Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Gems from 20 years ago! ""

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Underrated '97 - Gems from 20 years ago!

1997 is interesting for me as a film fan as it was a year when I was pretty fully immersed in movies - even more than I had been in my youth. I was in college, studying films and making them and working at a video store in my off hours so it was a "movies all the time" segment of my life. Not only was I digging deep into the filmographies of auteurs like Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks, but I was also seeing lots of new movies in theaters - big Hollywood stuff as well as arthouse. So I just saw tons that year and those that I missed in theaters, I caught on VHS. As a result, 1997 is a rich year for me to pull from for some underrated favorites.


MR. JEALOUSY (1997; Noah Baumbach)
Saw this when I was still reeling from how much I loved Baumbach's outstanding debut KICKING AND SCREAMING and it ended up one of those rare movies that maintains the director's abilities in my eyes and avoids the sophomore slump. Eric Stoltz joins the therapy group of his current girlfriend's (Annabella Sciorra) ex-boyfriend (Chris Eigeman) and Woody Allen style hilarity ensues. Was great to see the return of Carlos Jacott here too as he was one of my favorite things about KICKING.
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SHE'S SO LOVELY (1997; Nick Cassavetes)
Based on script by his dad, Nick Cassavetes directed this excellent comedy/drama which absolutely brings along some of the John Cassavetes feel in a wonderful way. Has a real rawness to it that leaves an impact on you after you see it, but has many comedic moments as well.Probably my favorite post-PULP FICTION performance from Travolta.
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RETROACTIVE (1997; Louis Morneau)
Among my favorite "time bounce" movies like 12:01 and obviously GROUNDHOG DAY. This one plays it a little more serious and gritty in that there are some bad people involved in what turns out to be a pretty rough day to have to live over and over again. Features fun performances from both James Belushi (as a homicidal psychopath) and Frank Whaley (as a nerdy scientist type).
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TRAVELLER (1997; Jack N. Green)
For those looking for an underrated and unsung Bill Paxton performance, this is your movie. He plays part of an group of Irish gypsy grifters who roam the backwoods of the rural south and make their living by scamming lots of unsuspecting citizens. Mark Wahlberg becomes involved with this clan and Paxton cautiously takes him under his wing to show him the ways of the clan. Also stars Julianna Marguiles from E.R., who should have made more movies in general.
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THE WRONG GUY (1997; David Steinberg)
I only recently saw this one for the first time and I am kicking myself for not having sought it out sooner. I certainly saw the VHS cover on the shelves of my video store, but I must have written it off as one of those unfunny comedies that the featured players of things like SNL did in the waining years of their popularity. This is not that. This is an extremely funny film that takes a Kids In the Hall sketch kind of premise and makes it work at feature length. Dave Foley (who also co-wrote) plays an oaf idiot who, after being passed over for a promotion at work, decides to charge into his boss's office to give him a piece of his mind. During his tirade, he soon realizes that his boss has been murdered and he begins to freak out and grab the murder weapon and generally douse himself in crime-scene blood. Fearing he'll be blamed for the deed, he goes on the lam - not realizing that the actual killer was caught on video murdering his boss and effectively clearing him of all potential charges. So he continues to attempt to hide out from the cops and much wackiness plays out. Scenes we've seen in tons of other "on the lam" movies are flipped on their heads and generally made fun of as the story unfolds and becomes more and more heightened and ridiculous as it goes. Finally coming to Blu-ray very shortly - this one gets my highest recommend.
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I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON (1997; Bill Plympton)
Bill Plympton is one of those great, offbeat, American artistic voices that just grabs hold of you from the first moment you see his work. For me, that moment was the animated tags he did for MTV and his short 25 WAYS TO QUIT SMOKING that absolutely caught my attention. These short bits showed off the style and sense of humor of a brilliant madman and so when I discovered he'd made a feature, I was all in for sure. I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON is truly bizarre, but in the best and most Plympton-ian way. It centers around a dude who develops a growth on his neck that allows him to transform people or objects at will and it is pretty spectacular.
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TROJAN WAR (1997; George Huang)
"AFTER HOURS in High School" would be one way to describe goofy but glorious second feature from director George Huang (who impressed us all with SWIMMING WITH SHARKS 3 years prior). Has the same kind of manic energy and sense of humor (if a bit more juvenile) to the Scorsese film and also features a killer cameo by Anthony Michael Hall as a psychotic bus driver. Cute to see BOY MEETS WORLD'S Will Friedle, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Marley Shelton together this young as they would (especially the ladies) only increase in popularity soon after.
