Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '99 - Mike Drew Flynn ""

Friday, June 7, 2019

Underrated '99 - Mike Drew Flynn

Mike Drew Flynn was raised in Oceanport, New Jersey, a town you have probably never heard of and that’s okay. A lifelong movie fanatic, things got real upon seeing Face/Off in the theater when he was nine years old. He currently writes for Andersonvision and is hard at work on correcting his perfectionist tendencies to touch up independent projects. Mr. Flynn currently resides in Los Angeles, waiting for visiting friends and family to get talked into going to the New Beverly Cinema.

Any Given Sunday (dir. Oliver Stone)
While imperfect and certainly overlong, this is the last good Oliver Stone movie. The science of Stone is to play critic of America, be it war, money, the mainstream media, or the government. He took a massive risk to sell Warner Bros. on a cynical-to-the-bone sports film with not an inspirational moment in sight, so much so that the NFL bailed on consultation post haste. George Carlin famously referred to football as “a twentieth-century technological struggle,” a quote Stone seems firmly aware of as he airs the dirty laundry of the NFL without invoking its name. The players are pawns to the corruptible machinations of bureaucracy, exploited for money and faced with futures full of injury and addiction.

The cast is probably the best part (spoiler: James Woods plays a scumbag), but I’ve always earmarked this film for introducing me to Jamie Foxx as a dramatic actor. I don’t know why this didn’t start the conversation for him as an A-lister. Those first few moments he’s clashing with Al Pacino, you can feel his presence heard and accounted, and the subverted underdog arc only makes his presence stronger from there. Between Foxx and Russell Crowe, Pacino did a hell of a job bringing new careers to roaring life in 1999.
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Bowfinger (dir. Frank Oz)
Let’s face it—this is the last time Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy did something brilliant. A moderate hit in the summer of 1999, Bowfinger is quite loved, but it deserves to have the same clout as both actors’ best efforts. Martin’s screenplay is a master stroke of satire, taking on the title role that’s like a low-rent take on his Joel Silver caricature in Grand Canyon. I’d also argue that this is the only time where Murphy gets more than one role and it succeeds as two independent characters. Whereas many of his Rick Baker-assisted roles blur together as personified fart noises, the independence of Kit and Jiff Ramsey is both noticeable and ambitious. They’re assisted by Heather Graham, playing a rather accurate riff on Anne Heche, a scene-hijacking Christine Baranski, and Robert Downey Jr., showing early signs of his Marvel/Shane Black renaissance as an ingratiating studio suit.

Frank Oz’s direction is a comedic masterwork. He had it great in the 90’s with In & Out and What About Bob? This is no different. He understands the absurdity of Martin’s satire, which is the centerpiece. Between this and the equally unloved L.A. Story, his formative years in Los Angeles and decades in entertainment are quite the payoff.
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Bringing Out the Dead (dir. Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader need no primer for their collaborations together. However, their fourth and final (to date) collaboration was met with unrealistic expectations. It’s a shame, considering how perfectly this adaptation of Joe Connelly’s novel complements the insomniac unnerve of Taxi Driver. Nicolas Cage is revelatory as Frank Pierce, a paramedic who has encountered one too many deaths on the streets of New York. The only route to salvation is a woman not so subtly named Mary (Patricia Arquette), whose dying fragile life forges an unlikely bond with him. Bringing Out the Dead is a film out of time. Set in the early 90’s, Scorsese’s New York is safe from Giuliani’s cleanup not long after the events of the film. Frank’s odyssey speeds through blaring red lights, settles into drug dens, and even stops at a goth club straight out of After Hours. Fueled further by Robert Richardson’s expressionist-nightmare cinematography, Scorsese’s road to hell never pulls a punch.

