Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '88 - Gems from Thirty Years Ago! ""

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Underrated '88 - Gems from Thirty Years Ago!

1988 is somewhat of a watershed year for me in that I was fourteen and seeing a lot of movies with my family and on my own - both in theaters and on VHS. A few years from this point, I would start my first video store job and all things movies would become even more familiar (including a lot of the actors that showed up in many of the films listed below). In general, the late 80s and early 90s were a heavy period of movie consumption for me as well as being a formative time so a lot of films stuck with me. Here are a few of them:

BAD DREAMS (1988; Andrew Fleming)
This horror gem has risen to a bit more prominence in recent years (and gotten a solid Scream Factory Blu-ray to boot), but I feel like it’s not the 80s Classic it should be even so and so I’ll continue to sing it’s praises until it is. While bearing more than a passing resemblance to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS (and even sharing a major cast member in the underappreciated Jennifer Rubin), this tale of a different mentally unstable bunch is more compelling to me than the much beloved Freddy Krueger film. Part of that is due to the fact that I prefer Richard Lynch’s haunting cult leader psycho to Robert Englund’s tried and true horror icon (who has gotten far too jokey for my taste by the third film) and the fact that I am a full on Dean Cameron fanatic and he carries a lot of weight even in a supporting role. Overall, this one just sticks with me more despite a twist ending that may annoy the occasional genre fan. It’s potent stuff and I love it.
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RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988; Sidney Lumet)
Sidney Lumet is hands down one of the great American directors in my mind. He deserves all the praise that Scorsese gets heap on him (deservedly so), but he’ll never get it as Lumet’s films are less flashy and don’t traffic in as much violence. Lumet is a master of character dramas and though this is less glamourous in a lot of ways, it’s no easy feat. Watch masterpieces like THE VERDICT and PRINCE OF THE CITY (which creeps into Scorsese territory by the way) and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. RUNNING ON EMPTY gets a bit lost in the shuffle though - perhaps more remembered as one of a handful of films that River Phoenix made before his untimely passing. Even as such and even as great as River is in the film, it’s still more of an ensemble powerhouse - with Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti and Martha Plimpton all bringing their A game and allowing for a truly impactful and memorable emotional ending. The gist of the story is that Hirsch and Lahti play ex-hippies who were involved in a bombing that ended up tragically blinding a janitor (the building was supposed to be empty) and has kept them on the run from the authorities with their family (including their son played by Phoenix) for more than a decade. When Phoenix’s character encounters someone special (Plimpton) in the latest town they’ve moved to and begins to find his true calling as a musician, the family is faced with a decision to keep running or think about other options. It’s really a great movie and one I hope has begun to find more of an audience since its Warner Archive Blu-ray release.
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ANOTHER WOMAN (1988; Woody Allen)
Woody has made so many movies, it’s clear that there will be many that aren’t championed as much as others (I find this to be more and more the case as the years go by). This one has always had a particular resonance for me and I believe it to be among the best films Woody ever made, but as is often the case with many of my favorites, it has a lot to do with casting. I don’t really associate Gena Rowlands or Gene Hackman with Woody Allen and that has much to do with them not really working with him outside of this movie. Rowlands will always make me think of Cassavetes and Hackman is just one of my favorite actors of all-time (in my top three probably) who did great work with a huge variety of filmmakers over many many decades. This movie is very much a Woody movie, but it falls into what John Waters refers to as his “serious as a heart attack” output, which includes things like INTERIORS, SEPTEMBER and a few others. 
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SHOOT TO KILL (1988; Roger Spottiswoode)
My family had some odd films to call "family favorites", but this happened to be one of them for some reason (along with likes of ON GOLDEN POND). It is a bit of a dark thriller for family fare, but it remains a solid entry in the genre from this period. FBI Agent Sidney Poitier is unable to capture and kidnapping killer extortionist at the beginning of the film and he escapes to the mountain wilderness of Washington with a plan to hike across the Canadian border. What the killer needs is a guide and he ends up joining a fishing party led by Kirstie Alley without anyone in the group suspecting him of his evil intentions. Poitier finds himself in need of his own guide and gets wind that Tom Berenger is the best in the area (and also the boyfriend to Alley's character - complicating things a bit). Berenger and Poitier team up and attempt to track and look for the fishing party. The fun part comes when don't know what the killer looks like and he could be any one of five guys including: Clancy Brown, Andy Robinson, and in a lovely nod to Carpenter's THE THING (perhaps) - Richard Masur. All told though, a fun thriller that builds to a solid climax. No Blu-ray on this one and I wish there was.
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CROSSING DELANCEY (1988; Joan Micklin Silver)
This film hooks me with two particular elements. First, it stars the great Peter Riegert - a character actor that I love and who I find to be incredibly funny and fun to watch. Second it is from the same director as CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER, which happens to be one of my favorite films of all time. This film ends up being a quite charming little romantic dramedy featuring a book store employee (Amy Irving) in New York City who is torn between her intense interest in a local writer and her befuddling intrigue with a gent who runs a pickle shop on the lower east side (Peter Riegert). While it suffers from the a dreaded condition that I call "unworthy object of romantic desire syndrome" to a degree (the author she is into is clearly an asshole from his initial introduction, but she likes him anyway), it ends up being a quite delightful watch and is a relatively unknown film outside of some New Yorkers of a certain age.
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TAPEHEADS (1988; Bill Fishman)
This is another classic “cult movie” in the old school video score sense for me. I was certainly never aware of it until I saw it in several of those sections when I was in college. I was certainly aware of John Cusack, but Tim Robbins was a little more foreign to me and I was kind of knocked out by how well they played together. While film and its characters aspirations to work in music videos seems a bit dated now, I still greatly appreciate what they were angling for creatively even upon a rewatch. It’s also fun to see their affection for the fictional group “The Swanky Modes” and their secret handshake is quite amazing (I sincerely hope that Robbins and Cusack occasionally greet each other with it to this day). Also, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees was a producer on the film and it’s one of a few that he touched that are really interesting (see also: ELEPHANT PARTS). Another movie crying out for a special edition Blu-ray!
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