Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '88 - John Armino ""

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Underrated '88 - John Armino

John Arminio is a lifelong Nerd and lover of film, comics, art, books, and all manner of storytelling. He is on a never-ending quest to discover new stories and to tell them to others. You can find him working at Comix Connection in Central Pennsylvania or simply follow him on Twitter @QuasarSniffer. He will podcast with you about movies and comics or write you long-winded letters by hand and mail them to you. With actual stamps and everything! He is madness. You can also follow the happenings of Comix Connection on Facebook or visit their webpage at

Dead Heat
"Roger, you haven't heard the worst of it."
"I'm dead, Rebecca. How much worse can it get?"

A whole lot worse, Rog.

Dead Heat is, like 1987's cult classic The Hidden, a late-eighties buddy cop genre-mashup, combining science fiction and horror elements with action, layered under the paranoia spawned from a shallow, greedy, consumerist culture. Dead Heat, however, is definitely The Hidden's louder, stupider cousin, with its lead character named ROGER MORTIS and ridiculous bits of dialogue from Joe Piscopo's misogynist cop character like, "Sorry to interrupt your erection, pal, but we'd like to speak to the management of this facility." It is also exceptionally fun and can't go five seconds without introducing something insane for the viewer to enjoy or laugh at. With mutated undead being punched in the genitals, a little butcher's shop of horrors, and even an appearance from Vincent Price from beyond the grave, this is genre filmmaking at its most effective. Dead Heat is not meta and never winks at the audience, but it also does not take itself seriously. It embraces the undead madness and the viewer is advised to go for the gory ride.
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Red Heat
Red Heat is definitely an anomaly in the Arnold Schwarzenegger oeuvre. It's between the Terminators and after Predator and Running Man, so we are in Prime Arnold Era here. Yet Schwarzenegger is definitely positioned to be viewed as this mysterious, foreign unknown, coming from far away to mix it up with us scrappy Americans. We see his megalith physique and icy personality through the eyes of James Belushi, a blue collar Chicago cop who is partnered with Arnold's Ivan Danko after a series of violent encounters with drug-dealing Russian gangsters. Director Walter Hill is an expert at infusing gritty, violent urban action films with elements of the ridiculous that actually heighten the drama rather than detract from it. See his 1979 classic The Warriors for proof of that. Arnold doing a Russian accent, James Belushi sprinting with a gun and playing action hero; it all adds to the outlandish specificity of the world of this movie and therefore its ability to engage the viewer. What Red Heat does wonderfully well is make the audience like its characters, from Jim Belushi's gruff Chicago cop, his peers and superiors at the precinct, and especially towards this strange foreign entity that is Schwarzenegger's Ivan Danko. We approach 80s cop movies with a certain set of expectations; maybe an angry captain yelling at detectives about the mayor breathing down his neck, maybe even racial tension between the straight-laced, suit-wearing African American lieutenant in Laurence Fishburne and his white fellow officers. We don't get that here. Instead, superiors and subordinates alike respect each other and try to make the best decisions for the department and themselves, and support each other in their journey to do so (with a few off-color remarks and "motherfuckers" thrown in). It's actually... kind of refreshing, especially with the genuinely endearing and entertaining rapport between Belushi and Schwarzenegger. Plus, we get perhaps the most homoerotic fight scene in Arnold Schwarzenegger film history, going from naked men punching in a steaming sauna to naked men punching in a snow-covered Russian tundra. Invigorating!
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Split Decisions
Split Decisions is an old-fashioned boxing drama. It is easy to see Spencer Tracy or Anthony Quinn filling Gene Hackman's patriarch/trainer role in another era of moviemaking. The film itself is a saga about punching above your weight, about fathers and sons doing their best in impossible situations, be it within their own family or when facing external threats. The McQuinn clan is a family of Irish boxers who have spent most of their lives, over many generations, toiling in dirty gyms and even dirtier clubs, fighting until their bodies break down. Gene Hackman plays Dan McQuinn, the trainer and sometime manager of his two sons, Eddie and Ray. Eddie is the neighborhood Golden Boy, a Golden Gloves champion and Olympic hopeful. Ray has gone pro, against his father's wishes, and has involved himself in the more nefarious corners of the boxing world, of which there are many, causing an irreparable rift in the McQuinn family. These are men who love each other more than they realize, but ego and ambition continue to get in the way of any long-term reconciliation. Even so, the presence of their grandfather, "Pop" McQuinn, is proof that no matter how much the family might take each other for granted, they will stay in each other's orbit for decades to come. It is only when Ray is killed by the same corrupt forces he has aligned himself with that Eddie is forced to choose a future for himself: one of his own making, or the one already set for him. Viewers who are suckers for boxing dramas, fathers and sons loving each other despite their flaws, and great training montages, Split Decisions is an underrated gem that will deliver on all fronts. Maybe a small-time, dirty gem, but one worth seeking out.
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They Live
Ok, Ok, immeasurable amounts of ink have been spilled about this film, and most of John Carpenter's oeuvre, in the years since this its release, but every year, They Live seems more and more prescient and more and more vital. This is a movie about a working class white man (named Nada, played with brute force perfection by Rowdy Roddy Piper) duped by the Powers That Be (in this case, weird aliens) into believing in the lie of the American Dream and exploited. This is a movie about the media, controlled by those same powers, to disseminate a message of fear, selfishness, and greed. "OBEY CONSUME CONFORM," as it were. This is also a movie about a migrant worker struggling to find a place in a country that is hostile to him when all he wants is a living wage, and finding only violence, discrimination, and hatred as a result. His only allies are the downtrodden, his only recourse, revenge. Also, this movie is a helluva lot of fun. It's quotable, it's badass, Keith David is in it, and it movies along with ruthless efficiency. This movie is more than one of cinema's greatest fight scenes. It's a vital piece of work that you should watch every year until it is no longer relevant.
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The Vanishing
The Vanishing is a remarkable magic trick of a movie, all the more so because it is so subtle, so deceptively casual, that the viewer has no idea any magic is occurring. Even if the audience is aware of the plot going into the movie, that of the disappearance of a young woman and her boyfriend's subsequent obsessive search for her, the chemistry between relative newcomer Johanna ter Steege and her boyfriend Gene Bervoets is disarmingly believable, adorable, and endearing. We are invested in their relationship, want them to be happy together, and, even before the disappearance occurs, are terrified for any sort of doom that might befall them, be it interpersonal or from an outside assailant. That assailant is played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, whose character is built with such careful, casual precision that his ordinariness becomes terrifying, just like The Vanishing itself, before we've had the chance to realize what he is doing. Details in his methodology, in his ways of thinking, and even the casual manner he breaks social mores, the way a curious animal might examine a new toy, paints one of cinema's most believable sociopaths. The Vanishing is a film that makes us doubt ourselves and makes us feel powerless in the face of arbitrary, unpredictable events. Similarly, The Vanishing seems to have a rather arbitrary place in film history, as it regarded as a classic in some quarters while totally forgotten in others. It was, for example, disqualified from being the Netherlands's entry as the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards because it contained too much French dialogue. Undoubtedly, the work of a real sociopath. In any case, The Vanishing is a totally unique and understated film that will wring out tension from places in the viewer's mind previously unexplored, and all done with nary a drop of blood spilled.
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