Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '99 - Gems from 20 Years Ago! ""

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Underrated '99 - Gems from 20 Years Ago!

I've heard it said that 1999 was a watershed year for movies and while that still remains to be seen, it is certainly true that the year itself and its movies have good deal of significance to me personally. You see, 1999 was the year I made a big change in my life. I packed up my things and moved with a couple college friends of mine to Los Angeles. It was a huge deal at the time and it's crazy to me that I'll be here twenty years come this September. I've spent close to half of my life as a Californian and as a kid from the Midwest, it feels weird to say that. I've had a family here and found a career here. When i think about it, it's really where I came to be an adult. Anyway, the point of all this is that it all started in 1999, so my memories are strong and heavy for that time. Seeing movies for the first time in the place where they were made was not a thing that was lost on me. I really felt it. Going to the movies out here felt different somehow, even though I was seeing a lot of the same movies I'd have seen if I was back in Wisconsin, where I came from. The difference was the big city and the allure of Hollywood itself that caught me. I was meeting people that we working on movies that were getting made. All of it felt pretty huge to a guy in his twenties who had been a fan of this stuff pretty much his whole life. So these movies stand out for that reason for sure, but also because 1999 was indeed a solid year for cinema. Here are some of the ones that I remember liking a lot that I feel like have been a little bit forgotten in the past two decades....

