Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '86 - Mike Flynn ""

Friday, June 24, 2016

Underrated '86 - Mike Flynn

Mike Flynn is a writer and pop culture enthusiast who makes a mean bowl of sangria. He has written for and Wikia, and has appeared on the podcasts Director’s Club as well as Cage Club and Keanu Club on The Cage Club Podcast Network. He lives in New Jersey, but unfortunately not the part where Buckaroo Banzai was set.

See his Underrated '96 list here:
1986 is one of the best years for movies—period. It gave us the best film of the decade in Blue Velvet. The best sequel of all time in Aliens. An unprecedented amount of cult favorite—Manhunter, Big Trouble in Little China, Something Wild, The Hitcher, Maximum Overdrive, Night of the Creeps. Films like Platoon and The Color of Money led the Oscar pack. Very few 1986 films lack some kind of merit on a grand scale. I could spend 2,000 words on the virtues of Cobra alone.

These are the ones that deserve respect, and if they have it already, they deserve more.

52 Pick-Up (dir. John Frankenheimer)
Until Tarantino and Soderbergh perfected his voice on film in the late 90’s, this was the definitive Elmore Leonard adaptation. Co-written by Leonard and directed by John Frankenheimer, 52 Pick-Up is a steely neo-noir that wastes no time in dragging the viewer into its blurry world of sleaze. A smooth-as-always Roy Scheider cheats on political hopeful wife Ann-Margaret with porn starlet Kelly Preston. When a group of criminals attempt blackmail, he decides to handle them personally. To say things go haywire from there is treading lightly. Frankenheimer’s intensity level is at full mast, submerging Scheider’s confident but deeply flawed Harry Mitchell into a string of setups, double-crosses, and shaky alliances punctuated by a healthy dose of action sequences. As the lead blackmailer, John Glover hijacks the dramatic stakes. Alan Raimy is a soulless personification of nihilism, a sociopath whose smile never breaks at his most vicious point. This was his breakout role, and one of the best villains of the era for his unwavering calmness.

Cannon was everywhere in 1986, and this is inarguably one of the finest films ever produced by Golan and Globus, a disturbing story where no truly good people exist. At best, our principles are clouded. From thereon out, it’s only worse.

8 Million Ways to Die (dir. Hal Ashby)
A Miami Vice-tinged detective story about an alcoholic with less than nothing to lose is not exactly the sort of film you’d expect the director of Being There and Harold & Maude to go out on, Jeff Bridges’ burnout performance and an uneasy screenplay co-written by Oliver Stone show 8 Million Ways to Die as neon noir at its finest.
Avenging Force (dir. Sam Firstenberg)
There’s a ton of Cannon action films that could go here from ’86. Bronson in Murphy’s Law and Chuck Norris and Louis Gossett Jr. as bickering adventurers/lovers in Firewalker could count, but this is arguably the best one that isn’t Cobra or The Delta Force. Conceived as a sequel to Invasion USA with Norris, Michael Dudikoff assumes the part of Matt Hunter to battle fascists who hunt men for sport in New Orleans. Avenging Force has some great action sequences, such as a firefight in a parade and its many instances of the American Ninja being hunted. Cannon stalwart Steve James shows up as Dudikoff’s Fed sidekick, and his premature exit from the film is disappointing as he’s the more charismatic, better-developed character. What’s most amusing about it, however, is that the villains are glorified Donald Trump supporters. Oh, they cause less bodily harm than Patrick Stewart’s gang in Green Room, but make no mistake that they speak hate speech and deliver violence. They’re led by an ever over-the-top John P. Ryan, who screams every other line of dialogue he’s given. Having played the obsessive warden in the great Runaway Train, it’s easy to see Cannon wanted the guy in this and, later, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, as their villain. Further, while Dudikoff was mostly utilized by Cannon for the American Ninja series, this is easily the better film. Long out of print, the herculean efforts of Kino Lorber Studio Classics finally got this on disc two years ago.

