Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '96 - William Bibbiani ""

Monday, April 4, 2016

Underrated '96 - William Bibbiani

William "Bibbs" Bibbiani is Film Channel Editor at CraveOnline, Film Critic, co-host of BMoviesPodcast and also contributes to and What The Flick??.

The Arrival (1996; David Twohy)
Decades before Charlie Sheen was a certified crazy person, David Twohy imagined a world in which Charlie Sheen was unfairly labeled as a crazy person. In the smart and exciting sci-fi thrillerThe Arrival, Sheen plays a scientist who intercepts an alien signal… from Earth? Smart twists and turns and some inventive, modestly budgeted effects make The Arrival a standout.
Big Night (1996; Stanley Tucci/Campbell Scott)Critically acclaimed in its time, now all but forgotten, Big Night remains one of the best “food movies” ever made. You know the type: the ones that make your mouth water, regardless of the plot. Sure enough, the story is small but flavorful. A tiny Italian restaurant hosts a dinner party for Louis Prima, in the hopes that the jazz musician will tell the world about their cuisine. But will Louis Prima actually show up? And will the amazing ensemble cast (Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Campbell Scott, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Holm, Minnie Driver, etc.) eat each other alive before the scrumptious final course?
Escape from L.A.(1996; John Carpenter)
Escape from L.A. was (and still is) frequently accused of the unforgivable sin of not being Escape from New York. If you can get over that, and I’ll admit it’s no small feat, you’ll find that John Carpenter’s jokier sequel is a truly biting satire of Los Angeles self-indulgence and isolationism. Carpenter knows Los Angeles better than New York, so his tale of a dystopian nightmare reality in which all of the City of Angels’ quirks are heightened to crazy levels is vivid. Mad scientist plastic surgeons, death sentence basketball games and surfing a tidal wave down Sunset Blvd with a hippie Peter Fonda are all delightful ideas, and they play out with giggly enthusiasm. Escape from L.A. deserves a bigger audience.
Executive Decision (1996; Stuart Baird)
Executive Decision is infamous for (spoiler alert) killing Steven Seagal at the end of the first act, but stick around, it gets even better. Stuart Baird’s crackling thriller stars Kurt Russell as an intelligence analyst who gets roped into an implausible scheme, to sneak onto a hijacked passenger jet in mid-air, unbeknownst to the terrorists, and foil their plans before they notice that their hijacking has been hijacked. John Leguizamo, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt and the great J.T. Walsh round out a fantastic ensemble cast.

Extreme Measures (1996; Michael Apted)
There was a brief moment in time when Hugh Grant was such a big comedy star that Hollywood tried turning him into a hero. Don’t laugh, it worked for Cary Grant. Besides, his biggest break into the thriller market - Extreme Measures - is a smartly conceived potboiler. Grant plays a British doctor who uncovers a conspiracy to perform medical experiments on the homeless. Gene Hackman plays the doctor who wants to save the human race by sacrificing a small portion of it, raising serious and intriguing ethical questions about whether the ends can ever truly justify the means.
Fear (1996; James Foley)
One of the great, under-appreciated films from the late 1980s/early 1990s erotic thriller boom. Fear stars Reese Witherspoon as a very nice girl next door who falls for a studly, sexually powerful Mark Wahlberg. She thinks he’s the perfect guy and he knows he’s the perfect girl, but that won’t stop Wahlberg from pimping our Witherspoon’s best friend Alyssa Milano to his drugged out buddies, or carving his new girlfriend’s name in his chest, or laying siege to her family’s house. Fear goes disturbingly over the top by the climax, but before it doesn’t forget to be sexy: I know several women who claim to have had their sexual awakening during a scene where Wahlberg fingers Witherspoon on a rollercoaster.

Looking for Richard (1996; Al Pacino)
A vanity piece? Perhaps, but Al Pacino’s half-documentary/half-adaptation Looking for Richard is an exciting experiment in producing and analyzing the works of William Shakespeare. Pacino directs and stars in an adaptation of Richard III, but he intercuts all the famous scenes with scholars who detail the history of the text, and Pacino and his fellow actors, who ponder their various parts. It’s like Cliff’s Notes come to life, and for fans of the Bard it’s a must see.

Mother Night (1996; Keith Gordon)
Keith Gordon’s sharp adaptation of a lesser-known Kurt Vonnegut Jr. novel stars Nick Nolte, who gives, in my personal opinion, his best performance in this film. Nolte plays a World War II Nazi propaganda spokesperson who, after the end of the war, is not allowed to reveal that he was secretly working with the Allies all along in an effort to sabotage Hitler’s regime. His harsh story gets weirder, and more thought-provoking, when he eventually encounters a group of disciples who believed in his rhetoric even more than they did in Adolf Hitler’s.

Sgt. Bilko (1996; Jonathan Lynn)
I make absolutely no apologies for this: Sgt. Bilko, the movie, makes me laugh. Jonathan Lynn’s adaptation of the classic sitcom came during a brief, mostly forgettable period in which Hollywood was mining old school TV comedies for motion picture reboots. Sgt. Bilko was written off as one of the lamer installments in this genre, but Steve Martin makes it work. He plays the title character as a slick con man who manipulates the army for his own selfish ends. The plot - some dumb thing about a hover tank (no one really cares) - is all secondary to the many scenes of Martin scheming his way out of a jam, his brain working overtime to turn every rotten development into a golden opportunity.

Tin Cup (1996; Ron Shelton)
Kevin Costner was known as Mr. Baseball (despite Tom Selleck’s brief attempt to steal that title), but Tin Cup proved he was just as good at golf. Or golf movies anyway. Costner plays an unambitious golf pro who falls for a winsome therapist (Rene Russo), who’s dating Costner’s old rival Don Johnson. In an attempt to prove he’s not a loser - that’ll be difficult - he decides to compete in the U.S. Open. Our hero’s “charming” sexism may be dated but the romantic chemistry is as great as ever, and Cheech Marin is a fantastic comic foil as Costner’s down to Earth caddy.

1 comment:

beamish13 said...

Fantastic list. I rented TIN CUP recently as a result of another post here, and it floored me. What an infectious and smartly written film. I don't care for sports, but Ron Shelton truly has The Gift.

Regarding the infamous rollercoaster scene from FEAR (1996), my lady friend also had a similar, ahem, experience while seeing it for the first time as a young lass. Foley has made some great films, and I still think AFTER DARK, MY SWEET (1990) is the best Jim Thompson adaptation ever (yes, even better than COUP DE TORCHON).

Keith Gordon always deserves some love. All of his films as a director and/or writer are fantastic.