Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Ira Brooker ""

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Underrated '97 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at, and @irabrooker.
Spaceman (Directed by Scott Dikkers)
This weird little sci-fi action comedy is the brainchild of “The Onion” co-founder Scott Dikkers, back when that publication was just a plucky little satire rag from Wisconsin. That’s a fitting origin for a movie whose wit, ambition and professionalism far exceed its obviously miniscule budget.

David Ghilardi gives a splendidly deadpan performance as the titular hero, a human who was abducted by aliens as a child and trained as an intergalactic bloodsport gladiator. “Spaceman” picks up his story after he’s been stranded back on Earth as a young man, forced to figure out day-to-day life on Chicago’s North Side while struggling to keep his killing to a minimum. It’s a cleverly written, surprisingly violent bit of overachievement filled with solid performances by mix of local actors (including the great Brian Stack, who comedy nerds will know from his years as featured player on Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert’s late night shows), Dikkers’s co-workers and, in the case of the lead villain, homeless folks plucked off the street because they looked right for the part. It’s an odd duck of an indie flick doesn’t fit neatly into any niche, which is probably part of why it remains so obscure, but for me that’s also a big part of its appeal.

(I was fortunate enough to speak to Scott Dikkers earlier this year about the making of “Spaceman” and why it’s never become the cult classic it deserves to be. Give it a read at Crooked Marquee, if you’re so inclined!)
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A Gun for Jennifer (Directed by Todd Morris)
A woman with a shadowy past hurriedly moves to the city and falls in with a group of female vigilantes who use a skeevy strip club as a front for their true passion: torturing, castrating, and executing rapists and other abusive men.

Despite the male director, this is clearly a woman-led piece of work. Writer/star Deborah Twiss’s movie resonates with the voices of women who’ve been wading through harassment and abuse all their lives and are ready to bite back. It’s the rare ‘90s grindhouse production that feels like a natural evolution of its ‘70s forebears, not just an homage to them. It’s rough, grimy, righteously angry stuff with a voice that’s decidedly its own. It also features a cameo by queercore punk legends Tribe 8. If you know anything about Tribe 8, that’ll tell you a lot about “A Gun for Jennifer.”

Bloodmoon (Directed by Tony Leung Siu-Hung)
A masked murderer with a metal hand is bumping off New York’s top boxers, Tough Men, martial artists, and other “champions,” and it’s up to retired detective Gary Daniels and serial-killer specialist Chuck Jeffreys to stop his spree. Oh, and we also have to allow time for Daniels to patch up his crumbling marriage, police chief Frank Gorshin to fly into apoplectic rages, and Jeffreys to crack wise and perform close-up magic tricks at still-fresh murder scenes.

This is your best-case scenario for a direct-to-video serial killer flick starring British kickboxer Gary Daniels, who’s actually a more solid leading man than plenty of jocks-turned-action-stars. It’s barely controlled lunacy from start-to-finish, chockablock with wild martial arts sequences, ludicrous ‘90s techno-twists (the killer can not only hijack the NYPD’s computer system, but also stream live, crystal-clear video of his assassinations - in 1997), and shameless mimicry (Jeffrey’ gives a standout performance as a character who’s basically written as “Eddie Murphy, but with magic tricks”). By all rights, this should add up to something exhausting, insulting, or just plain stupid, but instead it’s a full-on bonkers good time..
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Executive Target (Directed by Joseph Merhi)
I’ve been exploring the Joseph Merhi oeuvre this year, and I’m convinced that the man is a genuine exploitation auteur. His early films, like “Mayhem,” “L.A. Crackdown,” and “Epitaph” radiate a singular, slimy soulfulness that goes well beyond their trashy veneer.

By the time he made “Executive Target,” though, Merhi had evolved himself into a pure genre filmmaker, and a pretty darn good one at that. His PM Entertainment production company has a reputation as a cheaper, sleazier man’s Cannon Films, and this dumb little action joint is a prime example of how much fun they could squeeze out of a teensy budget. Michael Madsen stars as an outlaw stunt driver who gets sprung from jail by a mercenary group that wants him to be the wheelman for their plot to kidnap and ransom President Roy Scheider.

This one’s full of great big performances from Madsen in the put-upon anti-hero role, Keith David as a cigar-chomping terrorist leader, Angie Everhart as a bad-ass enforcer, and Dayton Callie (who also wrote the script) as Madsen’s scuzzy mechanic buddy. But as with a lot of PM productions, the stunts are the real stars. Merhi’s knack for vehicular mayhem is on full display, with squad cars rolling in mid-air, armored trucks careening through downtown L.A., helicopters crashing into police cruisers, and all manner of burnt rubber and fireballs. It’s all plenty dumb, but in the best way.
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How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels (Directed by Craig Welch)
This macabre black-and-white animated short follows a milquetoast gentleman’s mildly twisted attempts at solving the titular question. The style, subject matter and time period might suggest something in the vein of Tim Burton, but this works so well precisely because it resists whimsy and irony, luxuriating instead in its own unsettling brand of surrealist body horror.

Habitat (Directed by Rene Daalder)
In an ozone-depleted, semi-apocalyptic future where it’s unsafe for humans to spend more than a few minutes at a time outdoors, angsty teen Balthazar Getty struggles to fit in at his new high school. Meanwhile his eco-activist parents transform their house into a sentient biome that wreaks messy vengeance on anyone who disrespects the environment. If you can find me a more 1997 movie synopsis than that, my hat’s off to you.

Rene Daalder, the reliably out-there director of “Massacre at Central High” and “Population One,” invests too much time in Balthazar Getty moping around, fighting with the local jocks, and generally Balthazar Gettying, but the film makes up for it in its squishy, steamy special effects sequences. The living house is a pretty spectacular creation, full of steam and vines and sentient swarms of insects. Alice Krige is nicely over the top as Getty’s surprisingly cold-blooded hippie mom, while Kenneth Welsh goes several strata over the top as the school’s hyper-macho boxing coach. His performance alone would be worth the price of admission - it’s like Daalder watched him as Windom Earle in “Twin Peaks” and said, “Do it like that, but waaay bigger.” The whole thing is very much a snapshot of its era, and I love movies that fit that description.
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