Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Matt Wedge ""

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Underrated '97 - Matt Wedge

Matt Wedge is a writer, film fanatic, cat herder, and news editor of cult film website Daily Grindhouse. Matt's obsession with the films of Larry Cohen and sticking up for unfairly maligned cinematic bombs can be read at his site, Obsessive Movie Nerd. You can follow him on Twitter as @MovieNerdMatt.


EVE'S BAYOU
Dripping with Southern Gothic atmosphere, EVE'S BAYOU is the kind of sinister and swooning melodrama that just does not get made any longer without going for camp. Actor-turned-writer/director Kasi Lemmons achieves the near impossible here as she crafts a truly sexy indie drama about lust and infidelity with just enough hints at magical realism to keep viewers on their toes. A stacked cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Vondie Curtis-Hall, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell firing on all cylinders holds it all together as the plot goes in places both anticipated and unexpected. In a perfect world, Lemmons would be cranking out new movies every couple of years.
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BREAKDOWN
For pure fun, it is hard to beat BREAKDOWN. Playing like a pulpy, crowd-pleasing version of George Sluizer's original version of THE VANISHING (which Sluizer tried and failed to do with his American remake, but that's another story), co-writer/director Jonathan Mostow has the good sense to cast Kurt Russell against type as a non-confrontational everyman desperately trying to find his wife (Kathleen Quinlan) who has gone missing in a desolate stretch of desert. A modest box office success that received a polite critical reception, it still seems to have fallen off the radar, but if you like your thrillers fast moving, ridiculous, and suspenseful (And who doesn't?), BREAKDOWN is very satisfying junk food that doesn't make you regret it later.
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THE NIGHT FLIER
Its threadbare budget eventually shows, but Mark Pavia's impressive adaptation of the Stephen King short story gives Miguel Ferrer a chance to shine in one of his few lead roles. A clever script that picks apart tabloid journalism and the unscrupulous people it attracts gives an entertainingly cynical layer to this unusual vampire tale before a go-for-broke, bloody finale that calls to mind classic Fulci. THE NIGHT FLIER may be too ambitious for its own good at times, but Ferrer's hilarious, gripping performance and a script that commits to its mean tone smooth over the small missteps.
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HENRY FOOL
I know plenty of Hal Hartley disciples who disagree with me when I say that the legendarily independent New York filmmaker reached his peak with HENRY FOOL. To be clear, I don't mean that compliment as an insult to the films he has released since this one. I just believe that this is easily his most expansive, cohesive vision of economically, emotionally, and artistically desperate Long Island outsiders. Full of humor that ranges from hyper-literate to scatological, sadness, and well-earned sentimentality, Hartley also gets great performances out of Parker Posey, James Urbaniak, and Thomas Jay Ryan and creates a fully realized world that didn't really need the two (welcome, but uneven) sequels that followed.
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THE MATCHMAKER
I think Janeane Garofalo is an extremely funny comic and welcome screen presence, but she does not scream romantic comedy to me. Perhaps that is why THE MATCHMAKER works as well as it does. As a political consultant trying to find proof of the Irish heritage of the politician she works for (his district is in Boston and he needs help winning re-election), her no-nonsense demeanor and independence is considered a challenge to the pride of a professional matchmaker in the small Irish town she visits. Throw in a handsome local businessman with his own issues when it comes to relationships (David O'Hara) and you have what initially seems to be a paint-by-numbers entry in the genre. But to the credit of director Mark Joffe, Garofalo, and O'Hara, the film is more interested with exploring the psychology of these damaged characters than it is in forcing them together. That the film also manages to hit most of the expected beats of the genre without ever making it seem as though it is selling out its characters for a false happy ending is damn near a miracle.
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