I’d also argue that Frank is one of Cage’s few post-Oscar performances with the full-bodied charisma that cemented his star. He plays obsessed and terrified in as only a Schrader protagonist could; you never feel this man is on the verge of becoming a meme. Perhaps it’s also telling that the enviable supporting cast is using the scenery as craft services. A food-obsessed John Goodman, a wiry Marc Anthony, the voice of Scorsese’s agitated dispatcher, Cliff Curtis as the 90’s version of Rashad Jackson, street preacher Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore looking like a bloated, coked-out Beetlejuice—this cast kills. If Goodfellas was Scorsese’s Exile on Main Street in the 90’s, this is Goats Head Soup, the one all the non-die hards seem to forget is great.
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eXistenZ (dir. David Cronenberg)
I wrote extensively on this one when I saw it last year, but it must be reinforced how great this movie is. Abandoned by the Weinsteins, eXistenZ lived in the shadow of The Matrix, a film that has not aged well on a recent viewing. David Cronenberg’s action-packed spiritual companion to Videodrome, in comparison, has not aged much. In a climate dominated by #MeToo and augmented-reality gaming, it feels current. Cronenberg packs the film with action sequences, but it never loses sight of his signature convictions. Jennifer Jason Leigh is predictably fearless as the empowered gaming czar chased by homicidal misogynists. It’s a perfect capsule of her prowess as an actress. No one else could have pulled off Allegra Geller, a woman who wields her power in all possible avenues despite occasional psychological shortcomings. Leigh has to play afraid, sexual, confident, badass. She’s a performer who can add on to a film like Miami Blues or The Hateful Eight with her talent. She makes Single White Female better than it has a right to be. Cronenberg doesn’t make films that need someone to elevate the material, but it wouldn’t be the same without her. I’m also convinced someone at Disney took this as inspiration for the Wreck-It Ralph franchise, in case you’ve never seen it and need your curiosity raised more.
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Go (dir. Doug Liman)
For its influence on the cinematic vernacular, the number of off-brand Pulp Fictions that came out of the 90’s is quite ghastly. Honestly, if you want to say anything bad about Pulp Fiction—a theoretically impossible statement—it’s that medical waste bonfires like The Boondock Saints and 2 Days in the Valley exist in its wake. Go is no kind of bad, and a damn great movie at that. Coming off Swingers, Doug Liman’s appetite for L.A. fever dreams is in every frame. He has a blue chip in John August’s screenplay, which mocks the city’s Ecstasy-popping rave scene. It’s blissfully self-aware, with its drug-dealing and abusing ensemble acting as if they learned to talk from watching Tarantino and Kevin Smith movies. It’s why Sarah Polley is so appealing as the reserved supermarket clerk that would be designated the final girl by horror-movie logic because of the skepticism she sees the film with. Plus, you’re doing it wrong if this is not part of your William Fichtner essentials.
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The Limey (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
From the hard thunderclap of The Who’s “The Seeker” kicking in over the credits, it’s obvious that The Limey is something unique. Steven Soderbergh hit a grand slam on the indie-to-studio transition with Out of Sight; while this is smaller scale, it’s no lesser film. He brings many of the countercultural sensibilities back in this, albeit a less polished style akin to the verité style that pivoted him the next year. Terence Stamp gets the role of a lifetime as a very pissed off gangster who wants to know why sleazy record exec Peter Fonda killed his daughter. From the moment he makes his homicidal entrance, he’s possessed by the blunt-trauma physicality of a Lee Marvin or Robert Mitchum. Lem Dobbs’ script takes a fascinating path for a revenge story. One of my friends hates the ending of this one because it does not satisfy the parameters of a typical kill-them-all yarn. Instead, we get a film about vengeance as a grieving process—a bad state of mind, but one that is willing to offer forgiveness.
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Man on the Moon (dir. Milos Forman)
Remember the hype for this movie? We were supposed to believe Milos Forman had another masterpiece on his hands. Jim Carrey was being taken seriously by Hollywood, returning the favor with his Brando-esque dedication to embodying Andy Kaufman. Unlike The Truman Show, however, the reception was polarizing, and it faded faster than Kaufman’s bit role in Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To. The truth is that Man on the Moon is Forman’s most subversive biographical film, fueled by metafictional cameos from those in his orbit and its decision to make Kaufman the unreliable narrator of his own story. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s screenplay carries interpretive wonder, where character is more important than reality. It personifies Michael Haneke’s approach to filmmaking, “24 lies per second at the service of truth.”

Upon Forman’s passing, Edward Norton summarized Forman’s contributions to film as a place where “art can and must play a role… for the health of a society.” While he attracted more fame for making that statement with Mozart and Larry Flynt, he never did it with a more singular vision than depicting the brief time that Andy Kaufman walked the Earth—that is, if he truly died rather than creating the ultimate con.
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Three Kings (dir. David O. Russell)
Arriving in the last quarter of the decade, Three Kings feels like one of the first autopsy-indictments of the darker reaches of the 90’s. Before he switched gears to everyone’s favorite Oscar-baiting dictator auteur, David O. Russell was one of the indie scene’s most gifted storytellers. That he made a dark wartime comedy on a studio dime is startling, even by 1999 standards; that it’s as moving as it is biting is a miracle. Three Kings almost entirely hinges on existential conflict, one that holds it back from contempt. Had this been three hedonistic soldiers looking to rip off gold and piss off from those oppressed by Saddam Hussein, we’d have the sadomasochistic take on Kelly’s Heroes. Russell also couldn’t have found a better cast. Ice Cube has never been more dignified. Mark Wahlberg is riding high off of Dirk Diggler, his days as a punchline far away. Even despite Russell’s notorious spats with George Clooney, this is in the midst of the actor’s incredible, split-personality run as the guy from ER and being Joe Cool in From Dusk Till Dawn and Out of Sight. He’s a self-deprecating wonder here, swaggering with the pessimism of guys like Nicholson and Beatty.

In the year of Fight Club, The Insider, South Park, and Magnolia, the transgressive approach to war fits in just right. This is the kind of deal that would have gone dormant after 9/11 and the Iraq War, where contemporary war films were too real. It was, and then Kathryn Bigelow staged the comeback of the century.
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1 comment:

Steven Millan said...

These featured films share a lot in common with a majority of the films of the 00s/2000s in being films that were the major talk of the filmdom community at the time(of their releases) but have been sadly ignored in latter years due to their distributors not giving them a lot of coverage(and promotion muscle) and these films being a part of the Flavor Of The Month syndrome that has films being heavily promoted one minute(by the genre film media press),then being quickly shuffled away at the next(for The Next Big Thing movie) as it is up to all of us movie fans in keeping these films alive and well in letting the world know that they exist and are looking for new audiences to discover them.