Rupert Pupkin Speaks: April 2018 ""

Monday, April 30, 2018

New Release Roundup for the week of May 1st, 2018

THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY on Blu-ray (Mill Creek)
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BLOOD HOOK on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)
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BLUE VENGEANCE on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)
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MAFIA on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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BIG BUSINESS on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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BLAZE on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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PLAY IT TO THE BONE on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
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THE HALF-BREED on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
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WINCHESTER on Blu-ray (Lionsgate)
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Friday, April 27, 2018

Underrated '98 - Travis Woods

Travis Woods is a freelance writer whose bylines have included The L.A. Times, Paste Magazine, ScreenCrave, and others. He spends way too much time thinking about movies. You can yell at him on Twitter: @WebInFront_

Working as a video store clerk in the late ‘90s allowed me to witness a strange phenomenon: The Forgotten Movie. Whether they fell through the fault line that separated the switch from VHS to DVD, or were simply part of the cresting wave of indie home releases, so many titles from that era seem to have just, well, disappeared. No blu-ray releases, no critical reevaluations, just—poof.

So many of those endless rows of brightly colored VHS boxes on the NEW RELEASES wall that seemed iconic at the time have so faded from collective memory as to become blank little rectangular tombstones in a movie cemetery that stretches out into infinity. Thankfully, Rupert Pupkin Speaks is going on a crazed Tuco-run through that box-art graveyard looking for gold, and invited me to reminisce about a few of my underrated faves.

And if a statistically-improbable amount of those graves feature the young, airbrushed faces of Vince Vaughn or Gwyneth Paltrow, a Polygram Entertainment logo, or Jerry Springer/ Carrot Top vanity films, we’ve definitely wandered into the 1998 section.

BUFFALO ’66 (1998; Vincent Gallo)
Writer/ director / actor Vincent Gallo’s occasional nemesis, Roger Ebert, had this to say of BUFFALO ’66 in his 1998 review: “[it] plays like a collision between a lot of half-baked visual ideas and a deep and urgent need,” and, following a bowling alley sequence in which a character suddenly breaks into a spotlit tap dancing routine, asked, “What's this scene doing in BUFFALO ‘66? Maybe Gallo didn't have any other movie he could put it in.”

“Maybe Gallo didn't have any other movie he could put it in” feels like the common denominator for every scene in the film—it’s a film both intimate and sprawling, featuring Gallo’s Billy Brown wandering through a bizarre universe of Mickey Rourke monologues, Ben Gazzara lip-synching, haunting motels, bad strip clubs, and a 10-minute opening sequence in which Billy desperately hunts for a place to pee.

Along the way he gets paroled from jail, kidnaps Christina Ricci to act as his wife in a desperate bid to convince his parents his jail term was a CIA mission, has an epic series of frames at Jan-Michael Vincent’s bowling alley, and may or may not be planning a murder-suicide involving a Buffalo Bills kicker and a Super Bowl bet gone bad.

It’s a bizarrely hypnotic junk-drawer of a movie, held together by the strength of Gallo and Ricci’s performances, endless narrative left turns, and the surprisingly warm heart beating in the film’s center. Gallo may not have had any other film to put these ideas into (the less said about his follow-up, THE BROWN BUNNY, the better), but we’re lucky he stashed them all into this one.
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CLAY PIGEONS (1998; David Dobkin)
Easily dismissed at the time as part of the post-Tarantino glut of crime indies that flooded the back end of the 1990s, CLAY PIGEONS has far less to do PULP FICTION than it does with pure pulp. Indeed, the film plays like a deeply Gen-X’d spin on a universe in which Jim Thompson is God and his THE KILLER INSIDE ME is the Bible… and instead of Job you get Joaquin Phoenix as an unassuming hick wrongfully accused of multiple murders.

Vince Vaughn (who also co-starred with Phoenix in the similarly forgotten/ underrated ’98 film RETURN TO PARADISE) portrays the real culprit, pseudo-cowboy/ serial killer Lester Long, in a gleefully giggly performance far more interesting than his turn in 98’s not underrated PSYCHO remake. The film then follows Phoenix, Vaughn, and Janeane Garofalo’s acerbic FBI agent through a wild series of small-town twists, turns, and double-crosses amidst an ever-growing pile of bodies and late ‘90s alt-pop songs (Sister Hazel! The Verve Pipe! Tonic!).
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HE GOT GAME (1998; Spike Lee)
OK, so it’s not as perfect as DO THE RIGHT THING, as haunting as 25TH HOUR, or as slick as INSIDE MAN, but Spike Lee’s HE GOT GAME deserves far better than its reputation as a sub-par Joint, as this is as weird, wild, and empathetic as a Lee gets. Bursting in all directions with ideas (and, yes, one or two too many subplots), GAME is a sports movie that doubles as an intense father-son drama, a novelistic narrative that looks like it was filtered through a Wong Kar-Wai fever-dream, and a dalliance in magical realism improbably soundtracked by Aaron Copeland and Public fucking Enemy.

