Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '87 - James Curtiss ""

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Underrated '87 - James Curtiss

James Curtiss is one half of the team behind the podcast “At The Cheap Seats,” where he and his cohort Matt [REDACTED]review the movies you don't want to pay full price for. If you’re tired of paying $14 to sit in a theater with nitwits too busy to stop talking and texting long enough just to watch yet anothersequel to the prequel of the remake of the comic book, they can tell you if it’s worth waiting a month for the same marginally enjoyable experience for just $2 at your local “Dollar House.” James also ran the now defunct IHEARTSEQUELS blog, wherehe spent far too much time a) soapboxing for the much maligned entries in already over-maligned franchises; b) trying to persuade people that a lot of sequels are better than their predecessors, and c) daydreaming about sequels that were never to be. In the end, he is an optimist to a fault, always trying to find something worthwhile in what far too many others have already deemed worthless.
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Burglar / Fatal Beauty – Back when we did Underrated ’86, I went to bat in a big way for JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH, an action-thriller-comedy hybrid starring Whoopi Goldberg. It’s funny when you think of Whoopi now; an Oscar winner known far more for her talking head appearances and TV hosting gigs than for the incredible work she’s done as an actress. Even funnier to imagine is that for a very brief period this super vulgar funny lady would headline some of my favorite action-comedy films. Seriously, when I was a kid I held her in the same esteem as an Eddie Murphy or a Bruce Willis. In 1987 she took the leads in BURGLAR and FATAL BEAUTY. The former found her in the role of the titular thief who is in debt to a corrupt cop. During a break-in she is witness to a murder where she can’t ID the perp and is forced to solve the crime before she takes the rap. In the latter, she plays an undercover LAPD officer (!) who teams up with a drug dealer’s bodyguard (Sam Elliott!!!) to take down some very bad guys (including a wonderfully whacked out Brad Dourif).
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Tin Men / Stakeout – Sensing a theme here? Yup, all of my official choices here are being paired into double features. It’s so much fun to program doubles. I always try to take the opportunity when making lists like these. Anyway, speaking of people who no longer headline films, remember a time when Richard Dreyfuss was a bona-fide movie star? (I think this trend pretty much reached its end when he was Oscar-nominated for his work in MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS.) Like Whoopi, I thought Dreyfuss was the bee’s knees when I was a kid. Yes, I was not like a lot of other kids. I’m still not like a lot of other kids. TIN MEN is my favorite Barry Levinson film and so much of what works hangs on the performances of Dreyfuss and Danny Devito as two rival aluminum siding salesmen who take every opportunity to fuck with one another. STAKEOUT also sees Dreyfuss paired with a co-lead, but this time it’s Emilio Estevez. It’s another killer 80’s action-comedy that for some odd reason has just been forgotten to time. Or, at least that’s what I thought until I heard Brian and Elric’s Pure Cinema “Hitchcock” episode where Brian waxed rhapsodic about STAKEOUT. He favorably compared it to BEVERLY HILLS COP and MIDNIGHT RUN, yet wondered why it wasn’t held in the same regard. I 100% echo his thoughts. By the way, both of these movies were released by Touchstone and neither one has a decent DVD or Blu Ray release. That shouldn’t stop you from checking them out.
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The Big Easy / Siesta – Growing up, I didn’t crush on many celebrities. Sure, I had a handful, mainly based on characters rather than the people portraying them. Maria in WEST SIDE STORY, Ellen Aim in STREETS OF FIRE, Phoenix in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE; apparently, I have a thing for brunette singers. Considering that I was 8-9 years old at the time, it’s not surprising those handful of crushes were pretty chaste. That all changed when I saw Ellen Barkin in THE BIG EASY. Not to be too crude, but man did she stir something in my little film nerd loins. It doesn’t hurt that what I consider to be the sexiest performance of the 1980s is just one small part of a truly perfect film. Just like AT CLOSE RANGE (see my Underrated ’86), I’d put THE BIG EASY on a list of the most underappreciated films of the decade. It is a taut, wild detective thriller that is directed with energy to burn by Jim McBride (also director of the awesome BREATHLESS remake and campy Jerry Lee Lewis bio-pic GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!). Ellen Barkin is also incredible (downright sizzling) in Mary Lambert’s debut film SIESTA. This one is also a thriller/mystery, but it’s a little more unwieldy (and weird) in its narrative conceit. But Barkin is great, the rest of the cast is stacked with household names, Miles Davis scored the film (!), and Lambert attacks the material with the same level of ferocity as she did her follow-up, PET SEMATARY.
