Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '88 - James Curtiss ""

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Underrated '88 - James Curtiss

James is an optimist to a fault, always trying to find something worthwhile in what others have already deemed worthless. He just wants to watch movies, talk about movies, read about movies. He’s had a podcast (AT THE CHEAP SEATS), a blog (I HEART SEQUELS) and contributed the occasional piece to Blumhouse.com, Femme Fatales, Rupert Pupkin Speaks (of course) and more. You can find James here: https://letterboxd.com/jamescurtiss/

FEDS / RED HEAT 
Pretty sure I’ve said it before, but the buddy cop genre is a top 5, all-time 80s genre; as representative of the decade as the slasher cycle, Amblin, and the films of John Hughes. There’s a wealth of films trading in these tropes, good, bad and everything in between, that plenty of people still haven’t seen. FEDS, as the title betrays, is a little bit of an outlier as it’s about the titular FBI agents-in-training who team up in an act of girl power as the (seemingly) only female candidates. It’s unusual for this film to be about the “feds”, as most films of this ilk specifically do not trust them, jurisdictional yada yada, which helped to maintain their populist working-class air in the midst of the Reagan years. Mary Gross, who should have had a bigger career post-SNL, plays the bookish, shy trainee, with brains to spare and not much else to offer in the warrior class, at first glance. The yin to her yang is a former Marine played by Rebecca De Mornay. Seriously, while the film was made during the first wave of debates about affirmative action, it is as timely now during this ongoing conversation about more female-led films. I love it and it was one of the first DVDs I bought from Warner Archive when it launched. Also very 80s in its odd status as the first American film to shoot in Red Square, RED HEAT sees Soviet police officer Arnold Schwarzenegger teaming with Chicago flatfoot Jim Belushi to chase down a Soviet Georgian drug dealer who has escaped to the Windy City. Co-written and directed by Walter Hill, this is a tough, funny movie that never lets up from its opening, semi-clad fisticuffs set in a Soviet bathhouse (beating EASTERN PROMISES by a couple decades) to its ending set-piece of a game of chicken played with Greyhound buses. Honestly, from what I’ve seen, this is underrated as both an Arnie film and as a Walter Hill joint, and I can only think it’s because of the presence of Belushi. Get over yourselves, people, he ain’t his brother but the motherfucker has chops.
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WAR PARTY / WORLD GONE WILD
What we’ve got here is a double feature of hard to find, out of print action flicks that can still only be found on VHS domestically. So, I apologize if I wind up sending any of you on a wild goose chase looking for either of them in a higher quality than they would have been seen on home in 1988. WAR PARTY, kind of like FEDS, seems far timelier now than it did upon initial release. In fact, some people (including Roger Ebert) were turned off by what they saw as an unnecessary narrative, digging up a racism that they believed didn’t exist much anymore in America. Oh boy, what we’ve learned and are still learning. Essentially the movie is about some Blackfeet youth who find themselves on the run, falsely accused after some racially motivated violence broke out at a re-enactment. It’s not a perfect movie and at times does feel like a heavy-handed polemic, but it is a thrilling, effective little watch that needs some reappraisal. Also, Kevin Dillon plays one of the leads and man 1988 was the year of Kevin Dillon. Between this, THE RESCUE, REMOTE CONTROL, and THE BLOB, dude was everywhere. It’s the sort of halcyon days that a Johnny Chase would long for. WORLD GONE WILD is one of the weirder and wilder MAD MAX clones, coming late in the cycle and hyper aware of all of the clich├ęs and knock-offs. Really, it’s yet another updating of the SEVEN SAMURAI story, this time featuring Bruce Dern as a burnt-out hippie hero whose team is tasked with protecting an outpost from a bunch of marauders led by a crazed Adam Ant. Yeah, read that again and realize it’s already 80s as fuck. Add to that Michael Pare, Catherine Mary Stewart, and Julius J. Carry III, and you have the kind of movie that doesn’t surprisingly feature Nancy Parsons (aka Beulah from the PORKY’S films) as a character credited only as “Rape Victim”.Amazon Button (via NiftyButtons.com)

