Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '98 - Bernardo Villela ""

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Underrated '98 - Bernardo Villela

Bernardo Villela is the writer/editor The Movie Rat ( which features reviews, analysis & insights on a wide range of topics. For his work in film, you can visit his production company’s site (, if you’re curious about his works of fiction visit his Amazon store. (

As I did with 1997 I did not want to merely rehash the films I nominated in my year-end BAM Awards, instead I wanted to take into account 1998 films I’ve seen since and also allowing for films that have grown or receded in my mind since then.

Wide Awake (1997, Dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
Typically for this kind of list I try to go really obscure, meaning even I found the film later and the director is not particularly renowned. In many other cases who the director was factored into my final decision to cut a title. For example, something considered “minor Spielberg” is still far better than nearly everything you’re inclined to see on an average weekend. However, two things make Wide Awake different: first, when I saw this film I didn’t know who Shyamalan was and Wide Awake garnered 7 BAM Award nominations … Mind you that M. Night Shyamalan would not be a director I knew anything about, or someone most people knew, until The Sixth Sense took off; it was just a reaction to what I saw, no hype, nothing.” ( Another thing is even though I saw it in ’98 and gave it many accolades my recent re-examination as Shyamalan — in the eyes of most went from wunderkind to persona non grata to renaissance man— showed me even this film as a part of personal growth as an artist: “I later connected Wide Awake and The Sixth Sense. All I knew about The Sixth Sense as it was looming was that it looked good and I wanted to see it. After I had I recognized that name in the credits, and checked the IMDb. So in some ways I was a lot like other people discovering who he was and what his voice at the time was. I just already had a track record with his work is all.

“Essentially, if you’re going to look at the trajectory of his career his first three films, the actual first three films and I believe have to be looked at as one unit. Call it a cinematic coming-of-age if you will.”
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Phantasm Oblivion (1998, Dir. Don Coscarelli)
Analyzing horror sequels at times can be like playing food critic in a Victorian orphanage, you eat the gruel because it’s there but what’s the point of comparing it to yesterday’s or last week’s? Or you might say that it’s like when you’re asked to grade your pain from 1 to 10 upon arriving at the emergency room. When one likes a horror film and it’s part of a franchise you might be inclined to become a completist, even if that isn’t your natural inclination. I’ve been through my share of sequels, and while they can have the occasional surprise installment that provides relief from the mind-numbing they’re usually persistently excruciating. An exception to this rule is Don Conscarelli’s Phastasm series. The prevailing factor of the exception is that he was auteur of all of them, and barring a recast of the lead in Part II, which was immediately reversed, there’s nary a hiccup in these films be it in quality, philosophy or originality. But even though some long-running series can stay consistent; few, if any, change the game without feeling like they’re cheating more so than this series does. It happens here and then its double-down upon in the long-awaited finale.
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The Red Violin (1998, Dir. Fran├žois Girard)
This film is a rumination on love, life, death, and music; a tale of things lost and things found of all sorts of desire, of greed and lust, misdeeds and trust. It’s also a film that travels through time and space as it follows the people affected by this mysterious red violin in its centuries long sojourn. A master violin-maker crafts it while grieving the death of his beloved wife, Anna, and coats it in her blood. From that point its legend only grows and we follow it through the years. In a framing mechanism that’s rare in that it is worthy the main parts of the film, we see its most recent discovery in Montreal and the frenzy of its being on the auction block.
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Little Men (1998, Dir. Rodney Gibbons)
I have on quite a few occasions sought out adaptations of this film, and seeing this one on video a little after its initial theatrical run was where that search started. I first learned of it watching Siskel and Ebert. It’s a testament to the fact that just engaging in criticism of a film (watching or reading) can find you things you like. I forget if their opinion was split, but I know Ebert was negative on it. It being a lesser known, not as popular, sequel to Little Women also drew me in. For the uninitiated, you don’t really need to know one work to engage with the other. Since I discovered the ’98 version I’ve seen it a few times, and tracked down the ’34 ( and ’40 ( versions online as well. A few years later there was a TV series that ran a few seasons. It was also, one of my mistakes in revisionism mode at my awards as I placed it in the wrong year and declared it a winner of Most Underrated. Hence, it fits here much better.
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Genesis (1998, Dir. Nacho Cerda)
As I am wont to do on occasion, I’ll include a short on this list. This one I first saw thanks to Netflix streaming back when they had more things that were movies, from the 20th century, short, and foreign. An excerpt from my original review: “Cerda puts his protagonist alone and in solitary work so he need not speak. Here again Cerda creates sort of a gruesome fascination in what is going on in the film, in this film especially I was reminded of my first viewing of Hellraiser. Yes, I did just liken Cerda to Clive Barker that is the height of effectiveness that these short films reach.” ( And this film with its play on a living statue motif is just as transfixing and less stomach churning than another short he made Aftermath, which deals with an autopsy.
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