Oh yeah, one more thing: the film features the single best performance of Denzel Washington’s career (don’t @ me) as Jake Shuttlesworth, a born-again convict given a secret week-long release from prison in order to convince his son, Jesus (NBA pro Ray Allen), to play ball for the governor’s alma mater. The premise may be ridiculous, but Washington’s performance is a ferocious, heartbreaking portrait of a father desperate for God’s forgiveness and his son’s love.Amazon Button (via

FUCKING AMAL (1998; Lukas Moodysson)
As sweet and empathetic a portrait of love as you’ll find in any film from 1998, Sweden’s FUCKING AMAL (U.S. title: SHOW ME LOVE) is a coming-of-age tale concerning two high school girls discovering and (eventually) embracing their sexuality amidst the clueless family members, bratty friends, and dead-end titular town that holds them captive. The story is simple, the characterizations complex, and the journey is as rewarding as anything on this list, featuring as it does one cinema’s Great First Kisses (set to Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” no less), chocolate milk as a metaphor love and life, and the declarative capper: “Hi, this is my new girlfriend, Agnes. We're gonna go fuck."
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KNOCK OFF (1998; Tsui Hark)
KNOCK OFF is Jean Claude Van Damme’s STATION TO STATION LP: like David Bowie during the recording of that record, JCVD’s synapses were so coke-fused that, like most of civilization, he has no memory of the film. Which is sadly ironic, given that it’s the Brussels Muscles’ most memorable movie.

Imagine: a martial arts film directed by Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark with an action-satirizing script by DIE HARD scribe Steven E. de Souza. A plot that concerns off-brand jeans loaded with explosive microbombs. Sprinkle on some terrorism, the Russian mafia, double crosses, rickshaw footchases in which eels are used as whips, a CIA agent played by Rob Schneider, and a denim bootlegger played by Jean Claude Van Damme while locked in a cokesweat fugue. The result is one of the most visually inventive films of the 1990s (seriously!) stretched like tight bluejeans across the shapely ass of a smirking, manic martial arts crime film with a penchant for doing the splits.
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A PERFECT MURDER (1998; Andrew Davis)
Full disclosure: This is certainly the weakest film on my list, and I can’t imagine it’s anyone’s favorite movie from 1998. But! It is an unfairly forgotten film—a slick, pure popcorn thriller that builds a glossy ‘90s erotic thriller maze out of spare parts from Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER for its cast to get lost within. And what a cast: Michael Douglas does what he does best, playing a slick-coiffed reptilian millionaire who’s faced with losing it all, a pre-LORD OF THE RINGS Viggo Mortensen grifts and slithers his way onscreen like a reincarnation of his character from THE INDIAN RUNNER, and 1998 Forgotten Movie All-Star Gwyneth Paltrow (GREAT EXPECTATIONS, HUSH, SLIDING DOORS) holds court in the Kim Novak/ Grace Kelly role of the Hitchcock blonde in trouble.

It’s a deeply shallow film, and all the better for it—the film is an excuse for the stars (and their audience) to slum it in a Big Dumb Fun sub-Hitch sexy thriller in which $100 million dollars is being chased amidst the sleek high-rises, limos, and hedge fund offices of Wall Street. Sometimes you want a filet mignon, sometimes you want a bag of Doritos. A PERFECT MURDER is a cinematic bag of Doritos.
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WILD THINGS (1998; John McNaughton)
Speaking of trash—while the stars of A PERFECT MURDER might have had a dalliance with it, the cast of WILD THINGS downright wallows in it. Mud-wrestles in it. Catfights in it. Gator-fights in it. Guidance counselor three-ways in it. WILD THINGS is pure late-90s, smirking b-movie Skinemax trash, a lurid Florida neo-noir with such an ever-mounting series of double-, triple-, and quadruple-crosses that multiple post-credits sequences are dedicated to explaining what the hell we just watched.

But the whys and wherefores are hardly the point. You watch a film like WILD THINGS to see the scantily-clad cast (Matt Dillon, Kevin Bacon, Neve Campbell, Denise Richards, Theresa Russell, and a neck-braced, ambulance-chasing Bill Murray) sweat and swear and screw their way through the pastel haze of a deliriously libidinous fuck-noir that plays like an update of BODY HEAT for the Barenaked Ladies generation.Amazon Button (via

HONORARY MENTIONS (a.k.a.: other people beat me to ‘em): PALMETTO, RONIN, ZERO EFFECT.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Underrated '98 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong moviewatching habit. His current projects include #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project ( and Cinema Shame ( Follow him on Twitter at @007hertzrumble.