HERO AND THE TERROR / SHY PEOPLE
Third year of doing Underrated pieces for me and this is the third piece about the 80s where I invoke the unholy name of Cannon Pictures. Honestly, this is pretty late in the game for them and there aren’t gonna be many opportunities to talk about them as we move into the 90s. So, I thought it’d be a good time to hit with a one-two punch of the low and the high that the Golan Globus team brought to the silver screen in their short-lived heyday. Most people think of Cannon as the home of the two Chucks, so I could have easily discussed HERO AND THE TERROR and MESSENGER OF DEATH. However, Bronson gets enough love, while Norris seems incapable of escaping his memetic bubble. Which is too bad because I do really love a lot of Norris’ odder films including HERO, a semi-horror action flick that would make for a solid double with his earlier SILENT RAGE. On the complete and total flipside is SHY PEOPLE, a super low-key character piece about the titular family, reunited through circumstance that leads to volatile and tragic ends. Directed by RUNAWAY TRAIN’s Andrei Konchalovsky, it features Barbara Hershey in a performance than won her Best Actress at Cannes, the career best work of Martha Plimpton, and a seemingly forgotten score by Tangerine Dream. John Philbin, aka Turtle from NORTH SHORE, also features in the film. Honestly, if the fucking cousins were any good at playing the Oscar game this film would have been up for a couple of nods at least.
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SWITCHING CHANNELS / RENT-A-COP / ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS
This self-indulgent triple might be where I really start to test everybody’s patience. The weird connective tissue (Burt to Burt and Liza to Liza) is thin and tenuous. But to me this is the most 1988 collection of films. I can’t think of three movies I watched so much simply because my grandfather owned all three as previously rented VHS tapes from a spot called MusicPlus here in SoCal. Dozens of times each; that’s how much I probably watched each of them from 1988 until 1997, when I had to move out on my own at 18. Since then, I don’t think I’ve watched them more then maybe once a piece. Doesn’t matter, they are in my DNA. CHANNELS is probably the best of the bunch, as an update/remake of HIS GIRL FRIDAY set in the world of TV news, with Burt in the Cary Grant role, and Kathleen Turner and Christopher Reeves taking on the Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy parts. At the end of the triple, we have probably the most forgotten/unnecessary sequel of all time with Liza and Dudley Moore returning for ON THE ROCKS, which is actually not nearly bad as that designation would suggest, but it ain’t gonna make people forget about the original film (maybe the remake at the least). Wedged in the middle though is one of the weirdest action comedy (?) films not just of the 80s, but maybe of all time. RENT-A-COP stars Burt as a disgraced cop (ok) and Liza as a prostitute (maybe in her CABARET days, but a stretch here) that he has to protect from a hitman who is also a dancer of some sorts (called Dancer, because sure) played by James Remar. Pad the cast with Bernie Casey, Robby Benson, Richard Masur and Dionne Warwick (!) and forget what I said above about WORLD GONE WILD, this movie is truly 80s as fuck.
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Brief notes: I’ve seen so many movies. I’d say too many, but most would say there’s no such thing. As such, most times I write for Brian, he will humor me and let me take my lists way too far, accepting gluts of double and triple features, or honorable mention sections that may as well be proper lists. This time, I’ll try to keep my brief notes brief and say I left off SHOOT TO KILL and THINGS CHANGE because Brian got there recently, that I left off MIRACLE MILE because I figured (erroneously) that Brian and everyone would have it on their lists, that I couldn’t find a double for SHAKEDOWN or SOME GIRLS, that seeing THE BIG BLUE on a flight back from Hawaii in 1988 made me a lifelong Luc Besson fan, that Run DMC’s blaxploitation flick TOUGHER THAN LEATHER shouldn’t be forgotten, that PUNCHLINE made me care about Tom Hanks, that Christopher Walken gives a top 5 performance in BILOXI BLUES, and that the only way to watch JOHNNY BE GOOD is the R-rated cut, and not the bullshit PG-13 cut that’s seemingly the only available streaming option. I’d say that’s that.

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