CRIMETIME (1996; George Sluizer)
Crimetime, for me, singlehandedly destroyed the ideal of cinema being an infallible experience. As a teenage student, Sluizer’s ’96 misstep marked the end to a spectacularly satisfying run of momentous theatrical experiences, and at the time I hated it for that. The years have been kind though, and irrespective of its critical lambasting – including my own, the second I hear Marianne Faithful deep in song during the opening credits, I can’t help but offer an complete reversal of my original opinion. From Stephen Baldwin’s method acting awfulness, to Pete Postlethwaite’s hypnotic brilliance, it’s a freakishly prophetic flawed slice of reality television, and I love it. Never gracing DVD in the UK, the tape is incredibly hard to come by, and features wickedly alluring artwork (below). It is though readily available in America through Lions Gate in a deeply average transfer.
HEAD OF THE FAMILY (1996; Charles Band)
A morbid thought perhaps, but if Charles Band died tomorrow, it’s likely that few obituaries would highlight anything post-1995, the year Full Moon parted company with distributor Paramount. For me though, while I could gush at length about at least two dozen of Band’s productions from the last twenty years, Head of the Family would undoubtedly be first on the list. It’s a case of pseudonym city, as Band holds the megaphone under the name Robert Talbot, Neal Marshall Stevens (Thir13en Ghosts) writes as Benjamin Carr, while Michael Citrini appears by the stage name J.W Perra, playing Byron Stackpoole, the oversized head on a tiny body who controls his freakish family through his psychic powers. It’s the epitome of Band’s oeuvre, but with a wittier script, more outlandish characters and that midnight b-movie madness vibe that lovers of schlock should just adore.
This was my wild card. I hadn’t seen it in probably fifteen years as my VHS had gone AWOL, and despite it being co-financed by the UK’s Channel Four Films, it has never seen the light of day on disc in ‘ol Blighty. Catching it again this week though, I have to say it’s every bit as good as I remember and more, marking an awesome debut for Holofcener who of course went on to lense the excellent Please Give and Enough Said. At the time, what attracted this goofy-looking Fango-wielding video store clerk and aspiring writer, to a story that featured a goofy-looking Fango-wielding video store clerk and aspiring writer, is anyone’s guess. But, with its Billy Bragg suffused soundtrack, and superlative performances from Catherine Keener and Anne Heche, it’s a total indie delight.
It’s a Wonderful Life. A Christmas Carol. Holiday Inn; all seasonal classics of the highest order, but I ask you, how many of these tinsel-tinged wonders have an ass-kicking barroom brawl set to a rap track with a Joy to the World sample? Of PM Entertainment’s hundred or so movies, this is nailed on for a top three place, as we join Gary Daniels for a mission in riot-torn Los Angeles where he’s tasked with rescuing the daughter of a British ambassador who’s been kidnapped by the IRA. Featuring Sugar Ray Leonard and B-movie maestro Charles Napier, PM’s CEO Merhi takes the reins for a fist-throwing, gun-toting, explosion-dodging stunt-tacular of the schlockiest order.
CELTIC PRIDE (1996; Tom DeCerchio)
Today, Celtic Pride elicits curiosity value as an early screenplay in the career of comedy deity Judd Apatow, but at the time of its disappointing cinema return ($9million), it was more of a poorly-patronised chuckle-thon which pitted two great actors together who were both on the wrong side of their career trajectory. Daniel Stern was six years past Home Alone, and ’95 had seenBushwhacked tank at the box office, while Dan Aykroyd was on the decidedly wobbly run of Exit to Eden, Sgt. Bilko and Getting Away With Murder. However, be it Apatow’s irrepressibly good-natured script, Marlon Wayans cocksure swagger as kidnapped Basketball icon Lewis Scott, or the awesomely likeable nature of Stern and Aykroyd’s characters, it succeeds brilliantly as a laughter-packed little sleeper that deserves more attention.
BEAUTIFUL THING (1996; Hettie Macdonald)
With a propensity to go weak-kneed at the sight of any coming-of-age movie, from Stand By Me to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there’s few that would come close to touching even the hem of Beautiful Thing’s working class threads. Scripted by Jonathan Harvey, and based on the Liverpool-born writers play, this story of irrefutable teenage love between Jamie (Glen Berry) and Ste (Scott Neal), stands at the pinnacle of British Queer Cinema. As the opening bars of Mama Cass ripping into It’s Getting Better break out, you’re hooked on this giddy slice of kitchen sink courtship. Hitting a 7.8 on IMDb, it seems a little erroneous to list this as an underrated film; perhaps undervalued may be a wee bit more appropriate. Nevertheless, currently only available on a bare bones, ten year old UK disc, while the American imprint has been around for a decade and a half, it’s in desperate need of a bells and whistles edition. Just like Jamie and Ste, it needs some love.
SMALL TIME / WHERE’S THE MONEY, RONNIE? (1996; Shane Meadows)
“We rob from the rich, and sell it to the poor… at half price. We’re just small time”. Shot in his adopted home of Nottingham, UK, for chump change, Small Time captures the tone of what Meadows would go on to shoot in TwentyFourSeven, A Room for Romeo Brass and his best work to date, Dead Man’s Shoes. That glimpse behind the curtain of ordinary life, skirting around the underbelly of Northern England’s towns and cities, we catch glimpses of an eroding society but conveyed with an unwavering dark humour. Though pigeonholed as a new Ken Loach, or Mike Leigh, Meadows deserves the respect by now of a peer-free introduction. Available on DVD in the UK on the BFI label, Small Time has the added bonus of the phenomenal short film, Where’s the Money, Ronnie?,which pays a comedic East Midlands homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. You have to see it!
TROMEO & JULIET (1996; Lloyd Kaufman)
Body piercing. Kinky sex. Dismemberment. The things that made Shakespeare great. We can also add a dash of incest into this heady mix of Troma goodness, in a script that James Gunn sold to Lloyd Kaufman for the princely sum of $150. Gunn may be off wrangling Marvel’s Guardians these days, but his feverishly witty script is the star here, and blended with Kaufman’s anarchic direction and predilection to saunter pants-down into all kinds of tasteless visuals, ensures that the Yale-educated New Yorker turns in something that sits proudly atop of his film studios resume. Admittedly the rough edges and shameless self-promotion that grace anything from Kaufman will keep the films loyal band of followers down to an intimate gathering, but you’d be a stone-hearted individual not to look into the innocent eyes of Tromeo (Will Keenan) or Juliet (Jane Jensen) and not melt just a little.