Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '98 - Dave Wain ""

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Underrated '98 - Dave Wain

Dave Wain is one half of the creative team behind www.theschlockpit.com - an online feast of genre film analysis and leftfield retrospectives. Along with his scribing life-partner, Matty Budrewicz, he’s part of the writing team on the acclaimed tome, It Came from the Video Aisle: Inside Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment Studio, which is available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all good bookstores. Paired with Matty you can regularly find him adorning Blu-ray releases from 88 Films while studiously beavering away on their new book - Schlock & Awe: The Forgotten Films of the 90s Rental Realm. Dave can be found on Twitter @thedavewain.

TAXMAN (1998; Avi Nesher)
Having worked in video rental now for the best part of two decades, I can say with a degree of authority that your average Joe has the bewildering proclivity to pick a film based on the title alone. To battle-hardened cinephiles like ourselves, that may well seem like sacrilege, but it does in part explain why more people haven’t seen Taxman. Much like Gavin O’Connor’s recent crime-drama The Accountant (2016), it’s a vocation that hardly elicits an excitable hum of excitement, yet beneath the po-faced, suit-wearing fa├žade, Avi Nesher’s film delivers a gripping tale of murder, mafia and mountains of money. Its success is in no small part thanks to the sparsely coiffured brilliance of Joey Pants, who revels in his first lead role; quite why he never made the leap to top billing will forever be a mystery. With a dynamite supporting cast that includes Mike Starr, Fisher Stevens, Michael Chiklis and Wade Dominguez (who tragically died just after shooting wrapped), this is one Taxman you’ll be happy to find on your doorstep.
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STILL CRAZY (1998; Brian Gibson)
I think God got fed up of all that 70s excess” ponders Hughie (Billy Connolly), “Perhaps that’s why he invented The Sex Pistols?” Billed on the poster as ‘This year’s Full Monty’, such woefully misjudged platitudes were never going to benefit a film that takes its title from a Paul Simon song, and has its characters roots blended with those of Syd Barrett, Keith Moon and David Lee Roth. Based around that well-travelled scenario of ‘putting the band back together’, the inevitable moments of cringe in Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ script are softened by a soundtrack that features new songs penned by Mick Jones (Foreigner), Chris Difford (Squeeze) and Jeff Lynne (ELO). A cast to die for may be a well-worn banality, but with Connolly, Bill Nighy (who’s never been better), Timothy Spall, Stephen Rea and Jimmy Nail it’s not far from the truth. By the time Withnail & I director Bruce Robinson turns up in what would be his sole acting gig since ‘77, this little crowd-pleaser will have you punching the air with delight, with tears dripping from your cheeks.
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BROKEN VESSELS (1998; Scott Ziehl)
Bringing Out the Dead (1999) on crack’ would be one way to describe Broken Vessels, even if Scorsese’s overlooked masterpiece about a two-man ambulance team surfaced the year after Scott Ziehl’s movie which centres around a coincidentally similar backdrop. Here we have Jimmy, played with a pitch-perfect swagger by Todd Field, whose idea of mid-shift downtime is parking up in the cemetery and pulling beers from the icy confines of an organ transplant carrier. His new partner Tom (Jason London) is the total opposite; wide-eyed and seemingly innocent, but it’s not long before he’s dragged under the wheels of Jimmy’s hedonistic bus to hell. This bleak journey into a whacked-out drug-addled hell isn’t for the faint-hearted, but with treacle-dark humour emanating through the needle marks in its veins, along with cameos from William Smith, James Hong and Charlie Spradling, it’s an easy recommendation.
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GET REAL (1998; Simon Shore)
Based on the play by Patrick Wilde (who also wrote the script), Get Real may well be the finest of the crop of kick-ass British Queer Cinema titles that landed during the back end of the nineties. As with Beautiful Thing (1996), we’re in coming-of-age territory here as young student Steven (Ben Silverstone) is left reeling from an awkward encounter with closeted athletics-nut John (Brad Gorton) while out cruising the local park toilets. However, love blossoms against a backdrop of secrets, bullying and schoolyard homophobia, and this unlikely pair embark on a crash course in self-discovery. Even though it’s only twenty years old, there’s something a little antiquated about John passing Steven a hastily scribbled note through a gloryhole. Given the advent of apps like Grindr and Scruff, part of the charm of Get Real lies in the smartphone-free complexity of the scenario these boys are in, and the fact that they deal with everything face to face. The movie belongs to Silverstone; as Steven his depiction of a young lad who’s at ease with his sexuality, but not quite ready to shout about it is astonishingly real, while Gorton portrays the conflicted jock to a tee. With a soundtrack that features some great British indie bands like Republica, Sleeper and Dodgy, it’s a lush time capsule of another era that feels like yesterday, but in reality it’s far, far away.