Band of the Hand (dir. Paul Michael Glaser)
Forget about the film for a few minutes and look up the title theme performed by Bob Dylan and the Heartbreakers (as in Tom Petty), which is arguably one of the coolest original songs of 80’s cinema. The marketing for Band of the Hand cashed in on the look and sound of Miami Vice, going as far as being set in the city, produced by Michael Mann, and directed by Paul Michael Glaser, who previously helmed a handful of some of the show’s best episodes, and based on the film’s gritty but pastel-drenched atmosphere, Crockett and Tubbs cameos would not be out of place. Preceding 21 Jump Street in banding a group of young adults against urban crime, but the concept is reversed—these are juvenile delinquents offered a shot at redemption, Lauren Holly, Michael Carmine, and John Cameron Mitchell (particularly effective as a sociopath) among them. Band of the Hand has its craft elevated by its style, its action drenched in wild colors and deftly composed by Michel Rubini (who also scored Manhunter). Mann’s influence even extends to the casting of a game Stephen Lang as the group’s crusty mentor. Allegedly, it started out as a pilot for a series, and that DNA can be seen in that the film never fully exploits its R rating—perhaps the occasional spatterings of sex, profanity, and graphic violence came as a result of a reshoot. Given Vice was at its cinematic peak, however, Band of the Hand retains its identity as an appropriately scaled action film.
Black Moon Rising (dir. Harley Cokeliss)
Tommy Lee Jones. Linda Hamilton. Robert Vaughn and Lee Ving from Fear as the bad guys. A super-car that can go over 300 miles an hour. All that, co-written by John Carpenter? Yes, please! This is a fun, character-driven B-movie that teeters on the edge of being a glorified pilot episode for a Knight Rider ripoff. However, thanks to the charm and strengths of its leads, it manages to transcend coming off as the genius of an over-caffeinated 12-year-old and let the characters be more important than the flashy MacGuffin (which kicks serious ass despite looking like a space DeLorean). Judging by the premise, you'd expect a prototype for something Jerry Bruckheimer would have dry-humped to make a decade later, but it's smarter and edgier than the premise should allow, with a cool car chase down the wrong way of an L.A. street (which, yes, To Live and Die in L.A. did in a better and more masterful way) and a Jones/Hamilton sex scene that feels obliged above all things. Lalo Schifrin provides a great score with heavy overtones of Carpenter-esque synth beats, and this exchange occurs between Hamilton and a pervy businessman at a bar, who probably pays a needless amount of money for video dating:
Guy: "What would you think if I said I wanted to take you home and fuck your brains out?"
Hamilton: "You're in for a long, lonely night."

Crossroads (dir. Walter Hill)
The (infuriating) commercial failure of Streets of Fire sent Walter Hill on a two-film sabbatical from the action genre. From that time off came this rousing coming-of-age road movie which, at its heart, is an action film. The major difference, however, is that guitars are used instead of guns. Crossroads is a film about passion and destiny, with guitar prodigy Ralph Macchio finding the deeper meaning in his love of blues through faded legend Willie Brown (Joe Seneca). There are clear similarities to this and The Karate Kid in its lead actor, mentor-student relationship, and romantic subplot. Crossroads is more culturally grounded, its drama reflected by finding the truth in the blues mythos. Ry Cooder has scored a multitude of Hill’s films, and his work and influence has never been more prominent than here, with his score emerging as the film’s true star. The shadow is never casted better than during the film’s legendary climax, where Lightning Boy (Macchio) shreds off against Steve Vai.
Dangerously Close (dir. Albert Pyun)
Previously cited with much to say on my Underrated Action/Adventure list two years ago, Albert Pyun’s best film has since received a Blu-ray and DVD release from Olive Films, one I instantly snagged upon release. It remains an unsung, smoky blast of a neo-noir.
Eye of the Tiger (dir. Richard Sarafian)
Ex-con Gary Busey swears revenge on a corrupt sheriff and a gang of crack-dealing bikers straight out of a laser-tag arena in The Middle of Absolutely Nowhere, Texas after his wife is killed. Reagan-era vigilantism at its most shameless and a masterstroke in accidental comedy so grandstanding it makes Death Wish 3 look like Gandhi, this is a masterpiece of 3 a.m. insomnia theater whose message is battered over our heads in the most gratuitously entertaining way possible. During the climax, Yaphet Kotto, decked out like the Red Baron flying a cropduster, drops dynamite on the bikers’ post-apocalyptic commune (where the rest of the town is typical small-town America) while blasting James Brown yelling, "I LOVE IT! I FUCKING LOVE IT!" So do I, Yaphet. So do I.
Gung Ho (dir. Ron Howard)
While Tim Burton may have given him his two most iconic roles, no director has better capitalized on the likability of Michael Keaton than Ron Howard. He launched his career with Night Shift, which I’d argue is the best comedic performance he’s ever given. This was their second venture together, when Howard was on the cusp of entering a more prestigious bracket of director and Keaton still a bankable comedy star. A modest box office hit in ’86 and a cable favorite thereafter, Gung Ho thrives on Keaton’s charisma. From the first scene, his cheerful outlook bleeds through as he tries to unite his town’s recessed automotive economy with a draconian Japanese car company. Hunt Stevenson is a classic Keaton character whose best and worst quality is optimism. Good-hearted jokes turn to bad blood, and his wrongdoing is always inadvertent. We cheer for Hunt, however, because he just wants everyone to be happy. Gedde Watanabe’s Oishi is introduced as a foil but is ultimately realized as a parallel to Hunt, whose pursuit of the American Dream is compromised by Eastern loyalty.

Night Shift writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel skillfully roast the mercurial blue-collar set of the Reagan era (best represented by the sweaty, angry duo of George Wendt and John Turturro) and the stoic, perfectionist Japanese. The satire looks broad, but Howard’s enthusiastic direction lends a stronger than usual amount of pathos. (A side note that Howard and Keaton’s last pairing to date, The Paper, which followed their segues into more dramatic fare, remains equally, if not more, unsung—and worthier of rediscovery following the latter’s nuanced magnificence in Spotlight.)
Let’s Get Harry (dir. Stuart Rosenberg)
What happens when your hometown hero brother gets kidnapped by the Colombian drug cartel while bringing electricity to Bogota, Reagan doesn't give a shit about your cause because the Commies aren't being disposed of, and the CIA is a bunch of assholes? Shit out of luck, right? Wrong! Jake Ryan rounds up Rick Rossovich, Glenn Frey (!!!), and Biff Tannen (!!!!!) and get a case of Rambomania to save Ryan's titular brother (Mark Harmon!) in this underseen and atypical 80's men-on-a-mission movie in the tradition of Uncommon Valor and Rambo: First Blood Part II.

