Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '86 - James McCormick ""

Monday, June 6, 2016

Underrated '86 - James McCormick

James is a writer and member of the Criterion Cast family from way back. He likes all kinds of movies but has a remarkable appreciation for both low and high art. He's one of the good ones as far as movie fans go. Follow him on twitter at @FistfulofMedia. Check out his TV Movie Podcast Small Screen Cinema is a show you should check out:

1986 was a hell of a year for film. Looking back at that year, we had Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which I’m still a fan of, no matter what people say about it today), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Sid and Nancy, Something Wild, The Hitcher, F/X, Blue Velvet, River’s Edge (which I forgot that two for one Dennis Hopper double feature came out within weeks from one another), Manhunter, The Fly, Stand By Me, Big Trouble in Little China, The Great Mouse Detective and Aliens, to name a few key films. None of those films are on my list, primarily because they’re much more well known. This is an underrated 1986 list, which was even harder to produce because there’s so many to choose from. So I picked out 10. And I held myself from listing Never Too Young To Die here because I use every excuse to speak about that film. Not today. --------------
The Children of Times Square - Directed by Curtis Hanson, this Made For TV film was one of many ‘street gang’ films being made in this era (and one of a few that might be popping up on this list). I love a good gang film, such as The Warriors and The Wanderers, but this is a different type of gang film. A 14 year old kid named Eric runs away from home and finds himself in Times Square. He meets up with a drug runner who is part of the gang The Leopards, a well disciplined gang run by dealer Otis, who promises them all safety and a home, as long as they deal his drugs and do what he says. All the while Eric’s mother (played fantastically by Joanna Cassidy) frantically searches for her son. One that not many have seen or heard of (at least in my world), which means it will be covered on my podcast Small Screen Cinema sooner rather than later.

The Morning After - How could I not list a Sidney Lumet film here? Especially one that I don’t hear many people speak about compared to his others. A mystery starring Jane Fonda (nominated for the Academy Award for this role), Jeff Bridges (whose 8 Million Ways To Die almost made this list as well) and Raul Julia (as a hairdresser married to Fonda’s character). The plot is a simple one: Alex (Fonda) is a washed up alcoholic actress, who wakes up one morning with a dead body next to her. On Thanksgiving Day of all days! She rightfully freaks out and calls Jackie (Julia), who tells her to call the cops. She doesn’t, and the mystery goes the downward spiral. An ex-cop named Turner (Bridges) believes her and gets mixed up in the insanity. It’s a good one. Bruce Vilanch is a bartender. Blink and you’ll miss a young Kathy Bates.
The Gladiator - Abel Ferrara, one of my favorite directors, made this film, intended for theaters but bought by Showtime and then put on ABC as a TV movie. So not specifically ‘Made for TV’, but I’m putting it in that camp. Ken Wahl plays The Gladiator, a vigilante in his souped up murder truck, going after reckless drivers on the streets of Los Angeles, all because an assassin by the name of Skull killed his brother. William Bleich, who wrote the fantastic TV movie The Midnight Hour the year before, wrote the screenplay for this forgotten Ferrara film. Nancy Allen and Robert Culp are also in it. I hope it gets some more notice this year.
TerrorVision - Re-watching this film for the first time in about 20 years, I fell so in love with Ted Nicolaou’s bizarre horror comedy, one I think would make an amazing double feature with the equally underrated Stay Tuned. Gerrit Graham (BEEF!) is the patriarch of the Putterman family. His wife (the amazing Mary Woronov) and he are swingers and go out to get some other people to have a good time later. Their son and their crazy militaristic grandfather are at home when their new gigantic satellite dish goes a bit haywire, teleporting down an alien monster from the planet Pluton. This Hungry Beast can’t help but eat anyone that gets in his way, devouring them completely and embodying them within its girth. His sister and her boyfriend (Jon Gries!) want to make some money from this extraterrestrial, while Sherman contacts horror host Medusa, a stand in for Elvira, to come and see the monster. Mayhem ensues, while the laughs build up during the slaughter. A Charles Band production without a million little creatures. A fun film that looks amazing on Blu-ray.
Bullies - Romeo and Juliet by way of Canada. Bullies is a strange one, because it seems like it’s going to be a story about a young guy named Matt (Jonathan Crombie) who falls in love with Becky (Olivia D’Abo), who is from the town his family has just moved to. And then her family finds out and all hell breaks loose. It becomes this weird backwoods thriller, with people blasting shotguns, people going up in flames and one of the best taglines to ever be for a film. Revenge means never having to say you’re sorry.

