Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - James Curtiss ""

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Underrated '97 - 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.
Listen to At the Cheap Seats on iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/at-the-cheap-seats/id1028662586?mt=2

GRIDLOCK’D – In a fair world, this motherfucker of a debut should have made actor-writer-director Vondie Curtis-Hall one of the go-to directors of the new millennium. People tend to focus on the amazing performances by our main trio (Tupac, Tim Roth, and Thandie Newton) while glossing over the deft handling of both kinetics and intimacy in Curtis-Hall’s script and direction. It is one of the most assured debuts of the 90s, but it sadly led to Curtis-Hall overseeing one of the biggest flops of the 21st century, Mariah Carey’s failed attempt at movie stardom, GLITTER. Director Jail has rarely been so destructive to a still-burgeoning career.
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SUBURBIA – Richard Linklater has made so many films, it isn’t surprising that he has racked up an impressive roster of unfortunately forgotten features. It’s also not surprising that Linklater’s straight-forward cinematic staging of Eric Bogosian’s play about angst-y and aimless twenty-somethings would slip through the fingers of the director’s fans whose tastes tend towards something a little less bleak. Whatever. As usual, the Texas auteur assembles a note-perfect cast to help shape his spot-on adaptation of Bogosian’s work.
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KISSED – Cinematic treatments of necrophilia usually bring to mind the more salacious and graphic visions of directors like Jorg Buttgereit and Joe D’Amato. While artists in their own right, their sensationalism and natural proclivity towards the male gaze stands in stark contrast to the more achingly intimate atmosphere of Lynne Stopkewich’s debut feature. One of the director’s major coups was in the casting of lead Molly Parker, a fearless actress who gives her all to the part of a young woman whose fascination with death leads her to engage in sexual acts with the bodies at her mortuary job. (Parker is also absolutely fearless in Wayne Wang’s long-forgotten indie THE CENTER OF THE WORLD.)
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NOWHERE – I’ve spent the better part of two decades defending the work of Gregg Araki. Like many iconoclastic filmmakers, Araki’s work “isn’t for everyone,” and the penultimate entry in his Teen Apocalypse Trilogy is no exception. Playing like the 90s lovechild of John Waters, Tom Graeff, Alex Cox, and Aaron Spelling (have fun imagining that menage a quatre), NOWHERE is a sprawling day in the life of over a dozen SoCal teens (including Araki’s long-time avatar James Duval) whose desire for good times and basic human connection lead to sex, drugs, suicide, eating disorders, etc. The background for all this casual decadence is stuffed to the gills with useless parents, gum-snapping Valley girls, televangelist tormentors, and a small-scale alien invasion. Sadly, issues with the soundtrack has made it so this film hasn’t even received a US DVD release.
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4 LITTLE GIRLS – Much like Herzog, Spike Lee has found greater success as a documentarian in the latter part of his career. While they will both occasionally turn out a worthwhile feature, their documentaries always wind up being some of the most essential films of their given year. For Lee, that all starts here with the story of the titular youths who died in the church bombing in Birmingham in 1963. The film was recently designated for inclusion in the National Film Registry. That seems counter to my argument of its status as Underrated, but it is so easy for films like this to slip through the cracks, especially in this day and age where the glut of frivolous documentaries threatens to overwhelm the catalog of every “content provider” everywhere.
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GOING ALL THE WAY – Back in the salad days of 1997, in the thick of the post-Sundance indie boom, no one would suspect that Batfleck was in their futures, or that Jeremy Davies would age not so gracefully from playing shy introverts into one of Hollywood’s go-to scary weirdos. We certainly didn’t know what Harvey Weinstein was trying to do to Rose McGowan at that year’s Sundance festival. GOING ALL THE WAY, with its portrayal of two young men using each other to try and uncover who they think they really are, is a perfect relic of the time. The feature debut by then music video maestro Mark Pellington (whose genre work in ARLINGTON ROAD and THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES has it fans, though I’m certainly not one of them) features incredible performances from Affleck and Davies as two recent Korean War vets whose pursuit of dream girls (including breath-taking beauty McGowan) and loftier ambitions bond them in ways even they didn’t expect. There is a wonderful honesty to how frightened and unexceptional these two men are, even if, or maybe because of, how they view women is so ignorant and toxic.
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THE ASSIGNMENT – To say this is the better of the two “Carlos the Jackal” movies that were released in 1997 is a massive understatement. While Christian Duguay’s clever, stylized thriller is one of my favorite action films of the ‘90s, the bloated Bruce Willis/Richard Gere-starring actioner stands as one of the worst films to receive a wide release that year. If Duguay’s movie had the marketing dollars THE JACKAL had, people would still be talking about it. Plus, maybe, Duguay would have been afforded better material to sink his teeth into. As it stands, his pre- and post-THE ASSIGNMENT work pegs him as a more vibrant, though low-rent Renny Harlin. This movie, featuring some incredible performances from Donald Sutherland, Ben Kingsley, and a career-best Aidan Quinn, will stand as Duguay’s best for years to come, even if it has yet to find the massive following it so rightfully deserves.
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