Less a film about how machismo solves all problems than it is a parable of what if a band of weekend warriors decided to become mercenaries, this refreshingly puts the Everyman in the place of the superhuman types commonly seen in the era and builds off of their camaraderie and genuine fear. Sure, they have car-salesman tycoon Gary Busey bankrolling the trip and a cleanly bald Robert Duvall teaching them how to be badasses like him, but the real strength of the film comes from the way its four leads come across as normal people submerged into a case study in Geopolitical Backstabbing in Reagan's America. They could have positioned this as Harmon's first starring vehicle in a film after taking off on St. Elsewhere, but avoiding that gimmickry adds to the effect. While not entirely perfect—the climax feels undercut by budget limitations—the streak of hope and determination is something that never presented itself quite like this, and for that it's worthy of rediscovery.
The Men’s Club (dir. Peter Medak)
Imagine David Mamet writing The Big Chill with an all-male cast. Imagine The Breakfast Club as envisioned by a womanizing, cocaine-snorting hedonist ashamed of the fact that his friends are all cuckolded, "happily married" wusses who can't party hard with him because they made a commitment. Now, picture what would happen if you threw these two concepts into a blender and passed it off as satire aspiring to be a topical drama. This is that movie.This tonally misguided and surreal crazy-fest is powered by an assembly of terrific character actors in a feature-length, straight-laced version of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right” video. Roy Scheider, Frank Langella, Harvey Keitel, Treat Williams, Craig Wasson, and David Dukes gather at psychotherapist Richard Jordan's house for a night of discussing their marital sins. The laughs start at the opening credits, which play like the opening credits of a game show and list all of the women as either "Wives & Girlfriends" or under the mysterious "House of Affection."

The centerpiece of the film is them bullshitting about one-night stands and missed opportunities. Scheider is a former baseball player and Berkeley athletic trainer. Keitel is an impulsive, strung-out real estate broker. Williams is a doctor who trades prescriptions for sex and is dressed exactly like Rick Deckard (I shit you not) for the majority of the film, right down to his haircut. Langella is a lawyer whose wife has cleaned out the house, forcing him to think he's paralyzed until he gets a bag of ice on his balls at the hospital that has him deciding otherwise. He also wears a googly eye in his intro and, later, a paper plate with a smiley face on it on his face. Where do they go from there? A brothel called the House of Affection (boasting a young Jennifer Jason Leigh among its conquests). This is where the surrealism falls off a cliff and... I don't want to spoil it, but things go more out of control than they already were. A wedding is involved and Langella's purpose as a lawyer is revealed. Keitel gets naked (of course!).

It exists. That’s the best analysis I can give.
The Mosquito Coast (dir. Peter Weir)
Harrison Ford gave the performance of his career under Peter Weir’s direction in Witness. Quietly, he topped his work the next year under Weir’s direction in this riveting parable about the dark side of the American Dream. The power of the film comes from not just Ford’s career-best, fatally flawed Everyman but the osmosis of Weir’s humanism and the brutal cynicism of writer Paul Schrader (adapting Paul Theroux’s novel). Allie Fox condemns the expensive, over-commercialized downside of Reagan’s America and strives to make a better life in South America. Despite his ambition, his vision is just as destructive as the one he was running away from—a line that Ford walks with poise, a man as compassionate as he is subconsciously ruthless. The Mosquito Coast is a hopeless story, but its message of cultural disconnect is soul-opening. Helen Mirren is a tour de force as Allie’s loving but suffering wife, while River Phoenix delicately narrates the film with a necessary innocence to quell the uneasy conflict that unfolds. Weir retained much of his Witness crew, utilizing a synth-backed score by Maurice Jarre and the striking cinematography of John Seale (that green fire will remain with you forever).

It’s a magnificent film, one of the best of the 80’s and something I sadly only recently saw for the first time. Audiences were never going to be ready to accept Indiana Jones as a bastard, but the role helped Ford tap further into darkness with Frantic and Presumed Innocent.

Amusingly, from a contemporary view, Allie is effectively a cross between Bernie Sanders and Walt White.
Quiet Cool (dir. Clay Borris)
This one also showed up before on my Underrated Action/Adventure list. To my knowledge, it’s the only theatrically released James Remar vehicle, which is reason alone, but this cross between 48 Hrs. and First Blood is a fast-paced thrill that is now buoyed by a hilarious anachronism. 30 years after portraying marijuana farmers to be as ruthless as the drug cartel in Sicario, Washington is now one of two states to have legalized weed. Further, I’ve since had my DVD signed by Remar.

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