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Big Shots / Russkies – This is my “little kids in big trouble” double feature. Brian has talked at length about the kid’s films of the 1980s and how they were these little empowerment narratives for an entire generation for children. Doesn’t matter if they’re flying spaceships, dodging double agents or searching for pirate treasure; the kids of the 80s did not fuck around. These two films truly define the adage, “wow, you can’t make this movie anymore.” BIG SHOTS was a particular favorite of mine growing up. It’s about a little whiteboy from suburbia (To quote Paul Winfield, “You must be the dumbest whiteboy in the history of dumb whiteboys”) who befriends a black kid from Chicago’s inner city and how they run afoul of crooked pawn shop owners, thieving streetlife, and a pair of hitmen who are chasing after them after they steal the hitmen’s car! RUSSKIES is a Cold War-era tale about a trio of American military brats (including Ralphie from A CHRISTMAS STORY and a pre-Joaquin Leaf Phoenix) who rescue a Soviet soldier off the coast of Key West. Being the little patriots they are, they initially imprison and interrogate the titular Russkie. Eventually, they wind up befriending their new commie cohort and try to devise a way to get him to the safe haven of Cuba. Seriously, could you imagine trying to even explain this to a kid today. I don’t even think some of them are allowed out of their houses.
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Some Kind of Wonderful / Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 – Teen movies (whether comedy, drama or horror) are another essential part of the cultural conversation when it turns to the 1980s. We all know the conventional fare by rote now. Sometimes you’ve got to turn your compatriots towards less well-tread material. This is a double feature of some alternates you can break out when the crowd wants to get nostalgic, but you can’t stomach another screening of PRETTY IN PINK or PROM NIGHT. In fact, I’d put down money to say that you’ll find some people prefer these to their more popular predecessors. I know I do. I’ll say it straight up. I prefer SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL to PRETTY IN PINK. I’d rather stare at Lea Thompson than Andrew McCarthy, I identify with Eric Stoltz more than I do Molly Ringwald, and Watts stomps all over Ducky. Yeah, James Spader is infinitely more interesting than Craig Sheffer, but even Sheffer delivers the sleazy goods as a yuppie shit-heel. And as for HELLO MARY LOU, the original PROM NIGHT might be on the shortlist of the most overrated and over-watched slasher films of all time, so of course the outrageous in-name-only sequel has it beat by a country mile. Where the original film has disco, doofy decapitations and the worst hair of Jamie Lee Curtis’ career, this film is loaded with some of the seamiest sex and violence to be thrown into a high school horror flick AND Michael Ironside is in it! Mary Lou 1, Jamie Lee 0.
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China Girl / Best Seller – Here’s a pair of lesser-known flicks from a few of the best-loved creators of high concept exploitation of the last five decades. First up is CHINA GIRL, Abel Ferrara’s update of the Romeo and Juliet story set in the middle of a conflict between Italian and Chinese gangs in 1980s New York. Do I need to tell you more? Ferrara, Shakespeare, street gangs. Done. The only trouble is that there has yet to even be a DVD release. It is streaming on Amazon. I can’t verify the quality, but it’s gotta be better than you guys borrowing my VHS copy. Next up, James Woods and Brian Dennehy (!), star in a film written by Larry Cohen (!!) and directed by John Flynn (!!!). It’s called BEST SELLER and it stars Woods as a hitman who wants a cop turned writer (Dennehy) to turn his life story into a book. I’m not gonna say it’s a perfect movie. Hell, Cohen has beef with what happened to his ending. But it is still a fun little thriller with a killer cast. Plus, everybody should be a John Flynn completist at this point. Go back and listen to the Pure Cinema episode about revenge flicks and you’ll see Flynn is all over the damn thing. (By the way, Brian and Elric, if I had done my revenge 5, Flynn would have appeared on my list as well, but it would have been because he directed Steven Seagal’s best film, OUT FOR JUSTICE.)
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Random thoughts on 1987:
· My favorite movie of 1987 is EMPIRE OF THE SUN, which I would consider to be not only the most Underrated film of 1987, but also the most Underrated of all Steven Spielberg films.

· RADIO DAYS has become kind of a forgotten Woody Allen film, but it is one of my faves. This may stem from the fact that it was my first Allen film, but the rambling, vignette pacing and lack of cynicism in its nostalgia is always refreshing.

· While it just can’t compete with the Tony Scott/Denzel Washington take on its source material, I’ve always had a soft spot for MAN ON FIRE. Scott Glenn is so commanding in the lead and the supporting cast of Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello, and more, is as good as the support players in Scott and Denzel’s film.

· There isn’t a weirder, wilder villain in all of 1987 than Lester, the wasteland cult leader played by Tim Thomerson in CHERRY 2000.
· And finally, MY DEMON LOVER is a film I’ve loved since the first time I saw it as little film geek, aged 8, and I have been waiting for its cult to finally develop for the past 30 years. Sadly, I’m still waiting…

1 comment:

beamish13 said...

Nice list! I think EMPIRE OF THE SUN is Spielberg's greatest achievement. Just a perfect adaptation that feels timeless. Really wish he would still use Allen Daviau as his cinematographer.