Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '87 - Jim Laczkowski ""

Monday, April 3, 2017

Underrated '87 - Jim Laczkowski

Jim Laczkowski runs the venerable Now Playing Network of Podcasts (which includes Pure Cinema!) and also runs several podcasts of his own within said network. A long time veteran podcaster and former co-host of The Director's Club Podcast, he now occupies himself with his shows Voices and Visions and Popcorn Supper, both of which get a big recommendation!
Find Jim online at all of these places:
Hello readers of one of my favorite blogs on the planet. I recently recorded a podcast about the year in film 1987, and some titles didn’t come up like the ones below possibly because they went under the radar or didn't make a huge dent at the box office. So let’s face it too, there’s no need to make you aware of great titles like Ishtar, which you’ll either think is funny or not, or reiterate the brilliance of White of the Eye now that ScreamFactory has properly released it. I went above and beyond the call of duty to mention a few titles that I haven’t seen since I was younger, but would certainly consider to be underrated. Maybe if I rewatched them today, I would choose differently, but I went on instinct and decided to not necessarily pick the obvious. Most are far from perfect, and you can hear my top 20 picks from that year on the podcast or over on Letterboxd, but there were definitely some honorable mentions that I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share. Some of these are hard to find and if you know where I can locate a copy of Landscape Suicide for cheap, give me a ring!