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EIGHT DAYS A WEEK (1997; Michael Davis)
Another boy pining after his dream girl movie that I dug when I first saw it on VHS, despite a rather almost off-putting raunchy streak that runs through the movie. It's such a sweet film at it's core - it's the story of a kid who decides to camp out on the lawn of his crush all summer to show her his dedication - now this all seems very creepy and stalkery, but it didn't seem quite like that when I first saw it. It definitely has a tonal clash for me where the sweetness runs up against the raunchiness in a slightly uncomfortable way - but the overall charm of the premise wins out for me.
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LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (1997; Richard Kwietniowski)
This, along with 1995's COLDBLOODED are my two favorite Jason Priestly performances and they are worthy of doing a double feature with both if the opportunity arises.  This film finds a stuffy British author (John Hurt) becoming obsessed with a mediocre American actor when he accidentally ends up seeing him in a movie (after having walked into the wrong theater) one day. From there his obsession becomes so grand that he goes so far as to seek out the actor in his hometown on Long Island where they ended up meeting each other.
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HENRY FOOL (1997; Hal Hartley)
Prior to this film, I found Hartley to be a hard guy to get on board with. Back then, his films like SIMPLE MEN, just seemed like pretentious tripe to me and I could not see the appeal. My tune has changed over the years, but this was the one that grabbed me first and caused me to go back and start to reappraise his work which I am very glad to have done. Parker Posey fans take note - she's unsurprisingly great in this. HENRY FOOL is also the movie that introduced me to James Urbaniak and for that I am also grateful.
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CAREER GIRLS (1997; Mike Leigh)
I remember being extremely excited to see this one as I was riding high on a wave of Mike Leigh affection after having been blown away by NAKED (which I actually had to rent from another "cooler" video store than the one I was working in) and having great respect for SECRETS & LIES. I recall being initially disappointed with this story of two women who reunite and rekindle their friendship after having not had much contact since their college graduation six years before. Maybe it was too depressing to me back then? I can't recall what bothered me about it, but it could have been a post-college potential for unhappiness that I didn't relish the thought of. All that said, I feel differently about the film now and find both the leads (Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman) to be quite solid and was amused to see Andy Serkis crop up as well. This needs a Blu-ray as I had to order an import DVD just to watch it again. It seems to have slipped out of the cinematic consciousness at the moment, but I hope it returns to favor soon.
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THE RELIC (1997; Peter Hyams)
The polar opposite of Mike Leigh, but a monster movie that I like and a cast - including Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore (!) and Clayton Rohner (a personal favorite actor of mine) - that I find pretty outstanding.
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OUT TO SEA (1997; Martha Coolidge)
Beyond the obvious draw of Lemmon and Matthau, this movie has Donald O'Connor, Barney Miller and Hasselhoff's boss from KNIGHT RIDER. Plus a fake phone call from Donald Trump. Oh and Brent Spiner for the STAR TREK nerds. Also - the ladies: Dyan Cannon, Rue McLanahan & Elaine Stritch (watching PREDATOR on TV). Aaaand it's from the director of VALLEY GIRL! Plus - I love the cruise ship milieu and it makes me think this would make a nice double with THE IMPOSTORS (which is one of my all-time favorites).
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GOOD BURGER (1997; Brian Robbins)
Why am I so entertained by this goofball, Nickelodeon movie? I can't really say. I honestly have trouble quantifying what it is about GOOD BURGER that gets me. Normally I'd find enormously stupid characters like these to be rather annoying, but for some reason these don't bother me. There's something quite endearing about them - especially Kel Mitchell's "Ed". I also like that this movie comes from the minds of two alums from the HEAD OF THE CLASS TV Show I was obsessed with in high school.
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PICTURE PERFECT (1997; Glenn Gordon Caron)
Kind of embarrassed that I found this movie as enjoyable as I did, but I can't deny it hooked me. Between Jennifer Aniston in her adorable and funny "making tons of movies" period and Jay Mohr being waaay more delightful and charming in his role than he had any right to be, I found this to be a kind of delightful and humorous adult take on something along the lines of CAN'T BUY ME LOVE (which is a surprisingly influential film in terms of the number of movies that seemed to emulate bits of its plot in later years).
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WINTER SLEEPERS (1997; Tom Tykwer)
I was very excited to see this one after seeing the dazzlingly stylish RUN LOLA RUN in the theater and getting incredibly jazzed about Tykwer as a filmmaker. While not quite living up to LOLA, I still think it is a very interesting early film from him with some stylish flourishes and a movie that is most certainly deserving of a Blu-ray.
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