Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Jen Johans ""

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Jen Johans

An avid film buff as well as a three-time national award-winning writer, the only time Jen Johans ever got into trouble in school was for talking about movies during quiet time.

Thrilled to discover that being a walking, talking movie encyclopedia only works to your advantage in film school, in the final semester of her self-designed BA degree program, Johans continued to share her love of cinema by launching the first version of her site FilmIntuition.com.

12 years and 2,400 reviews later, when she isn't writing about or watching movies, chances are that the screenwriter and critic can be found talking about them on Twitter (@FilmIntuition) where there's no such thing as quiet time.

AMERICAN DREAMER (1984)
A victim of bad timing, released just seven months after the thematically similar ROMANCING THE STONE, director Rick Rosenthal's AMERICAN DREAMER was dismissed as a rip-off of not only STONE (which in turn was dubbed a romcom RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) but TV's SCARECROW AND MRS. KING as well.

Yet it while it's no match for STONE, there's still a lot of fun to be had in this fast-paced action comedy from screenwriters David Greenwalt (of BUFFY and ANGEL fame) and NATIONAL TREASURE's Jim Kouf, based upon a story by RAY DONOVAN creator Ann Biderman.

Having an absolute ball, JoBeth Williams is delightful as a housewife and mother who, after winning a trip to Paris for writing a short story in the style of her favorite mystery series, takes a blow to the head and wakes up believing she and the books’ seductive spy and super sleuth are one and the same.

Quickly caught up in a case of international intrigue along with the author's handsome and amused son Tom Conti, although the film threatens to lose us midway through by playing fast and loose with suspension-of-disbelief, DREAMER remains thoroughly committed to entertaining the viewer in that go-for-broke, genre-blending '80s movie way, that today we seldom see (especially with a woman in the lead).


MICKI & MAUDE (1984)
A daring Blake Edwards movie about a man (Dudley Moore) in love with two women, what sets MICKI & MAUDE apart from the swinging sex comedies made a decade earlier is its affable characters, laugh-out-loud humor, and heart.

Cleverly toying with gender roles, in MICKI, it's baby crazy Moore whose biological clock is going off like a four alarm fire and, during a rough patch in his marriage to the brilliant albeit workaholic wife he otherwise adores played by Ann Reinking, he falls for Amy Irving's impulsive, flirtatious cellist.

Not wanting to hurt either woman as he's in love with them both, Moore's situation quickly goes from complicated to chaotic in what feels like a cross between a romantic British farce and a wild Francis Veber style French comedy. Indeed, perhaps with the French in mind, the film features a lovely main title theme by Lee Holdridge and Michel Legrand.

Filled with terrific performances from not only the main trio (including Moore who garnered a Golden Globe for the film) but its supporting cast as well, the sweet-natured MICKI & MAUDE is a delightful '80s Blake Edwards surprise.


THE OFFICIAL STORY (1985)
Wisely using a Douglas Sirkian style domestic mystery to gradually introduce international viewers to the horrors that took place during Argentina's Dirty War, THE OFFICIAL STORY centers on a history teacher (Norma Aleandro) who fears that her adopted daughter might be the child of one of the tens of thousands of citizens who were "disappeared" following the military coup which installed a dictatorship in 1976.

Made in secret after the cast and crew received death threats, Luis Puenzo's humanistic work would go on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film exactly ten years to the day that the coup began. And while it hit hard as both an adoption drama as well as a window into life in Argentina under a murderous dictatorship in its 1985 release, viewing it for the first time in the Trump era wherein thousands of children have been separated from their families has made Puenzo's film timelier than ever.

A cautionary tale warning us about the dangers of authoritarianism, THE OFFICIAL STORY reminds us to take a closer look at the world around us whenever facts are dismissed as fake.


OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY (1991)
Danny DeVito shines as a greedy liquidator determined to take over Gregory Peck's family-run company in this Capraesque comedy for the WALL STREET era.

A wildly entertaining character driven charmer based upon Jerry Sterner's play and adapted by ORDINARY PEOPLE screenwriter Alvin Sargent, it doesn't take long to see that OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY has more on its mind than numbers, stocks, and bonds.

Keeping her true identity as Peck's step-daughter a secret (and playing her part like a cross between Barbara Stanwyck and Marilyn Monroe), once Penelope Ann Miller's brainy lawyer shares her first flirtatious scene with DeVito, MOONSTRUCK director Norman Jewison's film turns into a sexy, screwball romp fans of ‘30s romcoms won't want to miss.


RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988)
The film that finally landed River Phoenix a well-deserved Oscar nomination, although it's often overlooked in favor of other titles from his enviable filmography, RUNNING ON EMPTY is an unsung and understated Sidney Lumet masterpiece that had me reaching for tissues upon hearing the first few notes of composer Tony Mottola's pitch-perfect main theme.

Having been on the run from the FBI with his anti-war activist parents and younger brother for as long as he's been alive, Phoenix’s lead is old enough to no longer find changing his name, hair color, home, and school every six months an exciting adventure.

A talented pianist who immediately catches the eye of his new music teacher as well as his beautiful daughter (played by Phoenix's then offscreen girlfriend Martha Plimpton), as he begins to come of age and discover his independence, Phoenix begins to butt heads with his stubborn father (Judd Hirsch).

A moving, naturalistic, emotionally potent drama from screenwriter Naomi Foner that builds completely off the strength of its characters (and the actors playing them), RUNNING ON EMPTY might just boast the best performance of River Phoenix's short yet unforgettable career.


THE TWO OF US (1967)
Featuring a soulful score by composer Georges Delerue that's guaranteed to stay with you for days, Claude Berri's semi-autobiographical feature filmmaking debut chronicles his memories of childhood spent as a Jewish youth posing as a Catholic while living with his landlady's aging, anti-semitic father in the French countryside during World War II.

Featuring multiple scenes of storytelling, Berri blends fact and fiction together repeatedly while paying tribute to the two men who had the greatest impact on his formative years and the way he expresses himself creatively as an adult.

Infusing the bittersweet film with unexpected flashes of laughter and light, while Truffaut's 400 BLOWS seems like a natural source of inspiration, to Berri’s credit, it's safe to say that – from MY LIFE AS A DOG to CINEMA PARADISO – his tender TWO appears to have influenced two contemporary classics of its own.

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