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling - Growing up, I dove into stand up comedy like a fish to water. George Carlin was my first love, which led to Eddie Murphy’s Raw. And then I found Richard Pryor, who I had only known from Superman III when I was a kid, so seeing him so funny, so scathing, just tearing down the subjects made me fall in love with his comedy stylings. I had to read everything about him. I had to watch any special. His Saturday Night Live episode. Other films with him like the Paul Schrader classic Blue Collar and the comedic duo of Pryor and Gene Wilder were watched repeatedly by me. So when I heard about his drug mishaps and it basically blowing up in his face and almost killing him, I saw he made a semi-autobiographical film, I had to see it. And at first it didn’t connect with me. It wasn’t until I got older and appreciated this was his baby, being the star, the director, the producer, the co-writer (Paul Mooney being another one), and throwing himself out there, where his character Jo Jo has a near death experience from freebasing cocaine, and his Alter Ego goes through his life and how he got to that place to begin with. Also has Wings Hauser and Michael Ironside in it, so it’s definitely up there in my love category.
Link - Man is no longer in control. Oh yes, killer ape/monkey films are a thing I adore. Shakma being one (even though it’s a tad too long) and Monkey Shines being two that I show people. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s when I saw a VHS of Link, starring Elisabeth Shue and Terence Stamp, directed by the amazing Richard Franklin and written by Everett De Roche, this is as Franklin called it, ‘sort of Jaws with chimps’. It’s so weird because Link is an orangutan but is referred to as a chimp throughout the film, with his fur dyed black to match chimps more than an orangutan’s reddish hue. There’s some prime dummy death, It’s a Cannon film, but more than 13 minutes were cut out (8 by Universal for American release, then 5 more minutes when EMI was bought by Cannon). So what I’m saying is that I want an uncut Blu-ray set right now.
Peggy Sue Got Married - A Kathleen Turner starring role in a Francis Ford Coppola time travel comedy. And it’s so good and forgotten for some weird reason. I feel people pass up on this because they think it’s going to be corny, but it’s very risque for the type of film it is. Peggy is wary about going to her 25th anniversary high school reunion, mainly because she got pregnant right after her graduation with her high school sweetheart, who became her husband, who are now separated. She gets there, becomes queen at the reunion and then faints, transporting her back to high school. Hijinks, anyone? She’s back in 1960, a bit freaked out and trying to let everything happen like the way they did back then. She starts to change things in her life, deciding to break up with Charlie (Nicolas Cage) and finally hooking up with the artsy loner Michael Fitzsimmons (Kevin J. O’Connor, who I love from Lord of Illusions and The Mummy). She becomes friends with Richard (Barry Miller) who is a future billionaire and brilliant, and confides in him about her travelling from the future. He’s convinced when she knows about technology that nobody else could dream up. I was one that pre-judged this film when I was a kid, but watching it randomly on cable during my Cage-rage, I dug this underrated Coppola film. 

Band of the Hand - Here’s a weird reversal of sorts. A failed TV pilot that then became a feature length film (reminds me of what Mulolland Drive did as well). Directed by Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky himself) the year before he put out the Schwarzenegger film The Running Man, Band of the Hand is another one of those ‘gang films’. But it only looks like that from the surface. Instead it becomes this weird survivalist film about a Vietnam vet (played by veteran tough guy Stephen Lang), who decides to give these juvenile delinquents a chance at retribution before they’re sent to prison as adults. The experimental program will make them an elite team, where they then buy a vacant house in Miami and start to take back the streets from the criminal element. Produced by Michael Mann and with the title track by Bob Dylan, it’s a weird hodge podge of genres melded together. And it all works to me. And these kids have to fight Larry Fishburne as a pimp named cream and evil drug lord James Remar (who I almost picked his film Quiet Cool on this list) who kidnaps Nikki (Lauren Holly) and tries to use his influence over her. The film’s climax is pretty spectacular. I wish this had a special edition Blu-ray with all the bells and whistles.
Avenging Force - A sequel to 1985’s Invasion USA, Avenging Force has the positive upgrade of star, trading the block of wood known as Norris, for Michael Dudikoff, who was Cannon’s new baby boy. And I love me some Dudikoff. This was a film that we covered back in the day on the long missed cineAWESOME! Podcast, where we had a bootleg copy on DVD from a poor VHS rip, because this film was still VHS only. I think we helped with the newfound love for this film, because a couple of years later, a Blu-ray was released (the same happened with the film Prison on our podcast). There’s a dummy fall in this film that is possibly my favorite of all time. If you’ve seen the film, you know what it is and I don’t want to ruin it for people who haven’t seen this film. It’s about these evil rich assholes, who hunt men in the swamps/woods/wherever they are, while dressed up as ridiculous wrestling characters. This evil right wing organization, named The Pentangle, who go after Matt Hunter’s friend, politician Larry Richards (Steve James). Some great action and some dark stuff occurs, where we have one on one battles with Hunter and each of these henchman. I’m still waiting for a sequel, like a fool.

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