Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Sean Wicks ""

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Underrated '97 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a good friend of mine and he runs the Cinema-Scope blog ( which is very much a sister blog to my own (we often do series in conjunction with each other). An all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (, tumblr ( facebook (, and letterboxd (

It is hard to believe that 1997 with L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and TITANIC was 20 years ago. It was a solid movie year and I remember clearly everyone thinking TITANIC might sink badly (yes, bad pun intended) but then it made James Cameron the king of the movie world.

BREAKDOWN (Directed by Johnathan Mostow)
BREAKDOWN is a picture that has been made many times before, in different guises, but it’s a formula that works and in this case, makes for a solid and entertaining thriller.

Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan are a married middle-class couple whose car breaks down in the middle of the desert. She goes missing, and Kurt finds himself surrounded by people who swear she was never there.

This is the movie that enabled me to have one of those “only in Los Angeles” moments, not once but twice. I was working at a Laserdisc store in 1996, as well as interning at a production company reading scripts at Universal. One of those scripts was BREAKDOWN, and after reading it I was raving about it the next day with my laserdisc co-workers. Later that day, I noticed a name pop up during a disc rental transaction that just happened to be Johnathan Mostow who not only directed this picture, but also wrote it. I told him I had just read his script and raved over it. He was, of course, in shock that his video store clerk had read his in-post-production script.

So 1997 comes along and the picture is released and now I’m interning at what would become a full-time development gig at a production company at Warner Bros. Mr. Mostow was friends with my employer and called in and I reminded him of who I was. He completely remembered me, and mentioned that he had told a lot of people about that day at the video store where the clerk had read and loved his script. Yes, only in Los Angeles indeed.

Oh and the movie is great, you should check it out.
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THE RAINMAKER (Directed by Francis Ford Coppola)
In the 90s, John Grisham adaptations were all the rage. A TIME TO KILL, THE FIRM as well as this picture directed by the Godfather himself, Francis Ford Coppola.

It’s hard to believe that such a big budget studio picture made by a legendary director would be on an underrated list, but this was one of the best of the Grisham movies to come out and for the most part was completely forgotten.

As with almost all Grisham-based movies (except maybe CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS), it’s a courtroom drama about an underdog lawyer (Matt Damon) taking on a big-bad insurance company on behalf of an elderly couple whose son needs an operation. Oh yes, I know what you’re thinking, the plot sounds completely contrived and uninspired – and you would be right. Coppola and the cast (which includes Danny DeVito, Jon Voight, Clare Danes, Dean Stockwell, Virginia Madsen, Mickey Rourke and Roy Scheider) gives the material a lift, so much so that it is so much better than it should be.
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THE POSTMAN (Directed by Kevin Costner)
A 3-hour epic that sees Kevin Costner pick up a post bag, and brings hope to post-apocalyptic survivors while facing off against a big bad (Will Patton – who starred with Costner in 1987’s superb NO WAY OUT) who was a former copy salesman. The picture comes complete with a sequence where Costner, in slow motion and on horseback, dramatically takes a letter out of a waiting child’s hand. It’s long, it’s bloated, it’s amazing!

Another “only in L.A.” story accompanies this. January, 1998 and Warner Bros. had not yet taken down the decorations from the on-lot Premiere that had been thrown for THE POSTMAN a month earlier. I was walking to the copier and saw Mr. Costner conversing with someone who then stopped to look at THE POSTMAN one-sheets adorning the theater, during which Costner clearly started stuttering to get the man’s attention back as the film had completely tanked at the box office. I still love it though.
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THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (Directed by Jon Amiel)
I recently re-watched this picture that features Bill Murray as an American who randomly, and without any sort of notice (not to mention he’s a Blockbuster Video store clerk, so how he affords this is anyone’s guess) at his brother’s house (brother played by Peter Gallagher) in London on the night he is about to close a big deal. To get Murray out of the house, Gallagher sets him up in a living “play” that would have Murray running all over town playing a part, but instead he is mistaken for a spy and his life is in danger, even though the entire time he still thinks it’s all part of the act.

This movie is truly funny, and probably even funnier than when it first came out. It is a bit absurd which works in its’ favor and Murray plays it to the hilt. A Russian dance sequence at the end of the picture is a truly hilarious set-piece that goes on long enough that it should fall apart, but instead somehow gets funnier the longer it goes.
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THE APOSTLE (Directed by Robert Duvall)
The 90s were all about big names participating in more personal, independent films (thanks in part to Miramax and other smaller studios). THE APOSTLE was a directorial effort by Robert Duvall who also starred in the picture, about a Texas preacher who changes his name, moves to Louisiana after a personal struggle and starts preaching on the radio.

Duvall’s title character is a complex one. It’s hard to dislike the man, but it’s also a challenge to get behind him as well. At 2 hours and 14 minutes, the picture is a little bloated, but it serves as a sort of ELMER GANTRY for the 90s. ELMER GANTRY was of course a 1960 film starring Burt Lancaster (who won an Oscar) as a charismatic religious crusader who wins over no-nonsense Jean Simmons. The two films would make an ideal (but long) double bill.
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1 comment:

Jonathan said...

I am shocked that Breakdown is not considered a classic by the masses.