Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '98 - Ira Brooker ""

Friday, June 1, 2018

Underrated '98 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at atalentforidleness.blogspot.com, irabrooker.com and @irabrooker.

Hollywood Mortuary (Directed by Ron Ford)
You see a lot of movies get saddled with the description of “a love letter to Old Hollywood.” Very few of those movies culminate in the resurrected corpses of a couple of screen legends roaming through Los Angeles dismembering random Angelinos while cracking lame monster jokes. Welcome to the weird world of Ron Ford, a legend of sorts in the ultra-low-budget movie-making set. I haven’t seen much of his other work yet, but “Hollywood Mortuary” is as good an introduction as I could’ve hoped for.

Ford’s muse Randal Malone gives a splendidly flamboyant lead performance as a vainglorious 1940s makeup artist and creature designer based on real-life monster-maker Jack Pierce. When a downturn in monster movies puts him out of a job, he tries to drum up business by the only logical means: using voodoo to bring two recently deceased horror icons (Ford and Tim Sullivan as barely veiled Lugosi and Karloff analogs) back to life to scare the citizenry. It’s not without its missteps - the mockumentary-style framing device is mostly filler, albeit still kind of fun - but on the whole it’s a hugely charming, good-natured bit of horror comedy that respects its roots, knows its strengths, and doesn’t skimp on the low-budget gore. You’d be a fool to ask for much more than that.
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Where’s Marlowe? (Directed by Daniel Pyne)
In all fairness, it would take a pretty massive failure for me to not dig a movie starring Miguel Ferrer as a hard-luck private eye in ‘90s Los Angeles. This odd little project, though, goes above and beyond, building a melancholy comedy that takes some stylistic risks and comes out sparkling. Shot in documentary style, “Where’s Marlowe?” follows critically reviled young filmmakers Yasiin Bey and John Livingston as they launch a new project profiling the daily operations of low-rent P.I.s/best friends Miguel Ferrer and John Slattery. As a routine infidelity investigation spirals into a noirish murder mystery, the lines between filmmaker and detective begin to blur and a lot of hard truths come to light.

Slattery, Bey (still billed as Mos Def here), and Livingston all bring splendid energy to their roles, but this is Ferrer’s show through and through, and he rises to the occasion with a deadpan performance that shifts effortlessly from funny to furious to poignant. This was developed as a TV pilot for ABC before being expanded into an feature. While I regret that we never got to see it as what would’ve automatically been one of the more ambitious shows in prime time, I’m glad it exists as this peculiar artifact of the ‘90s indie boom.
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Captured (Directed by Peter Liapis)
Colossally dickish real estate developer Nick Mancuso is on the verge of blowing the biggest deal of his career when he happens upon two guys trying to swipe his sports car. When a convoluted series of events leads to one of the thieves being trapped in the driver’s seat, Mancuso decides to vent his frustrations by torturing the dude in his garage for a couple of days.

It’s usually a criticism to say that a movie gives you nobody to root for, but every once in a blessed while you stumble across something that plays that concept to its full advantage. Reliable character actor Mancuso throws everything he’s got into his portrait of white-collar vigilantism, creating a seething, unhinged anti-hero who’s willing to risk his cushy existence to make some moronic point about justice. For his part, Andrew Divoff plays the “victim” as an arrogant, violent creep who’s just as despicable as Mancuso in his own way. Everybody’s an asshole in this inventive, claustrophobic little thriller, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. I may be giving it too much credit, but I read the whole thing as a sly takedown of two distinct strains of alpha-male stupidity, and I dig it as such.
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Techno Warriors (Directed by Phillip Ko Fei)
This Hong Kong/Filipino production just might be the most perfect melding of 1998 and 1978 possible. An old-school kung-fu flick set in the cutting-edge world of virtual reality gaming, the plot involves warring factions in a popular fighting game. When a glitch in the system allows fighters to travel between “Computer World” and the real world, a plan is hatched to kidnap an obnoxious young gamer whose skills could tip the balance of power forever.

