Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '88 - Mike Drew Flynn ""

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Underrated '88 - Mike Drew Flynn

Mike Drew Flynn is a screenwriter, film buff, and production assistant. He has written for this site, CHUD, and Wikia. A New Jersey native, he now resides in Los Angeles, where he secretly dreams of writing, directing, and starring in a reboot of Fletch. Mr. Flynn has also appeared on the Director's Club Podcast and is a frequent guest of Joey Lewandowski and Michael Manski's Cage Club Podcast Network, where he has discussed various works from Nicolas Cage, Keanu Reeves, and Charlize Theron. He is slated to appear on the show again this September to discuss Atomic Blonde on their podcast, Watch the Theron.

Bad Dreams (dir. Andrew Fleming)
What if Freddy was Jim Jones? Eviscerated by critics as a crass Nightmare on Elm Street ripoff and left for dead by audiences, Bad Dreams is an inventive commentary on trauma and cult of personality that’s vastly superior to most entries of the franchise. Sticking to Wes Craven’s playbook, the film makes better use of the wonderful Jennifer Rubin than Dream Warriors. She gets the full lead as the sole survivor of a mass murder-suicide who is terrified by her leader (Richard Lynch, in gruesome, realistic makeup that proudly made the cover of Fangoria), who may or may not be real.

The difference between this and Dream Warriors—which, honestly, is the best slasher sequel ever made—or any Elm Street movie is how grounded the ensemble is. They’re not fantastical or cool for the sake of cool. They’re regular, troubled people in need of help, emotions that come through beautifully via Dean Cameron and Elizabeth Daily. Bruce Abbott, Harris Yulin, and Sy Richardson leave a nice mark in their roles as well. While Andrew Fleming found bigger deals later, especially with The Craft, this stands as one of the decade’s more potent slashers; it’s no surprise that Gale Anne Hurd bankrolled it. It’s a quick 84 minutes, too, and if you’re thinking “If I keep the credits going, maybe ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine will start playing,” you’re in luck, and yes, this is with the full Slash solo.
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Clean and Sober (dir. Glenn Gordon Caron)
If you saw this in the summer of 1988, you would hopefully shut up about the decision to cast Michael Keaton as Batman. So it goes, Tim Burton wanted a “square-jawed type” like Tom Selleck, but Peters saw an advance screening of Keaton’s first dramatic role. The rest is history, but to this day, how Keaton didn’t attract a truckload of awards attention for his performance here remains baffling. More than Birdman or The Founder, the latter yet another wildly underrated film, Keaton does the definitive work of his career here. The charisma he’d built his entire career around translates without a beat missed. Even though Daryl Poynter does questionable, even bad things, Keaton’s eagerness convinces us to want to see him overcome his addiction.

Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron doesn’t flush the film in style. This is deep, pure character work with brilliant acting. Keaton isn’t the only one—Kathy Baker is heartbreaking as the similarly flawed love interest, while Morgan Freeman’s tough-love counselor brings out Keaton’s best bit of acting in the movie. Seriously, “That was a ninety thousand-dollar phone call, man… ninety grand. That’s the stock market, babe!” should have gotten him a bought-and-paid-for Oscar.
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Cop (dir. James B. Harris)
It’s a shame that James Woods has turned into this radioactive political crackpot and creep. He’s an extraordinary actor who was one of the best of his generation, and there’s a good 15-20 year period where Woods was the best part of whatever movie he was in, and doubly so if he’s the lead. Salvador is great. Best Seller is great. This one is absolutely killer, a moody James Ellroy adaptation where, in his introduction, he has a Sorkin-esque, manic walk and talk with a colleague about a suspect description. Cop is a great detective story and a better character study. As Lloyd Hopkins, Woods gives his title occupation his signature edge and allows himself to be more vulnerable as he tries to be a good father. The way Hopkins’ obsession is played into is akin to how William Petersen broke out with To Live and Die in L.A. and Manhunter, with Woods skirting the edge closer every second, losing hold of himself, and ultimately, delivering what might be my favorite last line of any movie ever made.
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Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (dir. John Carl Buechler)
Maybe if the MPAA hadn’t gotten the urge to slap X ratings on any horror movie that wasn’t submitted as a TV edit, we would be calling this one of the best entries of the series. I prefer the previous four in the series, but Tina is a cool heroine, and Kane Hodder starts his eviable tenure as Jason. There’s significance to this thing. And weed. And sexual content that stoops to the Beavis and Butt-heads of the world. And (some) blood and gore. As long as you keep this series at a reasonable hour and a half and pace it well (barring the boring original and awful Jason Goes to Hell), you got your money’s worth.
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Off Limits (dir. Christopher Crowe)
Off Limits isn’t as good as some of the other movies on this list. It’s an effective-enough mashup of Platoon and Lethal Weapon where military cops Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines track a prostitute killer in Saigon. The fact that Dafoe and Hines play grown men named Buck McGriff and Albaby Perkins is an embarrassment; the scene where a big-name supporting actor walks out of a helicopter in the middle of questioning sets off a good unintentional laugh. However, as a compelling potboiler that prefers ominous humidity to Belated Rambomania, this is a good one.
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Prison (dir. Renny Harlin)
Although this film A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 are horror, Renny Harlin angled to jump ship into action films by directing these genre offerings in 1988. The Dream Master is where Freddy trades the boogeyman job for being a Saturday morning cartoon, but Prison is an odd, atmospheric delight. The point of origin for a mini-cycle of horror films set against correctional facilities and/or the death penalty, the soul of a wrongfully executed inmate comes back to the recently-reopened jail he died in for vengeance. Why? The officer who hit the switch on the chair is now the warden (a sneering Lane Smith), and he ordered the execution chamber reopened. Ergo, prison reform comes… in blood!

This is a great, no-bullshit B-movie, one that Harlin lends a spectacular quality to that most Empire Pictures releases that aren’t H.P. Lovecraft adaptations are devoid of. Gnarly kills are a dime a dozen, as are cartoonish prisoners, one of whom is named Lasagna and another of which is Tiny Lister. Viggo Mortensen has full confidence as a leading man—a more grizzled James Dean, if 25 is considered weathered. Our humanity comes from Bruce McGill hoarder Chelsea Field, playing the woman who has a brain and a conscience, unlike the men.

Best of all, it dares to be what 80’s horror often failed at: the movie is as good as the VHS box.
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Shakedown (dir. James Glickenhaus)
The miracle of Shakedown is how we’re introduced to the characters. Peter Weller’s yuppie lawyer gets introduced while making the world’s most disgusting breakfast shake and blasting “Purple Haze.” Boorish cop Sam Elliott is first seen as he’s drunk and half-asleep in a Times Square moviehouse that was probably showing porn ten years prior, but he still has the energy to intimidate a criminal with a gun that could be used as a free weight. Together, law and order must fight the crack epidemic and its enablers! I was born in 1987, but if I had been the right age in 1988, I would have lived for a week outside a theater for this to open just to see Weller’s RoboCop follow-up. Both he and Elliott have praised the film in recent interviews, and their charisma is off the charts.

James Glickenhaus made his best film here. It looks like a Michelob commercial from the era, and a lot of its quality rests on the leads, but his eye for location filming in Koch-era New York City brings on glorious chaos. Seriously, this movie is fucking nuts. Elliott fights a group of drug dealers on a rollercoaster. There’s a firefight that plays like the east coast equal of Lethal Weapon’s climactic Hollywood Blvd. chase. Weller rides behind Elliott on a motorcycle firing a machine gun. In the climax, Weller mans a red Porsche 911 and Elliott weasels onto the villain’s private jet in mid-air, although the reverse projection is atrocious there. Rambo III and Red Heat have nothing on this.

As good as the movie is, the Peter Cullen-narrated trailer is better.
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Talk Radio (dir. Oliver Stone)
Oliver Stone’s masterpiece. There’s no better way to really convey the magnetism of his cinematic vision of Eric Bogosian’s Off-Broadway tabloid fable. Following his pivot to the Academy Awards stage with Salvador, Platoon, and Wall Street, the subject matter in Talk Radio has barely aged in today’s political divide. Whereas Platoon takes on our grief process of the Vietnam War and Wall Street examines corporate America in gusto fashion, both have aged as products of the 1980’s. This is also looking into the present, but it looks forward. Barry Champlain (Bogosian, in a breakout performance for the ages) is six feet of white male rage, a belligerent contrarian incapable of empathy or self-control that loses his goodwill over the course of a night. Sound familiar?

