking about Reba McEntire here, though).  The ever-grizzled Fred Ward brings his shitkicker, hangdog (his character is even named Bassett) charms, and Michael Gross’ Burt Gummer is the militia-minded gun hoarder we’d all love to know.  The other thing this film does so well is it believably develops the Graboids into their next stage of evolution, and constructs tense scenarios around them which are the equal of those in the original.  

Gamera 2: Attack of Legion
When Shusuke Kaneko directed Gamera: Guardian of the Universe in 1995, he singlehandedly revolutionized the Kaiju genre.  And he did it almost entirely with traditional, man-in-suit and miniatures techniques (with just enough CG to accentuate rather than overwhelm the practical effects work).  At a time when Toho Studio’s Godzilla franchise had their protagonist going all “thunder thighs” and coming up with stories that were both saccharine and largely dumb (c’mon, Space Godzilla?!), Daiei Studios put their money into solid narratives, interesting themes, and, most importantly for this genre, absolutely astounding special effects.  The story herein does bear similarities to Godzilla vs. Destroyah, with the mini-Legions wreaking havoc, but the final phase antagonist puts Godzilla’s foe to shame.  In Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy, the mammoth, fire-breathing terrapin is more than just some nuclear abomination or an elemental force; he’s verging on godhood.  Yet, for all the looking out for mankind he does, Gamera could turn old school Old Testament at any time.  It’s an intriguing conceit for a property that, at one point in time, had its star battling a monster with a giant knife blade for a head (yes, really; Viva Guiron!).

1 comment:

beamish13 said...

Err, Jonathan Demme is Ted's UNCLE