Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '98 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Underrated '98 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation in Archiving. He is currently responsible for programming at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you've got 'em. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and can usually be found in whichever NYC art-house is showing the most sordid content on a given day.

BELLY (dir. Hype Williams)
Basically what could result if Abel Ferrara was a music video director in a past life. Not only the most underrated film of ’98 (though it is very much sparking conversations now that it didn’t 20 years ago), but the best film of the year too. A black light lit, white leather upholstered descent into a crime cinema that has never existed in our plane of reality – it’s like Blaxploitation distilled through decades of hip hop culture, video art and social justice movements. Jack Nicholson is great and all, but best actor ’98 is fucking DMX.
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CAUGHT UP (dir. Darin Scott)
Cheap, offbeat neo-noir (from the director of HOUSE PARTY: TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT and DEEP BLUE SEA 2) that prominently features tarot, has a sulfuric acid torture scene, Snoop Dogg playing Kool Kitty Kat and Jeffrey Combs as a man with no dick (really). The grimy, lo-fi step-sibling of BELLY that nobody seems to no exists. Make it a double feature.
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AMBUSHED (dir. Ernest Dickerson)
Further proof that Ernest Dickerson is a national fucking treasure. Made for TV (HBO) action flick with Courtney B. Vance protecting a really annoying, racist kid (think Edward Furlong in T2 grating) after his KKK leader father is killed by even worse KKK leaders. Tons of fluid, well shot shoot out sequences - which make sense following SURVIVING THE GAME - and a supporting cast that includes Bill Nunn, Robert Patrick, William Forsyth, Virginia Madsen, William Sadler and David Keith. This is so much better than it should be and seemingly ~nobody~ has seen it.

For more Ernest Dickerson made for TV, racially charged entertainment from ’98 see Showtime’s 1950s set courtroom drama BLIND FAITH also starring Vance.
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EVASIVE ACTION (dir. Jerry P. Jacobs)
Super cheap, DTV version of CON AIR set on a train with Roy Scheider as a mafioso who bashes Flash Gordon's head in with a baseball bat in the opening minutes and Clint Howard as a real creepy fucker named Hector The Director who only speaks in movie quotes (really, every line he utters is a movie quote). I'm a sucker for train movies, especially when they flat out steal footage from SILVER STREAK and try to pass it off. Director Jerry P. Jacobs made a few of these quick DTV titles before becoming a studio executive, currently working at Lionsgate overseeing a bunch of YA titles coming to screen.
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ALL I WANNA DO (aka STRIKE) (dir. Sarah Kernochan)
This opens with the credit A Film By Everybody Who Made it and it's cute af.

The most feminist film of '98? Full of tough girls who destroy men, are proudly horny, hungry and ambitious. It made me legitimately crave canned ravioli. The only other school centered coming of age film focused on the lives of its almost entirely female cast that I can think of is PEPPERMINT SODA. It’s a real shame that Miramax botched this release domestically as it’s every bit as good (or really far better) than films like CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, RUSHMORE or PLEASANTVILLE which came out in the same year and got the audience this deserved.
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NEW ROSE HOTEL (dir. Abel Ferrara)
*best Christopher Walken impression*
"The hair...on a snatch...could pull... A BATTLESHIP!"

Even better, he bellows this line while Asia Argento and Willem Dafoe lay on a bed in front of him and shortly before he decides to start erratically dancing with a cane and shouting some more. It rather gleefully sets the strange, histrionic tone for the next hour or so that Abel has in for us, all of which defies the rules of cinema and the parameters of reality.

Walken and Dafoe porn commentary is indispensable. The aesthetic mirrors that of the multimedia of the late 90s - primarily in video games and adult cinema - staticy, low resvideo meshed with 35mm. It looks as much like an FMV game or Bang Bros video as it does BAD LIEUTENANT.Signals a sea change for Abel where his career would become decidedly more obtuse, aggressive and seemingly out of reach. It’s sheer spectacle for the (approaching) Y2K era.
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Responsible for a bunch of X-Files episodes, David Nutter turned in this obvious homage to ZOMBIE HIGH which also works as a sort of 50s/60s sci-fi paranoia influenced double feature with ‘98s other high school sci-fi opus THE FACULTY. But more so than that film – or other teen thrills of the year like URBAN LEGEND, HALLOWEEN: H20 or I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER – Nutter knows that his movie is utter bullshit. A lobotomy scare film for Type O Negative fans, DISTURBING BEHAVIOR has aged impressively well and is the type of mid-budget studio genre fare we just don’t get anymore.
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HARD RAIN (dir. Mikael Salomon)
Speaking of mid-budget studio genre fare, can you believe that Paramount spent 70 million on this hurricane set heist film starring Christian Slater and Morgan Freeman? Go for broke, dumb, dumb, dumb amalgam of Roland Emerichdisaster shenanigans and violent crime film that, if nothing else, features Randy Quaid as a sheriff who utters the line “From here on, everything I eat is gonna be shit-free.”
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THE SUBSTITUTE 2: SCHOOL’S OUT (dir. Steven Pearl)
No Tom Berringer? No Problem! Treat Williams (also seen in ‘98s monster on a cruise ship opus DEEP RISING) steps in for Tom – who was probably out shooting another SNIPER movie – and we get a script from STREET TRASH scribe Roy Frumkes. This is practically a remake of the first film, which isn’t a bad thing, and it features a climactic fight between Treat and a gang leader which manages to include a blow torch, light bulb, wrench, 2x4 and a screwdriver.
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POINT BLANK (dir. Matt Earl Beesley)
An essential title in the very small “DIE HARD in a shopping mall sub-genre” – which includes both Paul Blartfilms and the incredible IRRESISTIBLE FORCE starring Cynthia Rothrock and Stacy Keach – POINT BLANK is not to be confused with the Lee Marvin film of the same name but deserves your attention regardless. A bunch of mercenaries take over a mall and it’s up to Mickey fucking Rourke (in the John McClane role) to stop them. Fun moments include Danny Trejo trying to kill Rourke with a table saw, a gattling gun shoot out set to “Silent Night” (even though it’s not Christmas) and Trejo dual wielding revolvers surrounded by fire with a giant neon “sandwiches” providing a back drop. Beautiful.
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