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BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (1998; John Landis)
I can’t convey just how important The Blues Brothers was to me as a kid. A perfect movie if ever there was one, its brilliance is underpinned by the look of it - the dirt, the stench, and the desperation. As far as sequels go, the PG-friendly perkiness of Blues Brothers 2000 is so far removed from the gritty f-bombing genius of the original, that there are moments in the film I find frankly embarrassing. From its forays into slapstick (the puffball scene, the zombification sequence), to poor old John Goodman who does not fit in any way, shape or form. Despite a litany of faults though, there are enough moments in this Dan Aykroyd scripted caper that succeed in providing a temporary amnesia to the cringe, with music director Paul Shaffer managing to assemble a cast of music legends to die for. From the returning familiarity of James Brown and Aretha Franklin, to iconic figures like Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Dr. John, B.B King, Junior Wells, Sam Moore, Bo Diddley and many, many more. So hate me at your will for reminding you that this exists, but then savour the mass assembly of such musical genius that we’ll never see the like of again.
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DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS (1998; Alan Cohn)
Josh! We have only three weeks ‘til finals. He’s our only hope. He wants to die!” I knew I loved this movie for a reason, but until I revisited it during these last few weeks, I had forgotten that my appreciation lay in the sheer darkness of its content! Josh (Tom Everett Scott) and Cooper (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) are two failing students, with the former at the point of a total meltdown with the impending withdrawal of his scholarship. By total chance they stumble across an archaic college rule that should their roommate die they get straight A’s, so not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, the scheming twosome set about tracking down the most mentally unstable student they can find and fast-track them into their dorm! It’s an utterly screwy concept, and one that two decades later you couldn’t see getting greenlit. But, with Mike White (Orange County (2002), School of Rock (2003)) on scripting duty, it retains a lovable charm beneath its cynical fa├žade, while Lochlyn Munro absolutely kills it as Cliff O’Malley, a deliriously nutzoid Frat guy.
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VELVET GOLDMINE (1998; Todd Haynes)
I recently posted online that I was taking another look at Haynes’ movie, and one of my social media buddies (Steve Balshaw) managed to encapsulate this film with deft perfection; “It got savaged at the time because it "wasn't historically accurate" or some nonsense. It's not meant to be - it's like a gaudy, queer underground movie fantasia of a particularly gender-fluid moment in UK musical history, which owes as much to the work of Jack Smith, the Kuchars, Kenneth Anger, and even Nick Zedd (who the young Rhys-Meyers resembles), as it does to drab reality.” He’s right too. Upon its inception it was threatened with a lawsuit from David Bowie owing to the similarities with his life story, but it’s a film that’s best enjoyed far away from its brief flirtations with history. It’s a glitter-soaked daydream of colour and fancy that should resonate with anyone harbouring even the slightest penchant for flamboyance. With the words of Oscar Wilde coursing through its duration, and laced with the “cocksure faggotery” of the era (as director Haynes calls it on the audio commentary), the movie is owned by Rhys Meyers, exhibiting a mesmeric beauty as 70s glam superstar Brian Slade. The boy can sing too with the tracks The Ballad of Maxwell Demon and Tumbling Down (the Steve Harley song) being notable highlights, while the music videos are a work of art. Oh, and it also has Obi Wan shagging Batman, so there is that…
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OUTSIDE OZONA (1998; J.S Cardone)
Not to sound overly morbid or anything, but when J. S Cardone finally bids his final farewell to this mortal coil, The Slayer will no doubt dominate the obituaries that follow. Like the majority of genre filmmakers whose careers are dominated by the cult classic they made decades ago, their other works are too frequently forgotten, to which Cardone is the perfect example. Be it the latent homoeroticism of The Forsaken (2001), or the underrated wonder of The Mummy an’ The Armadillo (2004), Cardone has racked a stack of great features onto his resume. Outside Ozona is the crown in this melange of diversity, fitting neatly into that short-lived glut of late-nineties, post-Tarantino thrillers. It’s a simple premise - While the local radio station plays in the background, a group of strangers’ lives intertwine as a serial killer prowls the Badlands of Oklahoma. But the magic is in the tone, the execution and the casting, as a broad array of actors including Robert Forster (replacing the recently deceased J. T Walsh), Meat Loaf, Sherilyn Fenn, David Paymer and Kevin Pollack provide the ingredients for a brilliant character-driven indie.
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