During the summer of 1998, I worked a rather menial retail job and came home in the evenings and watched movies on my tiny bedroom television. I'd just finished my first year of college. I thought I'd feel different, more adult, but the shock of being right back in my old room, with my old stuff, erased that confident sense of adulthood I'd gained after a year on my own. I turned to the video store for solace.

I'd come home with stacks of VHS tapes from multiple rental stores (I had three within a two-mile radius) and watch them until I fell asleep in a puddle of Doritos and ennui. I rented anything that struck my fancy. I pursued director filmographies. I tried to find the best/worst movie in the store. I also stalked the new release shelves and looked for overlooked oddities. And from this summer of obsessive moviewatching I chose zero films for this list. Not one.

I don't know where I was going with that story actually. It seemed like a good intro at the time. Maybe my point is that the 1990's offered so much unique and underappreciated cinema that now is always a good time to catch up on the stuff you missed. We'll go with that, but feel free to inject your own interpretation. Here are a few picks that you might want to put in your own VHS stack to watch tonight. Modern malaise, after all, wasn't isolated to 1998.

Zero Effect (Jake Kasdan, 1998)
Poster child for underappreciated 1990's cinema alongside Joe Versus the Volcano. I exited the theater on opening night convinced the film would be a huge success. I'm still waiting.

Bill Pullman gives the performance of his career as a reclusive and socially inept Sherlock Holmes who hires Ben Stiller to be his Watson/administrative assistant. The hopelessly neurotic detective fails to function outside his investigations, but a burgeoning relationship with prime suspect number one (the deft and underappreciated Kim Dickens) threatens to deconstruct his barriers between work and life.

The film wanders through genres like Holmes through opium dens of ill repute. It's a personality-driven dramedy and thriller. Movies that defy easy categorization often fail to find their audience, and I think that's ultimately why Zero Effect fell through the cracks. Jake Kasdan's film constantly undermines expectation in both form and function. One might consider this on the same frequency as Grosse Pointe Blank - a film that reveals a beating human heart beneath a familiar and palatable genre-based exterior.
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The Big Hit (Kirk Wong, 1998)
Speaking of goofy, let's talk about the John Woo, Terence Chang, Wesley Snipes-produced The Big Hit, an action film that dares to ask the question: How much self-awareness and masturbation humor can one audience tolerate?

I've never had a good handle on this film's popularity (or lack thereof). I know I've always enjoyed it precisely because it dares to be 100% obnoxious and not give a damn. Like this is just the way movies were in the 90's. I also worry that when the asteroid hits, future civilizations will find only copies of this movie to paint a picture of life in 1998. Consciously clunky jokes, stage-y action scenes and random Elliott Gould sightings. Put-upon Mark Wahlberg's Melvin Smiley leads dual lives with different girlfriends as a hitman and as a not-hitman. A big deal goes sour and Melvin unfairly takes the fall. This requires him to shoot a lot of guns and dodge a lot of bullets.

To best summarize why I like this film, allow me to select a snippet from Roger Ebert's overall negative review. He says, "I guess you could laugh at this. You would have to be seriously alienated from normal human values and be nursing a deep-seated anger against movies that make you think even a little, but you could laugh." Roger, I watch a lot of movies that make me think. I watch a lot of movies that don't make me think. The Big Hit is one of the select few movies that make me think about how little I actually need to think.
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Belly (Hype Williams, 1998)
Avant-gard Blaxploitation? Hyper-extended rap video? Music video director Hype Williams' only big screen feature weaves stunning visual imagery into a rather rote narrative about anti-hero drug dealers slipping into a grizzly criminal underworld for which they're not appropriately prepared.

Belly's sensational indulgence in style over substance presents itself in frame one. The film opens with crushed blacks, neon light, glowing eyes, a club scene set to Soul II Soul's "Back to Life." Visuals override narrative. They override everything but an emotional reaction to the image itself. We're left with fleeting moments of serenity and bursts of violence. Often the dialogue isn't even intelligible - either as a result of the speech patterns of Nas, DMX's muted gravel tones, the multitude of Jamaican accents - and it doesn't even matter. Williams trains his camera on experimental visuals coupled with an aggressive hip-hop soundtrack. More than a music video, but less than a feature film.

The intersection of ineptitude, hyper-realism and genius cool. I've gone back and forth on this film a couple of times. After my last viewing, I'm back to calling this a near masterpiece of pop-culture auteurism.
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New Rose Hotel (Abel Ferrara, 1998)
Less a narrative than an experience, a sequence of vignettes told through voyeurism, found footage, security cameras, digital sunsets, and Dutch angles. Challenging in its raw simplicity, but compelling due to the force of images. Ferrara's ill-received but fearless film deserves a re-evaluation. In many ways, New Rose Hotel shares the same DNA as Hype Williams' Belly in that it foregrounds the artifice of cinema to make a simplistic story more impactful.