THE WINSLOW BOY (1999; David Mamet)
David Mamet's answer to AGE OF INNOCENCE is one way I might categorize this film, but that wouldn't be quite right. I would say though that if you are a fan of Scorsese's period masterpiece, you may find this one of interest. It's actually the second adaptation of the Terence Rattigan's 1946 play which was apparently inspired by true events circa 1908. The tale here is set in 1911 and follows the Arthur Winslow family and the commotion that is stirred up around Christmas time. Winslow (Nigel Hawthorne) is a London banker who is preparing to celebrate the engagement of his daughter (Mamet's real-life wife Rebecca Pidgeon) when the celebration is interrupted by the abrupt return of his 13-year-old son, Ronnie from The Royal Naval College where he had been a cadet. He has been expelled by the powers at the college based on an accusation that he stole a five shilling money order. Professing his innocence of the charge, Ronnie is taken in by his family and his father seeing an injustice having been carried out, hires a very prestigious barrister - Sir Robert Morton (Jeremy Northam) to help clear his son. What follows is a fascinating and mesmerizing courtroom drama that plays outside the courtroom as well as in and in combination with the repressive civilized customs of the period makes for a powerful watch for sure. So powerful indeed that I believe I called it out as my favorite film of the year at the time. It is still quite a spectacle and one of my favorite "legal films" that I can think of along with things like THE VERDICT, 12 ANGRY MEN and so forth.
Performances by Nigel Hawthorne, Pidgeon and Northam are highlights, but I also like that Pidgeon's real brother was cast as her brother in the film and he is also solid.
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MUMFORD (1999; Lawrence Kasdan)
This is another one of those movies that really made an impression on me at the time, but has since seemingly vanished into the quiet darkness of movies that are good but forgotten. It could be that far less people saw it than I recall, but I feel like its critical appraisal at the time was decent if not outstanding. Looking at the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores now, it would seem that the film was not quite as well thought of as I remember, but I still love it. It's really an incredibly showcase for Loren Dean, who I can't believe didn't go on to much much bigger things. He's been relegated to a good deal of TV work since '99, but he is just outstanding here as a mysterious therapist that shows up in the small town of Mumford and throws everyone off with his very balanced and zen approach to figuring out the village locals and their troubles. He is so zen in fact that I cannot help but feel like I want to adopt some of his ability to take each thing as it comes at me and not let anything be too overwhelming. It's an oddly therapeutic movie to watch in that sense and the incredible cast helps a lot (as does the sure hand of veteran writer and director Lawrence Kasdan). The ensemble includes Hope Davis (who I dearly miss and wish was in more current movies), Alfre Woodard, Jason Lee, Mary McDonnell, Zooey Deschanel (in an early role for her), Pruitt Taylor Vince, Martin Short, David Paymer, Jane Adams, Elizabeth Moss (also and early appearance), Ted Danson and more. It's a remarkable group and the film itself represents what I feel like is one of the later R-rated, middle budget, "movies for adults" that have since kind of dried up in our current theatrical landscape (which is a shame). Like the other entries on my list, this one doesn't have a Blu-ray and that is a shame because I would really love to hear a commentary from Kasdan about it (the old DVD only had a making of featurette) as it is a captivating little movie that I'd love to hear more about. There is a sense of Frank Capra to it for sure, but it goes beyond that in a way that I like very much. Well worth a look.
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ARLINGTON ROAD (1999; Mark Pellington)
A sadly all but forgotten thriller these days (and another Hope Davis movie by the way). She plays girlfriend to a widowed Jeff Bridges in this modern take on Hitchcock. Sorry, I know folks always drag Hitch in whenever somebody makes a decent suspense film but in this case, I really think it applies. The story here deals with terrorism - Jeff Bridges' character teaches a class in it and begins to suspect his neighbor (Tim Robbins) is up to something not-so-above-board and starts to conduct his own little investigation - and this kind of thing can be very problematic for characters in movies to do. That said, I feel like this is the kind of movie and subject matter that Hitchcock might have been doing if he were still around in the late 90s. I also think ti would make an interesting pairing with one of my underrated favorites of his in SABOTEUR. I also feel some heavy PARALLAX VIEW vibes from this and that would be an equally interesting double bill with it. ARLINGTON ROAD isn't perfect by any means - it has a pretty sharp third act turn, but overall it's grounded by Bridges and both Robbins and Joan Cusack (playing his wife) are effective in their roles as well. It also stars the kid from UNBREAKABLE (Spencer Treat Clark - who just popped up again in GLASS) in a small part. I think I was even more pulled in on my rewatch this time as I'm now a parent of course and wasn't even close to that mindset back in '99. It's quite a tense bit of business all told and well executed by director Mark Pellington (who would go on to an even better next film with THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES in 2002). Writer Ehren Kruger would go on to a lot more familiar projects from SCREAM 3, THE RING, and the underrated SKELETON KEY, to three TRANSFORMERS movies and even Tim Burton's DUMBO remake from this year.
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THE WOMAN CHASER (1999; Robinson Devour)
This offbeat, black and white, 1950s-set Film Noir comedy stars Patrick Warburton (in his only headlining effort I believe) as a slick car salesman from San Francisco who moves to Los Angeles to open a lot there. This is prior to his becoming THE TICK but post Seinfeld and he does a nice job. His character becomes bored with the purveying of used automobiles and decides to try his hand as a director and make a movie. The result is an angry and bitter tale of a truck driver who runs down a little girl called THE MAN WHO GOT AWAY that he sees as a masterpiece. I've never read the Charles Willeford novel that the film is based on, but I've heard tell that this adaptation is pretty faithful. Warburton does feel right at home as a character in this universe - that much is certain. It's like the part was made just for him.
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OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE (1999; Michael Corrente)
This coming of agey sort of nostalgic look back at the 1970s could be something of a companion piece to DAZED AND CONFUSED but it's a bit goofier in spots and a bit more heartfelt in others. It's based on Peter Farrelly's novel and was adapted by he, his brother and director Corrente. Was sold as "from the guys who made THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY" and definitely feels like perhaps they were pushed a little in the dumb comedy direction to help sell the thing but who knows, maybe that stuff is all in the source novel. With character names like "Drugs Delaney" and "Jizz" it's hard to tell.
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FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (1999; Sam Raimi)
I can't make a case that this a great movie or anything, but I must say I was affected by it and drawn in by the Costner performance and the structure at the very least. Just the idea of an aging major league pitcher reflecting on his life throughout the course of attempting throw a no-hitter in what is possibly his last professional ballgame is hook enough to keep me involved. The romance stuff feels a little undercooked I suppose (or perhaps Kelly Preston isn't the proper actor to carry off the part?), but I have to admit that I still felt it and the sports movie aspects are always an emotional pull for me. Having not seen this film until just this year, I was pleasantly surprised by my own enjoyment of the movie.
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