Yeelen AKA Brightness (Souleymane Cisse) - A young man with magical powers journeys to his uncle to request help in fighting his sorcerer father. This is an African film like no other, with a father/son dynamic that floored me when I saw this many years ago through Facets Multimedia. Rooted in the myths of the director’s native Maliis, this is a stark and brutal depiction of resilience mixed with time-spinning fantasy that reminds me slightly of the kind of work we’ve seen from a different part of the globe by director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Not everything is spelled out and it’s certainly a challenging but ultimately rewarding examination of conflicting family dynamics set in a backdrop of fractured identity in a part of the world I had no previous context for. For fans of a film like Peter Weir’s The Last Wave which conjured up similar feelings for me, this one is worth the extra effort in finding immediately.
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Black Widow (Bob Rafelson) - Black Widow is a sleazy 80s thriller about catching a serial killer who marries older, wealthy men and then poisons them so she'll inherit their money. It’s the dirty darker version of that very funny Sigourney Weaver comedy Heartbreakers! Much like many other films from the late 80s, I saw this one through Viewer’s Choice on the ole cable box while my parents were sound asleep upstairs. I was certainly taken with the nudity, but also this was probably my first experience seeing someone aping DePalma without realizing it at first. During my formative years, I must admit that I have an affinity for sleazy thrillers possibly due to how much my mom watched them. They usually starred Richard Gere. Black Widow falls under the category of a filmmaker interested in making a wicked little Hitchcock homage that ends up playing like DePalma light in hindsight. But to me, this is a compliment. As a huge fan of the cast, particularly Debra Winger, I am planning to give this another look after all these years to see if I still would give this an enthusiastic thumbs up unlike most critics did at the time. Vague memory of the trailer in which one of the characters tells another “She’s like a black widow! She mates and she kills!” Come on, what’s not to love??
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Landscape Suicide (James Benning) - Someone help me find this movie immediately because I know I loved it way back when I first saw it randomly on cable. It floored me in a similar way that Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer did. My memory is that this was my first experience with a Michael Haneke-esque aesthetic. Static shots, cold and distant, but filmed in a pseudo-documentary style that truly messed me up when I was younger. The film ostensibly examines two murderers: 16 year old Bernadette Protti, who killed a classmate for no discernible reason; and the infamous Ed Gein, who, as any horror fan knows, was the prototype for cinematic manifestations of terror ranging from Norman Bates in Psycho to Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. However, it's Benning's techniques, and how he approaches his source material, that make the film something exciting and unique. I don’t know if I’ve ever uncovered anything like this again, but there are moments and images that stick with me particularly a dance to a Patsy Cline song as well as lingering images of everyday items that might’ve prepped me for what Gus Van Sant would later accomplish with the three films he made starting with Gerry.
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Killing Spree (Tim Ritter) - And now for something completely different! A DTV horror monstrosity that my friend and I rented and got a huge kick out of. I’m actually down for checking out more by this guy in time for Halloween. I have no words for this one other than you need to see it to believe it. It’s got a great synth score, great gore and was filmed on VHS tape. For fans of bloody cheese and strange acting choices (and big lips), then take a chance on this title. I’m sure Herschell Gordon Lewis would’ve been a fan or at least acknowledged the loose homage that Ritter captured with this. 
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Not Quite Human (Steven Hilliard Stern) - Why in God’s name do I like this movie? Have I aged at all in thirty years? Maybe I’m that huge of a D.A.R.Y.L fan to genuinely enjoy this concept explored elsewhere. Not to mention, the star of The Boy Who Could Fly is here as a robot boy charming the likes of Teen Witch herself, Robyn Lively. I highly doubt most adults reading this will feel the need to run to YouTube to seek out a cheesy Disney movie in which Alan Thicke plays a wide-eyed inventor of a robot named Chip (you read that correctly). But I can’t help myself but include a title I know I’ve seen, avidly enjoyed once, and would probably show my own kids if I had any. One of the main reasons I recommend this is due to its rather surprisingly dramatic finale, which I won’t spoil here. This was followed by two sequels: Not Quite Human II, in which Chip goes to college and meets a female not-quite-human; and Still Not Quite Human, featuring a robotic Alan Thicke
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Pulse (Paul Golding) - Having rewatched this again fairly recently, it didn’t quite hold up as strongly as I had hoped. However, I have a fondness for techno-thrillers where electricity becomes the enemy. Well okay, even I know better than to truly love Maximum Overdrive, but Pulse is an early example of my foray into horror where a young boy uncovers something unusual that is affecting the family. The best version of a film like this is probablyThe Stuff, which combines comedy, horror, and social commentary rather beautifully. Certainly, the more dramatic Japanese horror film of the same name is way more worth your time as well, but this hidden treasure has its own merits. The languid creepy vibe of the whole thing reminded me a little of Wavelength mixed a little bit of a film that came years later called Parents. Pulse is likely not to garner a huge cult following and it’s more slow-paced than most, but I still find the idea a bit freaky in of itself. Sadly little Joey Lawrence doesn’t say “Woah” once, but it has its pleasures including another memorable score from Jay Ferguson.
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Sister, Sister (Bill Condon) - I’ve seen nearly every film that Jennifer Jason Leigh has been in simply due to the fact that she’s long since become a favorite actress of mine. Again, like a couple of other selections on my list, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a must-see great movie. However, it’s overlooked and a curious anomaly courtesy of director Bill Condon (Gods & Monsters). Akin to an update of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, only a victim of rewrites and edits I imagine by the way certain scenes play out. It’s kind of a fascinating portrayal of sister relationships containing one of my favorite premises: “Let’s investigate a spooky old house and uncover weird bumps in the night.” The investigator is played by a now-MIA actor by the name of Eric Stoltz, as he begins to see that something is not right in said spooky old house particularly the two sisters that reside there. Again, it’s one of those movies I stumbled upon late at night once that I was drawn into, and is very hard to find, but due to the cast, locale, and themes that I always find interesting to explore on a psychological level, I say it’s worth a look even if it’s not essential viewing.
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Oh and just to reiterate one more time, the kind of the underrated 1987 list -- easily my number one on any list is the aforementioned White Of The Eye which due to champions like my hero Brian Saur, you’ve probably already purchased if you’re smart. Once again, it was a true honor to contribute to one of my absolute favorite reads each week, and I hope to return again in the future. Cheers!

Jim Laczkowski

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