Joe Grabinski is the creator of the wildly-popular Twitter account “Amazon Movie Reviews” (@AmznMovieRevws) where he collects screenshots of comical consumer reviews he finds on Amazon. Joe is also the host of the podcast “Facing the Critics” where he interviews filmmakers about the criticism of their films. Guests of the podcast have included the likes of John August, Zak Penn, Sean Baker, Mark Pellington and Alex Ross Perry.
I was born in December of 1984 so none of my choices for this brief article will be colored by childhood nostalgia – I saw all five of these films within the last fifteen years. This also means I don’t really have a finger on the pulse as to how any of these films were perceived at the time they came out, hence the reason I chose some obvious films like Ruthless People and Manhunter. I consider them “underrated” simply based on my impression of their legacy. Both of those films should be on every film fan’s shelf. The other three are good too.
Ruthless People is a masterpiece of a film that centers around a kidnapping plot gone awry. I imagine I will get some eye rolls at this selection considering the film grossed 71 million dollars domestically, but this film is the very definition of “underrated.” Despite the high-profile cast and involvement of the Zucker brothers, this is not a film a film I hear anyone discuss. For a comedy, the film features excellent production values and gorgeous cinematography (Jan de Bont). On display are hilarious performances by DeVito and Midler and an exciting, twisty-turny plot. The film comes across to me as bizarro-world Coen Brothers. Comedy is perhaps my least favorite genre of films and they typically never resonate with me but I find this to be one of the most rewatchable comedies out there and one that is an absolute must-see.
Manhunter is in my all-time top 20 favorite films, with this and Thief being my favorite Michael Mann films, BY FAR. I included this film since I have had conversations with a number of “cinephiles” who have not seen it. I think it’s easy for people to dismiss the film assuming, “Silence of the Lambs did it better.”
Manhunter is a film based on Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon, a book most notable for introducing the character of Hannibal Lecter to the world. This film is perhaps most commonly dismissed as it plays in the Hannibal Lecter-universe yet does not feature Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter is undoubtedly the best portrayal, but the Lecter character is not what makes this film good – what makes this film POP is the direction, cinematography and score. For my money, this film is infinitely more aesthetically pleasing than any other film in the Lecter-universe. Demme’s vision is amazing in its own right, but you can’t beat the visual flare of Michael Mann in the middle of his Miami Vice years. If you’ve had reservations about seeing this film, dismiss them and watch this immediately.
Here is a fun piece of garbage. Blood Hook is a horror-comedy about a series of murders that occur during a fishing festival in Wisconsin. This film is perhaps most notable for the fact it was distributed by Troma Entertainment and is the earliest work of Jim Mallon and Kevin Murphy, who went on to become legends in the geek community for their involvement in Mystery Science Theater 3000. The film has a surprisingly clever, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, features a unique and creepy score and has some legitimately creepy moments later in the film. That being said, the film would be perfect fodder for an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Eliminators is an action/sci-fi film produced by Charles Band. The film is an amalgamation of Robocop, Terminator, Indiana Jones and American Ninja but in the Full Moon/Albert Pyun-universe. It is a ridiculous film but it has undeniable charm. The film first got on my radar when I learned it was the primary inspiration for the 2011 film Manborg, a personal favorite of mine. I am a huge fan of the directorial collective Astron-6 and had to seek out every thing affiliated with them after I first saw their film Father’s Day. I had to wait a good nine months or so to see Manborg from the time I was aware of its existence so I sought out Eliminators in the meantime. I found an amazing DVD on Revok.com and had a blast with it. The film has subsequently been released in a DVD 4-pack and Blu-ray 2-pack by Shout! Factory. Seek it out.
This film is an oddity that defies characterization. Similar things can be said of its director David Byrne. Byrne is obviously the lead singer of the Talking Heads and this film explores similar themes as can be found in their music. While technically a pseudo-documentary, it is not a “mockumentary.” The film features Byrne in the lead role as a character visiting a town as they prepare for their 150th anniversary. The film is surreal and utilizes a number of unconventional story-telling techniques, including Byrne breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. The film is funny without being over the top and critical of consumer culture without being too heavy-handed. The film is certainly ahead of it’s time. As I said, the film defies characterization and I was being literal. I can’t explain it any further. Just watch it.