Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '88 - Travis Woods ""

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Underrated '88 - Travis Woods

Travis Woods is a freelance writer whose bylines have included The L.A. Times, Paste Magazine, ScreenCrave, and others. He spends way too much time thinking about movies. He also has an Elliott Gould tattoo. You can yell at him on Twitter: @aHeartOfGould

BAD DREAMS (1988; Andrew Fleming)
In the 1980s, two films starring actress/model Jennifer Rubin featured a malevolent, murderous ghost of a man who’d burned to death and returns to kill a group of young people (including Rubin) receiving group therapy in a hospital. One of those films was 1987’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, which went on to be recognized as a classic of ‘80s franchise horror. The other film was BAD DREAMS, which came and went without much fanfare one year later.

It’s unfortunate that DREAMS fell so deeply between the cultural cracks—whereas DREAM WARRIORS is a slick, surreal slab of pop-horror aimed at teens, BAD DREAMS is a (slightly) more adult psychological thriller that showcases the excellent (and underrated) Rubin, b-movie heavy Richard Lynch as the film’s crispy, pizza-visaged monster, RE-ANIMATOR’s Bruce Abbot, and a nifty plot twist that directs the film far afield from ELM STREET territory, all within a creepy hospital where the doctors can’t be trusted and solid ‘80s gore FX abound.
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MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988; Jonathan Demme)
OK, OK, OK, “underrated” miiiiiight be a stretch for a film that scored near-universal critical praise, earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nods, and whose box office doubled its budget. And yet! MARRIED TO THE MOB has always struck me as something of a middle child in Jonathan Demme’s filmography, appearing as it does to be a breezy screwball comedy sandwiched between acknowledged masterpieces like SOMETHING WILD and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

And yes, while MARRIED TO THE MOB is a screwball comedy about a mafia widow (Michelle Pfeiffer) trying to escape “The Life” while being pursued by a horny mob boss (Dean Stockwell) and a love-struck undercover FBI agent (Matthew Modine), it’s also something more. Beneath all the GODFATHER riffs and NOTORIOUS echoes is an empathetic and richly-drawn portrait of a woman fighting to create an independent life for herself after years of numbing domestic servitude. Like all of Demme’s best works (and MOB truly is one of his best), it’s a startlingly tight close-up on the life of an outsider struggling for self-actualization, hidden within a genre film and buoyed by a killer soundtrack.
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MIRACLE MILE (1988; Steve De Jarnett)
A romance. A comedy. A paranoiac thriller. An L.A. topography. A wickedly imaginative entry into the survive-the-night movie pantheon of the ‘80s (see also: AFTER HOURS, INTO THE NIGHT, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, etc.). Writer-director Steve De Jarnett’s MIRACLE MILE is an 87-minute, real-time gutpunch of a film that gearshifts from love story to cataclysmic Armageddon, as a man falls in love while the city (and world?) he lives in falls apart around him.

Harry (Anthony Edwards) misses his late-night date with Julie (Mare Winningham) at Johnnie’s Coffee Shop in West Hollywood. Instead, he intercepts a panicked wrong number at a phone booth and learns that an array of nukes might be set to lay waste to Los Angeles within the hour. From there: Harry spreads mass panic throughout L.A. with his apocalyptic warnings of nuclear fire as he searches for Julie and a helicopter pilot to help them escape. Bathed in the ominous gauze of a Tangerine Dream score, MIRACLE MILE is a series of surprising narrative left turns that eventually tighten into a terrifying spiral with an ending as shocking as it is (in retrospect) inevitable.
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REMOTE CONTROL (1988; Jeff Lieberman)
VIDEODROME by way of THEY LIVE (or vice-versa), this low-budged slice of obscuro-kitsch plays like a love letter to, and time capsule of, the gloriously lo-fi Day-Glo VHS era. Bad hair, bad clothes, and cool movie posters abound as a video store clerk (Kevin Dillon) discovers an alien conspiracy to destroy mankind by disseminating copies of a videocassette that drives people to murder.

While the film’s budget keeps the scope (and the special effects) relatively small, REMOTE CONTROL has no shortage of clever comedic insanity (example: the killer VHS tape is a 1950s alien invasion flick, one whose takeover plot gave the extraterrestrials of REMOTE CONTROL their idea to conquer Earth). 1950s parody, 1980s satire, cheap retro-futurism, and a hero named Cosmo in a cool-ass silver leather jacket—REMOTE CONTROL is the kind of gaudy, gonzo mindbender you’d discover in the back corner of your local video store and cherish like some lost idol from a decadent and long-dead civilization.
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STORMY MONDAY (1988; Mike Figgis)
The feature-length debut by Mike Figgis (who also wrote the film and composed its jazz-blooze score) is pure crime film aestheticism. It’s all surface, but how beautiful that surface is: a cobblestoned British street slicked wet with rain and blood, reflecting the crisscrossing blue and red neon lights above in its glassy, mirror-like puddles. On that mean street a series of walking tropes collide: The Man With Nothing To Lose (Sean Bean), The Woman In Trouble (Melanie Griffith), The Club Owner In Over His Head (Sting), The Armbreaker (James Cosmo), and The Corrupt Businessman (Tommy Lee Jones).

How they meet and why is beside the point—this is an exercise in style, gorgeous, smoke-hazed cinematic style, all gunmetal shine and nothing else. It’s neo-noir pared to its core: Jazz. Rainy streets. Cigarette smoke. Neon. Corruption. Sex. Diners. Night. Pure surface. Pure aesthetic. Pure.
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HONORABLE MENTIONS:
COP (1988; James B. Harris)
Wildly misogynist, flatly-shot DIRTY HARRY riff that’s halfway redeemed by James Woods’ maniacally committed performance and an all-timer of an ending.
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TEQUILA SUNRISE (Robert Towne; 1988)
A labyrinthine film that speaks in the same accent as CHINATOWN but has next to nothing to say. Come for the star-power trio of Mel Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kurt Russell; stay for Conrad Hall’s gorgeous sunshine-noir photography, Russell’s oil-slicked hairdo, and a neverending Gibson-Pfeiffer sex scene soundtracked by the apotheosis of squealing ‘80s sex-sax jazz.
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