Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '98 - Gems from Twenty Years Ago! ""

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Underrated '98 - Gems from Twenty Years Ago!

The 1990s is an interesting time in film for me. I've mentioned before that I was working in video stores around this period, but it was basically my heyday with them truth be told. I got my first job of this type when I was about a junior in high school and then basically worked in this capacity in one way or another for nearly the next ten years. That being said, my familiarity with 90s cinema is a bit heightened because I was surrounded by these movies every day. I was renting them out to people and re-shelving them constantly. As such, there were definitely some of them that stood out and stayed with me for the next couple decades and here are a few of them....

ZERO EFFECT (1998; Jake Kasdan)
Easily one of my most beloved films of this decade and one that came up as one of my picks on the "90s Cult Movies" episode of Pure Cinema. It is one of the most assured directorial debuts in the past thirty years and shows a pretty amazing talent for storytelling from writer and director Jake Kasdan (son of Lawrence Kasdan). It is very much a modern day Sherlock Holmes type thing with a stellar turn from Bill Pullman as the titular Daryl Zero. The catch is that Zero is socially awkward and inept when he is not working on a case and thus he needs a sharp assistant like Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) to help him get and maintain work as well as maintain his odd lifestyle. It's a funny movie with a good mystery at the center and Pullman and Stiller are a wonderful dysfunctional duo.
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THE IMPOSTORS (1998; Stanley Tucci)
From the incredible, escalating, silent film comedy opening straight on through the rehash and analysis of said sequence by the out of work actor characters (Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt) - THE IMPOSTORS is purely magical to me. The chemistry and comradeship between Tucci & Platt is absolutely glorious and the film consistently makes me laugh with every viewing. The throwback to Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers kind of vibe is so perfectly in my wheelhouse that i can't help but get swept up in the tribute every time I come back to it. The supporting cast ain't to bad either (Lily Taylor, Campbell Scott, Alfred Molina, Tony Shaloub, Steve Buscemi, Richard Jenkins, Hope Davis, Allison Janney and more). It probably has my favorite opening of the decade and, interestingly it may also have my favorite closings of the decade as well (including the use of one of my very favorite songs - "Skokiaan"). All of this is to say that Stanley Tucci needs to direct more (and I totally need to see FINAL PORTRAIT, his most recent effort).
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SAFE MEN (1998; John Hamburg)
I always call this one BOTTLE ROCKET-lite and I think it still fits. A case of mistaken identity leads a Jewish mobster (Michael Lerner) to believe that two low-rent lounge singer for hire (Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn) are actually two heavy-duty safe crackers (Mark Ruffalo and John Pais). When the singers are recruited by the mobsters right hand man, "Veal Chop" (played perfectly by Paul Giamatti), little do they know that they are getting themselves in to deep as they'll soon be asked to crack a safe for him and they have no clue how. John Hamburg is great at this kind of "nerd comedy" which has characters arguing with each other about trivial things like shrimp cocktails, sundry goods and older pop culture. That style of character and writing combined with this cast makes for a real gem of a caper farce.
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TWILIGHT/CROUPIER/PALMETTO
This little trio of neo-noirs represents some of the better entries in the genre for this decade. With TWILIGHT, veteran writer/director Robert Benton (BONNIE AND CLYDE, KRAMER VS. KRAMER) returns to familiar territory in this story of an aging detective (Paul Newman) who is initially hired to find the runaway daughter (Reese Witherspoon) of two old movie stars (Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman), but of course the story takes some nice twists and turns along the way. I was just reminded of the film's passing similarities to NIGHT MOVES (which of course stars Hackman as well) in that it deals with the same beginning scenario. Might make an interesting double. As for CROUPIER, it was my first exposure to Clive Owen and another return to a gritty story from the director of the original GET CARTER (Mike Hodges). Owen plays a writer working in a casino who gets entangled with some less than above-board dealings. Lastly, PALMETTO - which may be the most forgotten of the three. This one features a somewhat ahead of it's time performance from Woody Harrelson, who had been relegated mostly to comedies around this time (though he obviously spread his wings a bit in THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT a few years prior). Harrelson plays an ex-con who finds himself caught up in a kidnapping plot that involves an incredibly sexy Elisabeth Shue. I was actually a little surprised at just how sexy Shue is in this one as the femme fatale. Having had a full movie crush on her since way back in THE KARATE KID - I've always found her quite adorable but never alluring on the level she pulls off with this role. Anyway, this is a unique film in that it is a rare noir for both the leads (Gina Gershon is here too, but she's done a little noir work in her day) and it was directed by Volker Scholndorff - the director of the late 70s foreign arthouse classic, THE TIN DRUM.
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BLACK DOG (1998; Kevin Hooks)
Remarkably underrated little Patrick Swayze actioner that feels like WHITE LINE FEVER meets THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. Swayze is joined on the drive he is forced into making by singer Randy Travis who does a decent job as blue collar trucker type. Archie Han and Meat Loaf make good villains and Charles S. Dutton and Stephen Tobolowsky entertain as FBI & ATF Agents. Tobolowsky gets maybe his only “take a dude out” with gunfire moment in a movie too, which is kinda fun. The movie also has a decent amount of truck and driving stunts that make it a blast to watch.
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FIRESTORM (1998; Dean Selmer)
Part of that 90s resurgence of disaster movies that brought us the likes of VOLCANO, DANTE’S PEAK and DAYLIGHT among others (all of which I enjoy). This one sports an all-star cast that is even better in retrospect: Scott Glenn, William Forsyth’s, Suzy Amis, Barry Pepper and of course - Howie Long. Pretty cheesy, but dang it if I don’t still have a blast watching it. There’s just something about the disaster genre being updated 20 years after its heyday - the films are a bit more sentimental (especially this one) but still fun. Howie is umm, well let’s say acting ain’t totally his bag. Thankfully acting is William Forsythe’s bag and he went on a nice run of playing villains around this time. Also - outside of CAT PEOPLE and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, this is yet another movie that used David Bowie’s song “Putting Out the Fire” (which I totally forgot). Makes for a groovy double feature with HARD RAIN (also 1998).
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MEET THE DEEDLES (1998; Steve Boyum)
Based on a small amount of research, it would seem that this one is not at all well-liked by those that even remember it. I get that. I mean, I can see how it might rub some folks the wrong way - but that said, I still find myself quite entertained by it. It stars a youthful Paul Walker (who was still not all that well known at the time I guess) and another fella named Steve Van Wormer (who had a short moment in the 90s, but nothing huge) as two wealthy surf-bum brothers who are sent to a military camp and end up being mistaken for some new recruit forest rangers at Yellowstone National Park. It's quite a goofy film and the brother's chemistry is reminiscent of Bill & Ted or maybe Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott in DUDE WHERE'S MY CAR?
The story of the director must be an interesting one as he is one Steve Boyum - a stunt man and stunt coordinator for Disney films (THE MIGHTY DUCKS 2 and 3, HEAVY WEIGHTS) but who also worked with Tony Scott and was a part of such classics as APOCALYPSE NOW, PREDATOR, 1941 and MEGAFORCE.
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