Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '78 - Travis Woods ""

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Underrated '78 - 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. You can yell at him on Twitter:

THE BRINK’S JOB (dir: William Friedkin)
Yes this film crashed at the box office and is still seen as one of the director’s lesser works, and sure, it’s something of a letdown after the brutal perfection of SORCERER...but if you can divorce yourself from the booming “FROM THE DIRECTOR OF THE EXORCIST AND THE FRENCH CONNECTION” baggage, THE BRINK's JOB is a fleet and fun caper film, one in which William Friedkin simply switched gears and was working as a master genre craftsman rather than as an innovator. Warm and funny performances by a who’s-who of ‘70s hotshots (Peter Falk, Warren Oates, Gena Rowlands, Peter Boyle, and Paul Sorvino), 1940’s art-direction by the same Academy Award-winning team behind THE GODFATHER II, and crackerjack heist comedy—THE BRINK’S JOB is the definition of underrated ‘70s filmmaking.
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CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37 (dir: Monte Hellman)
Monte Hellman’s third and final outing into the western genre is a you-have-to-see-this-to-believe it phantasmagoria that blends the director’s fatalistic vision with late-period Spaghetti Western tropes and anchors itself to ruggedly poignant performances by Warren Oates, Fabio Testi, and Jenny Agutter. The only hitch is that you actually do have to see it to believe it, and seeing it is awfully hard—DVD and streaming quality of the film is monolithically poor, and the film is in desperate, desperate need of a Blu-ray release. But if you do happen to catch it, in whatever quality, the film manages to shine through, and with its strange overlay of TWO LANE BLACKTOP’s love triangle atop RIDE THE WHIRLWIND’s western weirdness, and studded with COCKFIGHTER-styled oddball vignettes (keep your eyes peeled for a Sam Peckinpah cameo), the film plays like a gonzo Hellman Greatest Hits package dropped into the middle of the Spaghetti West.
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THE SILENT PARTNER (dir: Daryl Duke)
Look: literally everybody is putting this little Canadian gem on their underrated ’78 lists, so there’s not much I can add to the chorus. But as someone who literally has the image of Elliott Gould smoking permanently inked onto his flesh, I am honor-bound and obligated to at least mention the film. In short: Elliott Gould plays a bank teller who knows his bank is going to get robbed and skims a little off the top for himself. The bank robber (Christopher Plummer) gets wise. Plummer then spends the film’s running time scaring (and shocking) the bejesus out of you. A breathlessly perfect cat-and-mouse plot, an abjectly terrifying villain, and an exceptionally sharp Gould—it’s Canadian tax-shelter filmmaking by way of Alfred Hitchcock.
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STRAIGHT TIME (dir: Ulu Grosbard)
It’s almost impossible to overrate of a film with a pedigree like STRAIGHT TIME. It’s based on a book by legendary crime author and criminal (and RESERVOIR DOGS’ Mr. Blue) Edward Bunker, with a script by Bunker, Alvin Sergeant (PAPER MOON, ORDINARY PEOPLE), and Jeffrey Boam (THE DEAD ZONE), and additional uncredited work by Nancy Dowd (SLAP SHOT) and Michael Mann. It boasts an insane—simply insane—supporting cast of Theresa Russell, M. Emmet Walsh, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, and Kathy Bates. And it holds the finest, most nuanced performance by Dustin Hoffman in the 1970s (do not @ me).

STRAIGHT TIME is quite simply one of the all-time great crime films of its decade, yet has somehow fallen through the cracks. Perhaps it’s the film’s low-key and unflashy character-study quiet (it’d make a perfect double feature with THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE), or maybe the against-type casting of Hoffman as just-released hardcase ex-con desperately trying to go straight in a world that all but forces him back into crime. Whatever the reason for its underrated status, the film is a revelation—it plays like a feature-length adaptation of a NEBRASKA-era Springsteen song, in which America is a sepia-tinged nightmare of last-chance scores, love on the run, and roads that lead to nowhere.
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WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN (dir: Karel Reisz)
A shaggy-dog chase-thriller that somehow occasionally manages to devastatingly out-bleak such similarly black visions like THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN is a war film disguised as a pulp potboiler. To its story of two men (Michael Moriarty and a searing Nick Nolte) muling heroin out of Indochina and into the U.S., it attaches the metaphor of the Vietnam War’s moral rot coming home to roost. As various thugs, dealers, and corrupt DEA agents descend upon them, Nolte and Moriarty’s drug-addicted wife (the hyper-underrated Tuesday Weld) fight to stay alive long enough to pull of the final score that could save them. On the surface, RAIN is a series of strung-together b-movie thriller beats; under that surface, though, is a darkly radiant exploration of the nihilistic extremes some will reach for avarice—from running dope to waging war—and the apocalyptic consequences that follow.
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