Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation in Archiving. He is currently responsible for programming at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you've got 'em. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and can usually be found in whichever NYC art-house is showing the most sordid content on a given day.
Here's His Underrated '86 List from last year:
AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION (Sam Firstenberg)
It baffles me that AMERICAN NINJA 2 never gets mentioned in the pantheon of great sequels, including sequels that improve (or at least go a bit more batshit) than their predecessors. Playing out like a 60s beach party movie as directed by Godfrey Ho, AMERICAN NINJA 2 features some of the finest things in life: ninjas, cyborg ninjas, Steve James’ biceps, Michael Dudikoff’s hair, Hawaian shirts, Guns N Roses on the soundtrack, a villain named The Lion. Firstenberg basically gives AMERICAN NINJA the BREAKIN 2 treatment here and pulls out all stops. It’s the UNIVERSAL SOLDIER sequel that you wish you got,only it came out five years before the first UNIVERSAL SOLDIER existed.
ANGUISH (Bigas Luna)
A handful of things that will always make me want to watch something: film within a film, a movie theater as a setting, horror that involves eyeballs, scary old ladies, metatexts that actually fucking work. Bigas Luna delivered one of the more unfortunately unheralded 80s slashers with ANGUISH yet got nothing for it. Celebrating/condemning the theatrical experience and resulting in a near philosophical examination of what it means to be a captiveviewer. Psychodrama/terror at its most hard to distinguish.Nothing is what it appears to be, your eyes are lying to you and they’re not going to be in your head much longer.
CHERRY 2000 (Steve De Jarnatt)
Set in a dusty, lawless 2017 – Steve De Jarnatt’s first film (with MIRACLE MILE coming right after, and being his last feature) is 80s pop sci-fi at its best. Starring a bright red haired, rocket launcher toting Melanie Griffith and a supporting cast that features Ben Johnson, Laurence Fishburne and Robert Z’Dar – CHERRY 2000 gets 2017 right, from sex robots to memories that fit in the palm of your hand and all the way to the hot commodity of toaster ovens. Well, maybe not that last bit. HER by way of MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME.
DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN (J. Lee Thompson)
The first DEATH WISH film to not be directed by Michael Winner is still great fun. Frequent Bronson collaborator J. Lee Thompson (10 TO MIDNIGHT, KINJITE, MURPHY’S LAW) takes the reigns and turns in one of the more ridiculous entries in the franchise. Despite a more serious tone than part 3 (I mean, let’s be realistic here…), Thompson still manages to keep things weird with Danny Trejo appearing as a gang member, an impressively high body count, a snazzy jazz score, a trip to a video store, big guns, bigger guns, Bronson making a sandwich. It’s all pretty dumb, but most other long running series would be lucky to have a fourth entry that’s this entertaining.
EXTREME PREJUDICE (Walter Hill)
Man, I fucking love Walter Hill. And Nick Nolte. So this is just about perfect cinema in my eyes. Add to that a story by John Milius and a supporting cast that includes Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, William Forsythe and you’ve got the stuff of rugged, genre cinema dreams. Dusty, big hat, Texas noir that’s a western disguised as a mercenary film. Dripping with masculinity, gratuitous scowling and the type of no-nonsense shoot-outs that the 80s could have used more of. Films like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and HELL OR HIGH WATER should be paying dues to EXTREME PREJUDICE.
HARD TICKET TO HAWAII (Andy Sidaris)
This Ain’t No Hula! Prolific sleaze master Andy Sidarisreached the pinnacle of his career with this inspired piece of espionage that features plenty of bazookas, a Frisbee game, one really fake snake, a cast of buxom babes and, well, everything else that implies fun under the sun. This should really be watched with AMERICAN NINJA 2 for the most excessive tropical action double bill of ’87.
HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE (Robert Townsend)
If ANGUISH is the meta-Hollywood movie of your nightmares, than HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE is the meta-Hollywood movie of your dreams. Robert Townsend’s cinema obsessed passion project is a pitch perfect send up of Hollywood stereotypes and an all too relevant parable about race in America. It’s also really, really funny. I’d totally watch RAMBRO.
IN A GLASS CAGE (Agustí Villaronga)
Ugh. Talk about the feel bad movie of 1987 (it’s not FULL METAL JACKET). Villaronga’s film is basically a cinematic trigger warning, featuring a Nazi doctor confined to an iron lung. And that Nazi doctor was also a pedophile who tortured his victims. Not an easy film to watch (or recommend), IN A GLASS CAGE could be considered torture porn, pity porn or just ol’ porn by some/most, but it’s a haunting testament to the effects of abuse and the catharsis of revenge. But it’s not fun.
STREET SMART (Jerry Schatzberg)
There’s something really amusing about STREET SMART’s tagline “Never Let the Truth Ruin a Good Story” in 2017, but I’ll let you figure out what that is. Coming out in the same year as BROADCAST NEWS, STREET SMART is all about the power of the press. But it’s also sort of about pimping. And it’s mostly really just about New York. With Christopher Reeve and Morgan Freeman at the top of their game, Schatzberg turns in his best film since the 70s (where he had both SCARECROW and THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK) and the definitive, albeit underappreciated by nearly everyone, film about the ethics inherent in journalism in America. It’s great, increasingly relevant, cinema.
WHITE OF THE EYE (Donald Cammell)
What do you get when the co-director (not Nic Roeg) of PERFORMANCE directs a completely unhinged domestic thriller? Well, you get WHITE OF THE EYE. Recently given its due thanks to great blu-ray editions by Shout Factory and Arrow, audiences all over can now marvel at the explosive domesticity of David Keith and Cathy Moriarty. Close ups of meat that rival REPULSION; dynamite goes boom; he’s a serial killer, right?; fur coats won’t get you anywhere; we shouldn’t have taken their land. Horror at its most philosophical, the family drama at its most unnerving. “Daddy is wearing a lot of hot dogs”.