Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated 96 - Ira Brooker ""

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Underrated 96 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at atalentforidleness.blogspot.comirabrooker.com and @irabrooker.
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1996 was my first full year as an employee of Star Cinema, a newly constructed sixplex in Sparta, Wisconsin. As such, it was probably the most prolific movie-viewing year of my life. Not only did I see virtually everything that Hollywood deemed palatable for a small-town Wisconsin crowd, I spent most of my non-working hours driving to nearby La Crosse to take in marginally more artsy fare or prowling the the aisles of various video shops in search of oddities.
Even with that prodigious intake, I wouldn’t see any of the films on this list for another two decades. Digging into the darkened corners of 1996 taught me that no matter how well-versed I think I am, the world of cinema always has festering pockets of beautiful garbage just waiting to be unearthed.
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We Await (Directed by Charles Pinion)
The mid-’90s were a pretty bleak period for mainstream horror, which makes it all that much cooler to unearth an ugly underground gem like this. After an automotive mishap in a seedy part of San Francisco, an unsuspecting guy stumbles onto a cult of sex-starved urban cannibals who guzzle psychedelic fungus smoothies and believe him to be their messiah.
Shot on Hi8 video and a miniscule budget, this Charles Pinion sleaze parade is more than a few notches above most of its super-indie peers in terms of sound design, visual effects and especially editing. Even if this film isn’t your cup of tea - and there’s a very good chance that it won’t be - it’s a great reminder what a difference a skilled film editor can make. Pinion clearly loves pushing envelopes, and “We Await” brims over with genital torture, nude blasphemy, ill-tempered man-dogs and sundry deviance. Some of it comes off as gratuitous but enough of it hits home to make this a nasty, unnerving artifact of DIY filmmaking at the tail end of the pre-internet era.
Rebirth of Mothra (Directed by Okihiro Yoneda)
Mothra has always been one of the weirdest and most endearing monsters roaming the Godzillasphere, what with her lilliputian twin heralds, her haunting theme song and the fact that she’s a great big moth. She’s about as kid-friendly as giant killer monsters get, so it makes perfect sense that this reboot is aimed squarely at the younger crowd. For a lot of kaiju nerds that’s a knock against it, but as a guy who likes watching kaiju movies with my kid, I dig it a lot.
A lumber operation inadvertently frees the three-headed, planet-devouring Desigidorah from his subterranean prison, and a tiny witch riding a flying lizard is eager to take advantage. It’s up to the usual pair of plucky schoolchildren to save the day, with the help of two equally tiny sisters, an aging Mothra and her precocious caterpillar spawn. This is a kinetic, colorful barrel of fun.
Sci-fighters (Directed by Peter Svatek)
In an age where online premieres generate nearly as much hype as theatrical releases, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when “direct-to-video” really meant something, and that something was seldom positive. “Sci-fighters” is a quintessential DTV release in a lot of ways - it’s low-budget, blatantly derivative and stars a wrestler-turned-fourth-tier-leading-man - but it’s different in one key regard: it’s pretty good.
In a near-future shrouded in perennial twilight by an environmental disaster, Roddy Piper’s rule-bending supercop is on the trail of alien-possessed serial rapist Billy Drago, who’s lurching through Boston spreading an extraterrestrial parasite that could wipe out humanity. Director __ draws liberally from “Blade Runner” and “Alien” and other cyberpunk muses to craft a slimy, nasty little B-movie that makes me wish Roddy had gotten more cracks at Bruce Willis-type action hero status. (Don’t mind the stupid title, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie.)
Jack Brown: Genius (Directed by Tony Hiles)
Addle-pated young inventor Jack finds himself possessed by the spirit of a thousand-year-old monk whose death in a flying machine accident was wrongly deemed a suicide by the heavenly council. Desperate to free himself from purgatory, the monk attempts to torture Jack into crafting wings that work, even if it means destroying the poor guy’s professional and personal life.
Peter Jackson takes producer and co-writer credit on this aggressively odd New Zealand indie that plays like one of his early films filtered through a ‘90s Johnny Depp comedy, sprinkled with Terry Gilliam and served on a bed of “Brewster McCloud.” The final product is nowhere near as good as the sum of those parts - the tone is all over the map and it’s tough to connect with any of the characters - but it’s weird enough to be well worth watching.

Feeders (Directed by Mark Polonia, John Polonia and Jon McBride)
This goofy sci-fi outing from notorious shot-on-video oddballs John and Mark Polonia (they of “Splatter Farm” fame) is sort of the inverse of “We Await.” Hamstrung by sub-zero production values, intensely non-professional actors and a plot that doesn’t add up to much more than “people-eating aliens come to Earth and eat people,” this movie is kind of a gas nonetheless. The Polonias clearly knew what they were making and leaned into their limitations. That isn’t to say this is self-aware, get-a-load-of-our-cheesy-creature-effects, SyFy Original dreck. It’s obvious that a lot of care and pride went into this thing, and it’s never less than watchable. If visibly breathing corpses and flimsy latex aliens are the price of this kind of gleeful DIY authenticity, I’m more than willing to pay.

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