Willem Dafoe plays small. Christopher Walken goes broad. Both men give confident, heartbreaking performances. But their excellence is expected; it's Asia Argento upon which this whole film hinges. She sells Ferrara's contorted premise about a pair of long-play corporate schemesters attempting to steal a scientific genius away from his family and employer. She's the lynchpin, the chanteuse, the bait in this transaction and she delivers her lines with naiveté and guile - the viewer never knows how much she understands about the nature of these shady dealings. Without Argento's performance the film falls apart in a heap of pretentiousness.

Ferrara wants to convey the duplicity of the image, the ways a filmmaker can manipulate signs and symbols and thereby the audience. This reflects the potency of the William Gibson source material as well as Ferrara's brash confidence. New Rose Hotel takes the shape of a kinetic three-person chamber drama or one-act play about the male code of honor and female objectification. It's an enigmatic film that further reveals itself through multiple viewings.
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Monument Ave. (Ted Demme, 1998)
Time for a slow jam that slipped under most everyone's radar. I only caught up with it recently when I went back to watch some 1998 films that lingered in Watchlist purgatory.

Instead of a hyperactive style or an amalgamation of genre (as has been the trend on my Underrated 98 list so far), this low-key Boston mob flick satisfies due to a surprising lack of narrative. Monument Ave. isn't about double or triple crosses-merely the morality of inaction. Leary gives a strong performance as Bobby O'Grady, a middling member of an Irish neighborhood gang run by Jackie O'Hara (Colm Meaney) who must choose whether or not to act when Jackie kills one of Bobby's old buddies. Denis Leary's Hamlet. A strong supporting cast, including Famke Janssen, Billy Crudup and Marin Sheen, props up the comedian's surprising turn.

Contrary to genre expectations, there's no scheme. No plot gone wrong. Childhood friends grow up in a rough and tumble neighborhood and eventually become consumed by the violent elements that have always threatened to invade their lives. Ted Demme's film reminds me of the kind of creative, character-driven dramas that dominated the 1970's. Monument Ave. appears aimless in ambition, but resonates emotionally due to the weight of O'Grady's guilt and ultimate release from these shackles.
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Thursday (Skip Woods, 1998)
The Pulp Fictioning of the 1990's continued through the tail end of the decade. The lasting legacy of Pulp Fiction wasn't just brutal criminals swinging Grade-A overworked dialogue; it was also about the criminal element broaching the everyday. The "Royale with Cheese" effect.

In Skip Woods' Thursday (his only outing as director), Thomas Jane plays Casey Wells, a false everyman, newly married and living as an architect in posh suburbia - albeit with an uncertain nefarious past. When old buddy Aaron Eckhart floats into town, this uncertain past manifests in the form a trunk of heroine, a missing bag of cash and a procession of ne'er-do-wells on his doorstop. All the while, our protagonist must convince a social worker that he fosters an environment fit for adoptive child rearing.

This low-budget gem boasts standout set pieces, including a spectacular opening volley of comedy and carnage where Eckhart shoots up a convenience store over an overpriced cup of coffee. Just when you think the movie has gone sufficiently off the rails, Mickey Rourke shows up as a crooked police officer named Kasarov. The dialogue and surprising direction during the final third make this one of the better Tarantino-lites to come downthe pipe during the latter half of the decade.
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Shattered Image (Raul Ruiz, 1998)
File under "movies I'd completely forgotten about but felt like a really big deal at the time." Fatter than you'd probably imagine, this file of mine contains a whole slough of a certain kind of movie I devoured in the 1990's - barely-released indie thrillers. Shattered Image stands out (now that a Letterboxd list of movies from 1998 has jogged my memory) as a film that people loathed upon release. Chilean director Raul Ruiz made this one final attempt at breaking into the American market. Blurbs like "the execution is bad enough to put you off movies for good..." from Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle sent him scurrying back to Chile, never to return.

I can't tell you with any certainty if Ruiz's Shattered Image functions as an homage or a tongue-in-cheek parody of Hitchcock. Misdirection and confusion seem to be his primary tactics. The film gives the viewer zero footing, and Ruiz flaunts the nonexistent barrier between reality and a De Palma-esque dreamstate. Is Jessie (Anne Parillaud) a ruthless hitwoman or a paranoid schizophrenic on her Jamaican honeymoon? Does Ruiz suggest the existence of a third reality? Is this an atmospheric, obtuse art film or a mangled Hollywood production by an experimental director who found himself at odds with the American system? Does Billy Baldwin have any idea what year it is? How much dialogue can be whispered in one film?

That said, does any of it even matter when Shattered Image proves to be so wildly eccentric and impossible to decipher? Yes and no. This is about the many and varied personalities within us that inhabit the same space. I think. You know what? Forget everything I just said. Just get lost in Shattered Image and see where it takes you.
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