Despite Bogosian and Stone’s major creative differences, it is a powerful spotlight on the dark side of the Reagan era, and a mirror image of modern America. Stone doesn’t settle for a filmed play—this thing is shot and lit (by the great Robert Richardson on the latter) like Hitchcock on cocaine. Bogosian devours the scenery from the opening credits with just his voice, and while he’s surrounded by an enviable cast with exceptional theatre credentials—Ellen Greene, John Pankow, John C. McGinley, Alec Baldwin, and Michael Wincott, who reprises his role from the play—this is Bogosian’s show. His “I’m a hypocrite” breakdown towards the end is a master class.

I pray that this gets out on Blu-ray in the next year. It’s too important.
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Tapeheads (dir. Bill Fishman)
This entry is partly reworked from a 2013 contribution I made on the film.

Before High Fidelity, John Cusack and Tim Robbins starred in this transgressive satire of the music video industry. A quirky, cameo-filled look at the American Dream on the fringe, it’s a slice of L.A. not unlike Repo Man or the later and misunderstood Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Like its heroes, the movie plays dirty and refuses to aim straightly at its premise, veering off into a joyous series of non-sequiturs that include a middle-aged man dressed in Run DMC apparel rapping about Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, cemetery blowjobs, Bobcat Goldthwait using his normal voice as a motivational speaker, Swedes lip-syncing Devo, Jessica Walter as a would-be First Lady named Kay Mart, government hitmen with a weakness for singing and dancing, and the female leads fighting each other with butterfly knives and nunchuks.
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Tequila Sunrise (dir. Robert Towne)
After the 70’s, Robert Towne took quieter gigs, began directing, and did more script doctoring than scripting, especially in the fallout of the first crack at The Two Jakes. You could call Tequila Sunrise a comeback, but Towne was big enough a name that it didn’t matter. Nevertheless, this is a great movie, as exquisite as The Last Detail and Chinatown in its intricate story and punchy dialogue.

Lurid and sensual in the most flavorful sense of the decade, Towne gets a power play in Conrad L. Hall’s gorgeous, Oscar-nominated cinematography. The shot of Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell reminiscing about their childhood on a playground, at sunset, is unforgettable. As a neo-noir, Towne subverts us. Snake Plissken is a DEA agent. The man behind Mad Max and Martin Riggs is a drug dealer. Never once is there a shootout. Russell is playing Pat Riley with a badge, a look he wonderfully brought back in the last couple Fast and the Furious movies, whereas Towne taps into an existential vulnerability that Gibson reminds us, full well, that he’s not just an action star.

A good number of people showed up to see the iconic Batman teaser that Warner Bros. attached to the film. I’m sure those people expected a nonstop action thrill, expecting a cheeseburger when this movie is a goddamn Porterhouse. You don’t run and eat. You savor the moment. Casting here is everything. Mel, Kurt, and Michelle Pfeiffer are smoldering with their collective presence. It’s not a love triangle as much as it is a game of wits because of how charismatic they are. And lest we forget Raul Julia buying out the movie every time he shows up, and the film marking the genesis of J.T. Walsh’s recurring antagonism of Kurt.

This movie is perfect, although I can’t begin to imagine what this would have been with Harrison Ford during his prestige years. It’s the Heat of its time, as far as I’m concerned.
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World Gone Wild (dir. Lee H. Katzin)
Adam Ant was a fun villain in 1987’s absurd but tremendous Cold Steel, and he does it again as a Manson-worshiping cultist trying to get real estate in the post-apocalypse. Hippie leader Bruce Dern—looking like a more unhinged Bernie Sanders—has less terrible allies like Michael ParĂ© and Catherine Mary Stewart to fight off Ant and his army. This was a strong recommendation from a friend I got years ago. Dern fatally slits a man’s throat with a hubcap in the first 10 minutes, and it only embodies its title more from there.
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