Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Patrick Bromley ""

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Underrated '97 - Patrick Bromley

Patrick Bromley is the Editor-in-Chief of F This Movie! ( and a contributor to Daily Dead and Blumhouse. He hosts the F This Movie! podcast and is a co-host of the horror-themed podcast Corpse Club.
I’m a big believer that 1997 was one of the best years for movies since I have been alive. Several of my favorite movies came out this year: Boogie Nights, Starship Troopers, Jackie Brown, The Ice Storm, Lost Highway…I could go on and on. But there are plenty of smaller movies that fell through the cracks or have been forgotten over the last two decades, and that’s a shame. Here are some of the standouts for me:

Touch (dir. Paul Schrader) Paul Schrader’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel is lighter and more comedic than the writer/director’s usual work, casting Skeet Ulrich as healer who experiences stigmata and becomes the center of a tug-of-war between organized religion, TV talk shows, cutthroat agents, you name it. With an incredible cast that includes Bridget Fonda, Christopher Walken, Tom Arnold, Gina Gershon, Janeane Garofalo, John Doe, Conchata Ferrell, Paul Mazursky, Lolita Davidovich, and Breckin Meyer, Touch is an eccentric and odd little film. The tonal mix doesn’t always work and not everyone appears to be acting in the same movie, but the spirit of the thing feels faithful to Leonard’s writing. Also worth noting: the score is composed by Dave Grohl, who also contributes a couple of songs. As far as I know, it’s the only proper film score he’s ever written.
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A Life Less Ordinary (dir. Danny Boyle) I know the movie is often dismissed as Danny Boyle’s post-Trainspotting “slump,” but I have always and will always love it a lot. Cameron Diaz (back when she was choosing interesting projects) stars as an heiress who stages her own kidnapping with the help of down-on-his-luck Ewan McGregor. Ian Holm is her father who doesn’t want to pay the ransom. Oh, and Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo play angels who try to make Diaz and McGregor fall in love by putting them in dangerous situations. Part road movie, part romantic comedy, part fantasy, part musical, A Life Less Ordinary leans into all of its goofiness and gleefully celebrates all of the genres to which Danny Boyle is paying tribute. The results are super charming.
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Playing God (dir. Andy Wilson) This quickly-forgotten crime drama from 1997 was supposed to turn David Duchovny into a movie star (his first big-screen leading role post-X-Files) but wound up disappearing from theaters in just a couple of weeks, recouping only a third of its already-low $12 million budget. While it’s often directed like a made-for-TV movie by Andy Wilson (a TV veteran making his only theatrical feature), Playing God is an underrated neo-noir with all the elements in place: flawed hero damning himself on the way to redemption, two-bit gangster looking to make it big, sultry femme fatale, deadpan narration. Hell, it's even set in Los Angeles, and while it's set mostly during the sun-soaked day instead of the rain-drenched night, it captures a certain hazy, sleepy feel that's both right for the city and for the main character's drugged-up state. Besides, how can you resist a movie that features lines like "Sometimes in life, we are given a choice between being a slave in Heaven or a star in Hell. And Hell does not always look like Hell. On a good day, it can look a lot like L.A.”? Throw in an early performance from Angelina Jolie, a really fun Timothy Hutton villain, and some crazy John Hawkes and you’ve got perfect Saturday afternoon viewing.
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The End of Violence (dir. Wim Wenders) This sprawling, ambitious mess may not be one of Wim Wenders’ greatest films, but it is so interesting and compelling as it unfolds that it winds up being a movie I return to more than some of his widely recognized classics. Wenders creates beautiful, haunting images and an atmosphere of quiet, contemplative reflection in this multi-character story that wants to say something about filmmaking and American culture in the 1990s, even if it’s not always completely successful. The cast alone makes it work a look: Bill Pullman (one of my very favorite actors), Frederic Forrest, Andie McDowall, Henry Silva, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Traci Lind, Loren Dean, Gabriel Byrne, Nicole Ari Parker, and even the great Sam Fuller in a supporting role. Some post-Cannes recuts may have compromised Wenders’ original vision, but the movie is unfairly dismissed as plodding and pretentious. I find it to be neither.
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All Over Me (dir. Alex Sichel) In a better, more just universe, Allison Folland became a big movie star after this movie. She plays an introverted teenager living in New York who is realizing that she’s fallen in love with her best friend (Tara Subkoff). Twenty years later, the movie is super dated because of just how much it’s about the ‘90s “riot grrrl” music scene; even co-star Leisha Hailey, who has a sweet romance with Holland’s character, was a member of the ‘90s girl group The Murmurs. The music is also great, the Hell’s Kitchen atmosphere authentic, the writing and direction thoughtful and sincere. It’s Folland’s performance, though, that makes the movie for me. It should have made her a huge movie star — or, at the very least, a big star on the indie scene. Instead she wound up stabbing herself with knitting needles in one scene in The Happening. Good job, Hollywood.
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Mean Guns (dir. Albert Pyun) If I’m making a list of underrated movies from the ‘80s or ‘90s, there’s almost no chance there won’t be at least one Albert Pyun movie on it. One of Pyun's most experimental movies is also one of his purest action efforts -- it is, by design, a wall-to-wall shoot 'em up. Ice-T plays a crime boss who gathers 100 criminals and lowlifes at a vacant prison and has them fight to the death; last one standing gets $10 million. That's the whole movie. Characterization is thin, but the action is inventive and plentiful; in what has to be the movie's boldest and most fascinating choice, Pyun scores the whole thing with mambo music. The director's cut is pretty much the only way to go with this one, because it's the only version that retains the 2.35:1 scope photography. Most commercially available versions of the movie present it in a full frame broadcast TV aspect ratio, and Pyun's widescreen compositions and the action geography are the best things about the movie.
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Eye of God (dir. Tim Blake Nelson) The directorial debut of character actor Tim Blake Nelson is a devastating, unfortunately overlooked drama about abuse with tragic consequences. Martha Plimpton stars as a waitress in a small town in Oklahoma who started up a romance with a convict (Kevin Anderson) while he was in prison; upon his release, they are finally united but things go terribly wrong. Told in a fractured structure, Eye of God is some heavy, heavy shit, as heartbreaking as it is devastating. The incredible supporting cast includes Nick Stahl, Hal Holbrook, and Richard Jenkins, who has my favorite scene in the movie. I wish this movie got more attention.
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As always, thank you to Brian Saur and Rupert Pupkin Speaks for allowing me to participate in these fantastic series of columns, which not only provide me with countless new movies to track down but serve as a regular reminder that this blog — and, by extension, Brian himself — is one of the best celebrations of all kinds of movies all year long.

1 comment:

ThreeOranges said...

Agreed on "A Life Less Ordinary." People have too low of a tolerance for sentimentality, such that they can't even appreciate self-aware, non-manipulative sentimentality.

It's the best Cameron Diaz has ever been, outside of "Being John Malokovich" maybe, plus it has totally gratuitous claymation at the end.