Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '86 - Ira Brooker ""

Friday, May 20, 2016

Underrated '86 - 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.com, irabrooker.com and @irabrooker.
Check out his Underrated '96 list too:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/04/underrated-96-ira-brooker.html
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Combat Shock (Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo)
You’d have every right to shy away from a Troma-distributed movie about a deeply damaged Vietnam-era POW going off the deep end while trying to provide for his bitter wife and Agent-Orange-mutated baby in a New York City populated by child prostitutes, gangrenous junkies and smug social workers. Somehow, though, Combat Shock manages to be a tremendously effective chunk of Reagan-era grindhouse art that’s both more and less over-the-top than that description suggests.

Buddy G’s direction is the best kind of ambitious amateurism, churning disorientingly as he pushes his numb, hopeless protagonist across a recession-decimated landscape where finding an honest day’s work is just as much a pipe dream as sprouting wings and flying away. It’s about as bleak as exploitation movies get, but it’s shot through with jittery energy and gallows humor that keeps it lively and engaging even at its grimmest. When I first saw this described as Taxi Driver meets Eraserhead I assumed it was hyperbole, but not only is that a surprisingly apt description, I’d say it’s also got traces of The Deer Hunter, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger and even The Bicycle Thief mixed into its DNA. It also has Eddie Pepitone in his first film appearance, which probably counts for something.

Kin-Dza-Dza! (Directed by Georgiy Daneliya)
A factory foreman and a college student stop outside a grocery store to assist a babbling vagrant and suddenly find themselves whisked to a desert planet populated entirely by grasping con artists who live mostly underground and adhere to an inscrutable, etiquette-obsessed caste system. A good portion of the dialogue consists of the word “Koo.”

There’s a lot of Terry Gilliam influence in this Soviet steampunk satire of all-consuming capitalism (with some slightly subtler shade thrown at communism for good measure), both in the grimy inventiveness of Kin-Dza-Dza’s sets and effects and the Python-esque tweaking of the absurdity of social norms. The inert futility of our protagonists’ quest to get back to Earth could become repetitive if not for Stanislav Lyubshin’s stalwart lead performance. Watching his stoic bemusement slowly fade into desperation brings to mind a low-key Charles Grodin, which is one of the higher compliments I can give. This is apparently something of a classic in its homeland but its American availability has been spotty, which is a darn shame. It certainly merits an international audience.

Good to Go (Directed by Blaine Novak)
Rule-bending cop Harris Yulin wants to use a PCP-fueled rape and murder as a trumped-up excuse to shut down Robert DoQui’s perpetually packed nightclub, but hard-drinking journalist Art Garfunkel has some inconvenient evidence of the police railroading young black men.

Somehow a gritty, mean-streets drama about Art Garfunkel and Harris Yulin matching wits and hairlines didn’t find much of an audience in 1986. While the former is decent and the latter is Harris friggin’ Yulin, this would be a forgettable bit of cops-and-reporters melodrama if not for the music. Good to Go is awash in mid-‘80s Go-Go, a hybrid of hard funk and early hip-hop that’s been a mainstay of the Washington, D.C. music scene for decades but has seldom garnered much national attention. Director Blaine Novak punctuates the proceedings with bracing live performances by a slew of the era’s top Go-Go acts, capturing a thrumming, thriving musical culture that elevates an OK crime flick to a cult-worthy time capsule.

Carnage (Directed by Andy Milligan)
By the time the 1980s rolled around, Andy Milligan’s bile-slathered love affair with the world of cinema had become irreconcilable. His health was failing, the grindhouses were shutting down, and he’d abandoned his Staten Island muses in an ill-considered move to Hollywood. With nothing left to lose and not much possible to gain, Andy Milligan did the unthinkable: he went mainstream. Or at least as mainstream as Andy Milligan ever could.

Carnage is arguably the most straightforward film in the Milligan canon, a supernatural slasher about two newlyweds settling into a spooky old house that wants to kill them. To the untrained eye it’s just another low-budget Poltergeist knock-off with a couple of pretty good gore set pieces, but Milligan fans will recognize the familiar themes of monstrous mothers, doomed lovers and seething, unfocused spite lurking around every corner. This might be Milligan’s best movie in technical terms, which might also make it his worst movie in philosophical terms. That kind of bitter irony is part and parcel of the Milligan brand, so I give Carnage my stamp of approval.

The Zero Boys (Directed by Nico Mastorakis)
Three frattish paintball champions and their ladyfriends stumble across a house in the woods and promptly run afoul of the local torture-killers. This is deeply stupid stuff that relies on the usual ‘80s toolbox of obnoxious characters making ridiculous decisions, but Island of Death perpetrator Nico Mastorakis keeps things bizarrely entertaining, if barely coherent and not nearly as depraved as his Video Nasty pedigree might lead one to expect/hope. Mastorakis gets some assistance from an early synthesizer score by Hans Zimmer, a mute Joe Estevez playing a shambling crossbow-murderer, and Kelli Maroney lending his moronic dialogue more life than it deserves. It’s one of those peculiar creations that fails on just about every objective level but remains relentlessly enjoyable nonetheless.

Hollywood Zap (Directed by David Cohen)
An uptight hick kid from the Deep South heads to Los Angeles in search of his long-lost father and falls in with an abrasive middle-aged video game hustler with chronic gastric issues. This mid-’80s Troma buddy comedy would have been gross and offensive in 1986 - that’s pretty much what “mid-’80s Troma buddy comedy” means - and it’s ten times more so in 2016, but it’s also packing a surprising amount of heart. It’s sort of an impoverished deviant’s Midnight Cowboy, with Ben Frank turning in a bravura performance as the flatulent Ratso Rizzo. Be forewarned that there’s one repellent, transphobic scene that’s difficult to watch in a modern context, although even that is leavened by later exposition that suggests Hollywood Zap’s sympathies may be more complicated than they seem on the surface.

3 comments:

beamish13 said...

Some phenomenal picks! I'm really interested in seeing Kin-Dza-Dza!

martin billheimer said...

Good for you for posting Kin-Dza-Dza. You are quite right: it is considered a classic in Russia and Central Asia. Great film!

Ira Brooker said...

Thanks, folks. I wish Kin-Dza-Dza was more readily available in this part of the world. I wound up watching a badly synced, questionably subtitled version chopped up in short installments on YouTube. Obviously that's not the ideal way to see something like this, but when it's the only way available I'm willing to bite that bullet. I'm also intrigued by the animated Kin-Dza-Dza adaptation that came out a few years ago. Seems like that would have to be something else altogether.