Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '89 - Everett Jones ""

Friday, October 11, 2019

Underrated '89 - Everett Jones

Everett is an avid movie watcher and user of Letterboxd like myself - follow him there: http://letterboxd.com/everettjones/ - I've gotten many good film recs this way. Everett is also a longtime contributor at RPS!

Here's His Underrated '99 list as well:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2019/06/underrated-99-everett-jones.html

3615 Code Pere Noel
A perfect selection for midnight screenings if ever there was one, this could be described as the darker, French Home Alone, crossbred with a soft-focus FAO Schwartz/Sharper Image catalogue, and haunted by one of the sinister Santas from the start of Jeunet & Caro’s The City of Lost Children. The story, and odd-looking title, turns on an early instant messaging technology then popular in France. Here, it has the effect of bringing the young hero into contact with a person he thinks is jolly old Pere Noel, but in fact is a psycho recently fired from his job as a department store Santa, and the very store run by the kid’s mother (Brigitte Fossey, the child star of the 1954 classic Forbidden Games.) So, on Christmas Eve, as Mom is busy dealing with a crisis at the store, the demented St. Nick breaks into their palatial--which, fortunately for the kid and the bedridden grandpa he’s trying to guard, has already been tricked with all kinds of traps and gadgets, ala, Kevin’s beautiful North Shore home in Home Alone.

Though I began by describing this movie, by previously unknown-to-me director Rene Manzor (and starring his real-life son), as a darker version of Macaulay Culkin’s Yuletide hit, I might more accurately have called it the more sincere, less calculated version--the same mixture (more or less) of seasonal sentiment, kid-friendly antics, and extraordinarily mean-spirited violence, but not so smoothly homogenized. It has a woozy integrity all its own, in its earnest approach to frankly insane material and disinterest in welding together wildly clashing elements, that should charm any future night-owl cult movie audiences.
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Communion
It’s impressive how much director Philippe Mora--not to mention his star, the inimitable Christopher Walken--do with really not very much in this alien abduction flicks, one of two made around the time. I haven’t seen the other, Fire in the Sky, but at first glance, this doesn’t offer too much to anyone not already a parascience enthusiast---and he or she would probably be taken aback by Walkens performance, eccentric even by the great man’s lofty standards, and not suggestive of great respect for the source material, horror novelist (Wolfen, The Hunger) Whitley Strieber’s “nonfiction” account of his own close encounter with the proverbial little green, or grey, men. Strieber himself was unamused by Walken’s portrayal of himself, which, not unlike Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining, suggests something amiss even before the protagonist is transformed by contact with forces greater than himself. So you can understand why, some years before The X-Files brought UFOlology back into the pop-cultural spotlight it had vacated post-Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Communion flopped, quite spectacularly. But, watching now, and from the viewpoint of a pretty confirmed skeptic of all things paranormal, I found myself entertained and even gripped by how Mora used all the tools at his disposal--beautiful scope photography, canted camera angles, ominous underlighting, and, most of all, a star who can seem like a visitor from another world himself--to create a tour de force in eerie atmosphere that might not even care how much you believe in UFOs.
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Life and Nothing But
A few movies of Bertrand Tavernier’s have made a stir, at least in arthouse circles--the Criterion-released Coup de Torchon and Martin Scorsese-executive produced Round Midnight, most of all. Still, I think he’s badly undervalued, and underseen, for a prolific filmmaker who’s still working and still turning out spectacular work. For instance, the recent My Personal Journey Through French Cinema, a simply staggering five hours of documentary filmmaking that fly by like less than two. And, more generally, an uncanny knack for making period films that feel up-to-the-moment but also genuinely of another time--a quality Scorsese might well have envisioned, yet arguably didn’t quite achieve, for Gangs of New York. This knack of Tavernier’s--a way of depicting characters very much in the past, who behave like people living in their own present and looking ahead to a yet-unrealized future--appears in still-underwatched movies like 1975’s Regency-era Que la fête commence… and 1976’s Dreyfus Affair-era The Judge and the Assassin. It also appears in this later epic, which depicts France’s slow recovery from that generation-decimating cataclysm of WWI, and stars, like those earlier movies, his most frequent leading man, Philippe Noiret. A very good actor in a slew of other roles for other directors, he was a truly great one for Tavernier, starting from their very first together, Tavernier’s debut The Watchmaker of St. Paul. His everyman and somewhat hangdog quality is ideal for his part here, as a French Army officer trudging through the agonizing task of compiling a full list of France’s almost innumerable war dead, and he’s well-matched by Sabine Azéma, as the elegant aristocrat who suspects her husband might be among them. Along with Tavernier’s other historical films, this could be seen as part of a larger, alternative history of France, from a distinctly disillusioned point of view. In any case, it’s clearly a thoughtful meditation on the costs of a war that I’ve always been fascinated with, and that English-speaking media only just seems to be remembering, with forthcoming epics like Sam Mendes’s 1917. And it’s also just one among many possible starting places to start cultivating your Bertrand Tavernier addiction.
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Black Rainbow
This low-key, little-seen thriller might be most notable as a showcase for some--far from obscure--talents who nonetheless, for various reasons, didn’t enjoy nearly the careers they should have. Of course, that doesn’t include male lead Jason Robards, here, in his role as an old-fashioned kind of traveling flim-flam man, near but not quite at the end of a very justly celebrated career--he still had a decade to go until the late, in career and life, triumph of Magnolia. On the other hand, director Mike Hodges didn’t amass nearly the filmography that should’ve accrued to a filmmaker who debuted with the classic like Get Carter. In this film he reveals the same sharp outsider’s eye that British directors, from Alfred Hitchcock in Shadow of a Doubt, to John Schlesinger in Midnight Cowboy and onward, have periodically revealed for this country. Hodges shoots the rust-belt cities and towns that Robards visits with his daughter, and principal attraction, fake prophetess Rosanna Arquette, with an observational quality--a sense of industrial decline is tangible throughout--largely missing from American directors during the ‘80s. A third-billed Tom Hulce does not have his juiciest role here, as the journalist who becomes involved with the pair, but it’s still always a treat to see him, an actor so well-remembered for Amadeus and for so little else. But most of all, Black Rainbow is worth seeing as maybe the last high point in Rosanna Arquette’s ‘80s-era stardom, Her role here, as a phony psychic who discovers her powers may be real, isn’t especially original--I recently saw the 1934 Claude Rains/Fay Wray vehicle The Clairvoyant use much the same premise. But it provides a strong part, neither a mere romantic interest nor glorified supporting role, to an actress who seems such a fixture of one decade--in favorites like Desperately Seeking Susan, After Hours, and even the fascinatingly flawed gem 8 Million Ways to Die--and who faded from view, thanks to a certain predatory movie mogul, so quickly in the next. There should’ve been far more Mike Hodges, Tom Hulce, and Rosanna Arquette--and hell, Jason Robards, too--movies, but we’re lucky to have this one.
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