It’s incredibly stupid and incredibly fun stuff, packed full of killer fight scenes featuring flying kicks, brutal takedowns, and lasers shooting out of every conceivable implement. The character designs are lifted whole-cloth from “Mortal Kombat,” “Street Fighter,” and probably some less famous games that I never played. The low budget shows, but as with the ‘70s flicks the filmmakers plainly adore, that’s in no way to its detriment. As a bonus, the print I saw comes complete with some delightfully bad subtitling that could easily make it the next meme sensation. While that may not sound like a good thing to you, for a movie like this it’s almost poetic.
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Spoiler (Directed by Jeff Burr)
Spoiler: A “spoiler” isn’t a spoiler by the current definition, but rather a futuristic slang term for an escaped convict from a cryogenic prison. You wouldn’t think that situation would come up enough to necessitate its own word, but you’re probably not counting on doting, possibly wrongfully convicted family man Gary Daniels.

“Spoiler” consists almost entirely of Daniels getting unfrozen, busting out of prison to go find his daughter, then getting caught and frozen all over again. It’s a pretty basic plot that necessitates some novel touches. The decade or so that passes between each break-out means that there’s a whole new set of characters for every time-jump, with Daniels as the only mainstay in a stacked cast including Arye Gross, Timothy Bottoms, Bruce Glover, Meg Foster, Bryan Genesse, Duane Whittaker, Tony Cox, and a marvelously sadistic Jeffrey Combs. There’s also the fact that Daniels’ mission eventually shifts from rebuilding a relationship with his kid to just getting to see her before she dies of old age. It’s a twitchy, disorienting bit of sci-fi wackiness that cribs liberally from 12 Monkeys but has enough zest and ambition to stand on its own. You never want to sleep on Gary Daniels, who’s fast becoming my favorite leading man of the direct-to-video era.
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Hot Blooded (Directed by David Blyth)
I’m not going to pretend this is anything like a good movie. It’s low-grade, lovers-on-the-run nonsense boasting some truly noxious writing and a downright offensive take on sexual trauma, among plenty of other deficiencies. But all of that flotsam just goes to highlight what this movie (alternately known as “Hit and Run” and “Red Blooded American Girl 2,” despite the first “Red Blooded American Girl” being a vampire flick) does have going for it: Kari Wuhrer.

Despite there being no reason to believe this would turn out to be anything but the ugly, disposable chunk of direct-to-video garbage it is, Kari Wuhrer gives a full-on performance here. Playing a truck stop sex worker on the run from her rapist father and acting opposite a leading man with the screen presence of plywood, Wuhrer takes the whole miserable, degrading movie on her shoulders and throws herself into the role as though she’s gunning for a Golden Globe at the very least. I love valiant efforts in the service of lost causes, and that’s exactly what Kari Wuhrer does here and in practically every sleazy flick with the good sense to cast her. She’s going to be remembered as trash cinema royalty one day, and it’s high time we all got on board.
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Scrapple (Directed by Christopher Hanson)
A bunch of ski-bum stoners slouch around a tiny Colorado town in the late ‘70s, selling weed, romancing each other and getting into mild hijinks, with lost loves and a shady developer providing something that passes for conflict. I can’t in good conscience recommend this to any viewer with a low hippie tolerance, but I spent enough of my formative years palling around with exactly the sorts of slackers and snowboarders portrayed here that I find the whole thing as cozy as can be.

It’s a rare micro-indie production whose budget outshines its creativity: the mountain cinematography is lovely, the score is provided by blues guitar legend Taj Mahal, and sportscaster Jim Nantz, of all people, makes a vocal cameo doing play-by-play for a fictional minor league baseball team. Clearly someone involved with the production had deep enough pockets to make a lazy hang-out movie on their own terms, and I love ‘em for it. As a comedy it’s not especially funny and as a feature film it’s not particularly necessary, but I’m a sucker for a well-made snapshot of a very specific subculture. Just be forewarned that your mileage will almost certainly vary.
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