Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Peter Fabian ""

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Underrated '97 - Peter Fabian

Peter and I were video store comrades back when I was in college. He's been a movie lover for a quite a while and I am always interested to hear what he thinks of films, both new and old, good and bad.
Follow him on twitter @kiwified77.

Looking back on it, 1997 was indeed a pretty great year for films (stone me if thou shalt but I still adore TITANIC). It was a great year for me personally. I'd left the indie video store in Madison where I'd become outnumbered by pretentious film cynics who openly mocked customers' choices, and thanks to some of my film school classmates, got a job working at the local Blockbuster. To this day it's one of the best jobs I've ever had. It was an often boisterous but supportive enclave of geeks whose passion for the weird and unwatched was precisely what my dehydrating film thirst needed. We were the happy victims of a virus, and the source of much of the contagion in that store was the quiet, unassuming celebrator of all things film that I call my friend Brian, or, according to the banner above, Rupert Pupkin. Happily, that friendship and mentorship continues and I'm always proud to be part of his celebrations.

PRIVATE PARTS (1997; Betty Thomas)
By no stretch am I a Howard Stern fan, but the fact remains this movie has no business being this good. With nearly the entire posse of Stern's acolytes turning in more than passable performances, particularly Stern himself, PRIVATE PARTS ascends its low brow expectations and becomes a surprisingly charming love letter to Stern's (then) wife. I also have to credit it with introducing me to one of my favorite actors, the always excellent Paul Giamatti. Perhaps it's pure PR and perhaps it's not, but it's sweet and hilarious and worth a watch even for the hardered anti-Sternite.
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BRASSED OFF (1997; Mark Herman)
Between his turns in the unfairly fan-abhorred Star Wars prequels and his wonderful globe-cycling series “Long Way Round,” Ewan McGregor became my absolute favorite actor. In going back through his filmography, I came across this lesser know gem about a beleaguered coal town band. Often marketed as a comedy, and I'm not sure that's entirely accurate, it's full of great performances by McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald, the late great Pete Postlethwaite, and Jim “Deja Vu” Carter. Bittersweet, hopeful, and at the same time cynical, BRASSED OFF is perhaps less about a community overcoming obstacles than the human cost of progress.
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FORGOTTEN SILVER (1997; Costa Botes & Peter Jackson)
I did a terrible thing. After falling in love with Peter Jackson's genius mockumentary about fictional Kiwi inventor Colin McKenzie, I goaded my parents into watching it, intentionally leaving off the “fictional” part. As they watched and slowly fell in love with McKenzie and his indomitable spirit and heroism, laughing and crying over the brilliantly staged “newly found footage” of his amazing life, I felt an increasing pang of guilt. Of course I didn't tell them until the (also fake) credits rolled. Now I know how the duped New Zealand television audience felt upon it's original airing, because boy, were my parents pissed. But... worth it.
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THE PEACEMAKER (1997; Mimi Leder)
I've often heard reactions to this George Clooney/ Nicole Kidman action thriller as dismissive or downright scornful, which always puzzled me. Clooney's Thomas DeVoe is a character I really enjoyed watching, with just enough rogueish charm and frat boy arrogance backed up by his ability to Get Shit Done. His dynamic with Kidman's Julia Kelly keeps aloft what is admittedly a bit of a by-the-numbers plot based on an insightful and frightening article written by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn (perhaps better known as Olivia Wilde's parents). Leder turns out to be a skilled director of character-based action. It's part of what made her DEEP IMPACT vastly superior to ARMAGEDDON. I've always been a sucker for international espionage and political thrillers, and this one hits many of the right notes for me and its final scene steps away from its characters perfectly.
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BREAKDOWN (1997, Jonathan Mostow)
This one took me by complete surprise. A rather random rainy day selection that turned out to be one of the best thrillers of the year. Paced as taught as an electrified fence with yet another masterful performance by my man Kurt Russell, BREAKDOWN is the kind of stuff they could show in film classes. Russell and Kathleen Quinlan play such familiarly human characters that we bond with them immediately and the film is smart enough to base every beat on that humanity. The late great JT Walsh plays a villain who is most horrific for his own realism, a sweetly domestic neighbor down the road a ways, unmasked as a guiltless and relentless killer. Reminiscent of Spielberg's masterful DUEL, BREAKDOWN could rightly be afforded a spot amongst the best late 20th century thrillers like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and THE FUGITIVE.
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KULL THE CONQUERER (1997; John Nicolella)
Springboarding off his popularity from the TV series Hercules :The Legendary Journeys, Kevin Sorbo plays Robert E. Howard's predecessor to Conan (the barbarian, not the host) in what could fairly be called a fantasy swashbuckler. Smart enough not to take itself too seriously, but not smart enough to capture the goofy charm that made Hercules so popular, KULL THE CONQUERER is still a fun romp that got worse than it deserves. Sorbo wasn't going to win any awards, but he still makes a great camp hero, with engaging supporting characters and an unchained Tia Carrere who seems bound and determined not to be outcamped by anyone. More Sinbad than Conan, it's worth a couple hours for a lazy Saturday matinee.
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OPERATION CONDOR (1997; Jackie Chan)
Part of New Line Cinema's rush of Jackie Chan rereleases in the wake of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX's success, OPERATION CONDOR is actually ARMOR OF GOD 2. They later released the first film as OPERATION CONDOR 2:ARMOR OF GOD and changed -okay, you now what, the whole thing is stupid and messy and all you really need to know or even care about is this has more great Jackie Chan action intermingled with a Indiana Jones-style chase for Nazi gold. Highlights include a zorbing escape from vaguely racist natives caricatures, an excellent motorcycle chase and jump, a scramble fight across teetering scaffolding in the Nazi base, and a has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed fight in an underground wind tunnel.
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THE EDGE (1997; Lee Tamahori)
I love survival stories, and THE EDGE is about as cerebral an entry in the genre as one could expect. Skillfully directed by Lee Tamahori, the Kiwi director behind the brutally great ONCE WERE WARRIORS, it's a character-based struggle that packs in all the genre story tropes: man against nature, man against beast, and predominantly man against man. David Mamet scripts, and delivers his patented testosterone-soaked power struggle, this time between a volcanically jealous Alec Baldwin and a reservedly powerful Anthony Hopkins. It also features an early turn by the terrific Harold Perrineau of whom I'd become a fan after his excellent work in SMOKE. The real star of this show however? The Pacino of animal actors, Bart the Bear.
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LIFELINE (1997; Johnnie To)
Don't call it “the Hong Kong BACKDRAFT.” Okay, you can all it that, but you still need to see To's firefighter action drama starring the magnetic Ching Wan Lau (from BIG BULLET, FULL ALERT, and EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED). Ching Wan Lau's charisma holds your attention hostage in so many of his roles, and expect full-on Stockholm Syndrome on this one. Similar to the underrated DEEPWATER HORIZON, LIFELINE gives you time to learn and appreciate its characters before tossing you headfirst into a blazing primary action set piece that would make the cast of BACKDRAFT wet 'em. Like so many Hong Kong productions, limited budgets and liability laws put the actors into the action and create a realistic tension unknown in stateside work by anyone who doesn't want to be sued out of existence. A Must See for Hong Kong action fans.
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