Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '87 - Jack Criddle ""

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Underrated '87 - Jack Criddle

Jack Criddle is a filmmaker, cinephile and stay-at-home cat dad from Western Massachusetts. He was born in 1987, so this underrated list is a special one. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @southboundsix.

Please, folks - do yourself a favor and check out the work of writer-director Juzo Itami. His best film is the surrealist food-porn masterpiece TAMPOPO, which is now out from Criterion Collection, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. His comedies about women with seemingly boring jobs, all of them starring his wife and muse, Nobuko Miyamoto, are brilliant and hilarious social commentary pieces that take aim at various Japanese institutions. As the eponymous tax assessor, Miyamoto must navigate a sea of institutional red tape, sexist double standards, and comic detective work to nail Tsutomu Yamazaki’s white-collar criminal, who prides himself on being the Rembrandt of tax evaders.
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Apparently, Joe Dante’s original pitch for his FANTASTIC VOYAGE-inspired sci-fi/comedy was “what if Dean Martin was injected into Jerry Lewis?” Thanks to the buddy-movie interplay between Dennis Quaid and Martin Short, Dante mines the maximum amount of both humor and genuine emotional warmth out of the tiny-submarine-inside-the-human-body trope. The film is peppered with bit parts from Dante’s stock company of character actors, including Kevin McCarthy, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson and Robert Picardo, although ROAD WARRIOR and COMMANDO heavy Vernon Wells steals the show as a mute assassin with interchangeable weaponized hands.
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While DEEP RED, SUSPIRIA and numerous others may be better regarded and arguably ‘greater’ films, OPERA is my personal favorite Dario Argento film. It’s so purely enjoyable, purposely funny, and swinging-for-the-fences insane. A young understudy is cast in an avant-garde opera version of Verdi’s Macbeth as a maniac systematically offs the cast and crew in increasingly inventive ways. There are POV shots from a bullet going through an apartment door peephole and from ravens who swoop down to peck out eyes, acrobatic camerawork, heavy metal, and a finale reminiscent of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but with stabbing. More than in any of his other films, Argento elevates slasher movie tropes to the level of a theme park ride.
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This (I think) superior spiritual sequel to THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE is framed around a TV broadcast of a fictitious 1950’s sci-fi movie, which is interrupted by commercial breaks and channel surfing. Multiple directors, including Joe Dante and John Landis, took a hand at helming the various skits, and clearly had fun replicating the aesthetics of their parodies’ sources, like the Universal Monsters spoof SON OF THE INVISIBLE MAN, and the Henry Silva hosted unsolved-mysteries show “Bullshit or Not?” For me, having done a critical study and made a short biographical documentary about Dwain Esper, the highlight of the whole bunch is Dante’s pitch-perfect send-up of the sex-and-drugs movies of the 1930’s a la REEFER MADNESS, with Carrie Fisher as a "fallen woman" and Paul Bartel as her doctor.
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Perhaps the funniest of all of Barry Levinson’s films about mid-century, working-class Baltimorians. Richard Dreyfus and Danny DeVito are warring aluminum siding salesmen whose feud following a fender bender reaches absurd heights. DeVito is an angry bulldog and Dreyfus an oily snake, with DeVito’s character’s long suffering wife, played by Barbara Hershey, caught between the two men. It doesn’t get better than the verbal sparring between the two men, although the inherent likeablility of the leads undercurrents some of their pretty despicable actions.
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I’m stretching the limits of what might be deemed “underrated” here. Certainly this film is considered a beloved favorite in Great Britain, and known to American students of British comedy and cult movies, but if you ask me, not enough! So me to add my two cents regarding what I feel is the greatest film of the year 1987 - a basically plotless tale of two out-of-work, substance-addicted actors who go “on holiday by mistake” in the Lake District region of Northwestern England. The script, based off of director Bruce Robinson’s own life, is endlessly quotable, and the two leads match each other perfectly. The film’s treatment of codependent, development-arresting male friendship has influenced scores of British film and TV comedies, not least of which the entirety of Edgar Wright’s body of work. It’s also, at the end of the day, a very poignant film about the death of the sixties.
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