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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Underrated 96 - Eric Hillis (Movie Waffler)

Eric Hillis is a freelance film critic and editor of
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Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton)
Before Billy Bob hit the mainstream with his doomed relationship with Angelina Jolie, he wrote and directed this great slice of Americana. Thornton plays Karl, a hulking, mentally challenged man-child released from an institution after killing his mother and her lover as a 12-year-old. Karl's friendship with a young boy ultimately leads him down an inevtiable return to violence. Thornton has directed since, but none of his subsequents efforts are in the same league.
Escape From L.A. (John Carpenter)
When I first saw Carpenter's sequel to his earlier Escape From New York I was far from impressed, but I've warmed to it on subsequent viewings. The movie is best viewed as a self-parody and works quite well through such a lens. Worth watching for that great basketball scene if nothing else.

A Very Brady Sequel (Arlene Sanford)
Long before Lord & Miller's 21 Jump Street, Betty Thomas brought the very '70s Brady family into modern day America (well, 1995 America) with hilarious results in The Brady Bunch Movie. This sequel received a far less high profile release but is just as smart and features moregreat comic work from Gary Cole and Shelley Long.

Original Gangstas (Larry Cohen)
A year before Tarnatino introduced mainstream viewers to blaxploitation legend Pam Grier, she hooked up with cult filmmaker par excellence Larry Cohen for this nostalgic action movie, which also boasts Blaxploitation stars Fred Williamson, Jim Brown and Richard Roundtree in its cast. The quartet team up to take on a gang of thugs in Gary, Indiana in an old school actioner that manages a bit of social commentary for good measure.

SubUrbia (Richard Linklater)
It's only recently, thanks to the success of Boyhood, that Linklater has been embraced by the mainstream, but he did his best work back in the '90s, with era defining indies like Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise and this adaptation of Eric Bogosian's play. Like Kevin Smith's Clerks, the film takes place in and around a convenience storeas a bunch of aimless youths engage in existential debates while getting slowly drunk.

The Funeral (Abel Ferrara)
He may not be the greatest Italian-American filmmaker, but Ferrara isarguably the most Italian-American filmmaker. Few US filmmakers have such a European bent to their work as Ferrara, and this downbeat and brooding period gangster drama was a much needed antidote to the many bad Tarantino rip-offs plaguing cinemas and video stores at this time.

Kansas City (Robert Altman)
With The Player and Short Cuts, Altman burst back onto the scene following a relatively disappointing decade of work during the '80s. The films that followed throughout the '90s failed to maintain the quality of those two comeback movies, but they were rarely uninteresting. Kansas City saw Altman pay tribute to both the city of his childhood and his love of Jazz. Jennifer Jason Leigh was on fire around this time (see also Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle and The Hudsucker Proxy) and she's great here, but it's the soundtrack, featuring an assembly of the finest Jazz performers of the '90s, that's the real star of this show.

The Trigger Effect (David Koepp)
Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp made his directorial debut with this low-key apocalyptic drama. Set during a mass blackout that creates widespread social unrest, the film explores the descent into savagery of a group of middle class suburbanites. Inspired by James Burke's examination of the 1965 New York blackout in his 1978 book Connections.

American Buffalo (Michael Corrente)
In '96 I was in film school and fancying myself a potentialscreenwriter; as such, I was obsessed with the work of David Mamet. Corrente's adaptation of Mamet's 1975 play is penned by the writer himself but has since been lost to time. Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz are masterful as a pair of bums planning an amateurish crime. It's basically a filmed play, but when the source is Mamet, it's hard to criticise any lack of cinematic flourish.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part II (Chuck Parello)
This direct to video sequel to John MacNaughton's disturbing yet blackly comic serial killer drama is one of the decade's most overlooked gems. Director Parello, who has since carved out a career specialising in serial killer biopics, removes any dark humour and creates a truly grim and foreboding atmosphere. Neil Giuntoli is far less cartoonishly evil than Michael Rooker in the role of real life killer Henry Lee Lucas, and his vulnerability adds an extra dimension of realism to the film's tragic drama.

1 comment:

beamish13 said...

KANSAS CITY is great. One of Altman's most personal and impassioned films, and its utter commercial failure pissed me off.