Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '89 - Travis Woods ""

Friday, October 4, 2019

Underrated '89 - Travis Woods

Travis Woods is an editor and staff writer for Bright Wall/Dark Room and host of Increment Vice, a podcast that breaks down Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice one scene at a time. He lives and writes in Los Angeles. He has a dog and a tattoo of Elliott Gould smoking. Bob Dylan once clapped him on the back and whispered something incomprehensible. These are the only interesting things about him.
You can read some of his work here:
Or you can just yell at him on Twitter: @aHeartOfGould

COHEN & TATE (dir. Eric Red)
Written and directed by THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK scribe Eric Red, COHEN & TATE is—like Red’s previous work—riddled with emotionally shattering narrative zigzags and genre-busting surprises, all beneath a night-black cataract of suffocating nihilism and despair. Toiling in that darkness is Roy Scheider as Cohen, a half-deaf existential hitman still desperately clinging to a moral code as outdated as his trench coat, and Adam Baldwin as Tate, his partner and ferociously unhinged hothead. At first, these two hitmen caricatures must work together to kidnap Travis, a young boy who witnessed a mobster assassination and can provide crucial information to Cohen and Tate’s Mafioso employer; later, the two grow in depth and character as they struggle to kill each other—as Travis has methodically set them against one another on their long Texas road trip. A violent, blackly-comic road film studded with diabolically tense setpieces, COHEN & TATE isn’t so much a thriller as it is an out-and-out shocker—up to and including the devastating final moment, which, like most of Red’s work in general and COHEN & TATE in specific, has to be seen to be believed.
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JOHNNY HANDSOME (dir. Walter Hill)
A dizzy fusion of Walter Hill’s comic-book-cum-haiku-noir stylings with a murderer’s row of acting talent (Mickey Rourke, Elizabeth McGovern, Ellen Barkin, Morgan Freeman, Lance Henriksen, Forrest Whitaker), Ry Cooder’s groove-heavy twang-jazz score, humid New Orleans locations, and a very DARK PASSAGE premise, JOHNNY HANDSOME might be on the lesser end of Hill’s filmography, but it’s still a bruising double-barrel blast of ‘80s neo-noir from a genre master. A sly inquiry into the nature of identity and vengeance disguised with the face of a slick crime film, HANDSOME finds a disfigured and double-crossed criminal (Rourke) gifted with both a new face and a release from prison. From there, the choice is his—embrace this rebirth as a second chance at the life he nearly lost, or succumb to the worst parts of himself on a quest for revenge against those who wronged him. A genuine contender for Mickey Rourke’s finest, most underrated performance, and a secret minor classic of 1980s crime cinema.
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MIRACLE MILE (dir. Steve De Jarnatt)
(Note: I also included this on my Underrated 88 list because MIRACLE MILE hit the festival circuit in 1988. And seeing as how it didn’t receive a U.S. release until 1989, I am including here, too, because this film is fucking perfect and I will sing its praises every single chance I get).

A romance. A comedy. A paranoiac thriller. An L.A. topography. A wickedly imaginative entry into the survive-the-night movie pantheon of the ‘80s (see also: AFTER HOURS, INTO THE NIGHT, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, etc.). Writer-director Steve De Jarnett’s MIRACLE MILE is an 87-minute real-time gutpunch of a film that gearshifts from love story to cataclysmic Armageddon as a man falls in love while the city (and world?) he lives in falls apart around him.

Harry (Anthony Edwards) misses his late-night date with Julie (Mare Winningham) at Johnnie’s Coffee Shop in West Hollywood. Instead, he intercepts a panicked wrong number at a phone booth and learns that an array of nukes might be set to lay waste to Los Angeles within the hour. From there: Harry spreads mass panic throughout L.A. with his apocalyptic warnings of nuclear fire as he searches for Julie and a helicopter pilot to help them escape. Bathed in the ominous gauze of a Tangerine Dream score, MIRACLE MILE is a series of surprising narrative left turns that eventually tighten into a terrifying spiral with an ending as shocking as it is (in retrospect) inevitable.
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SEA OF LOVE (dir. Harold Becker)
A deeply odd (but no less effective!) neo-noir that uses the cop-chasing-serial-killer trope as a slyly smirking metaphor for the 1980s dating scene, SEA OF LOVE is as littered with small cinematic joys—buddy cop hijinks with Al Pacino and John Goodman; an early livewire Sam Jackson cameo—as it is with lipstick-smeared cigarette butts. Returning after a nearly half-decade acting hiatus, Pacino is a NYC cop who must go undercover on a series of personal ad dates to locate a female serial killer (think CRUISING, but, you know, hyper-straight). Along the way, he meets prime suspect Ellen Barkin, with whom Pacino shares a celluloid-melting chemistry so hypnotic and galvanizing that it almost saves this whodunit from its clunky third act reveal/kinda-sorta cheat. A tonally shapeshifting, mid-budget neo-noir overstuffed with modest delights from an era when Hollywood still made that kind of thing, SEA OF LOVE doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but when it rolls, gang, it rolls.
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As far as Hong Kong comedic sex farces that metamorph into police procedurals before adrenalizing into hyper-kinetic haunted-house horror films go, THUNDER COPS (a.k.a. OPERATION PINK SQUAD II) is pretty great. Cabled with enough premises to sustain at least five different films, THUNDER COPS concerns the effete Min, who fears his police officer wife’s long hours at the office are cover for her moonlighting as a sex worker when not sleeping with her commanding officer. When his frenzied attempt to confront her at an apartment building reveals she and her team have been simply working undercover to bring down a counterfeiter, chaos ensues: an evil female ghost has been unleashed in the building, and Min, his wife, the police, the counterfeiter, the landlady, and a Buddhist priest must join forces to bring the wicked spirit back to a doorway to hell (which—along with a pool, laundry room, and gated parking—is conveniently part of the apartment building’s onsite amenities). A VCR-warping movie bursting with atom-split energy as it pinballs through nearly every megatonic b-movie genre in existence, THUNDER COPS climaxes almost exactly as you’d expect it to: with our heroes chasing the severed, floating head of the ghost villain with a phalanx of remote control toy helicopters. It’s a bit hard to find, so at least treat your eyes and soon-to-be collapsed synapses with the trailer (No, seriously, watch the goddamn trailer, even if it incorrectly notes the film’s year of release as 1987. You’ll thank me):

VIOLENT COP (dir. Takeshi Kitano)
As uncompromisingly, nerve-cripplingly a nihilistic cop film as has ever been made, in which director/actor/co-writer Takeshi Kitano beats the everliving shit out of every criminal he encounters in the film’s terse and brutal 100-minute running time, VIOLENT COP has snagged a lot of easy comparisons to the superficially similar DIRTY HARRY in the 30 years since its release. But with its murderously black humor, its blood-Rorschached setpieces, and its out of control protagonist seeking to mercilessly wreak his vision of bone-powdering “justice” across a corrupt city that stands as an affront to his myopically narrow worldview, VIOLENT COP would settle in far more comfortably as the b-film in a double feature with TAXI DRIVER than it would Eastwood’s jazzy cop classic. Yet as disturbing and unyielding as it is, VIOLENT COP is also shocking slab of pure, woozy cinema, an immaculately-constructed revenge film about a cop not avenging his dead partner nor his kidnapped sister, but waging war of revenge on the inchoate and violent nature of life itself, meeting a brutalist and coldblooded universe on its own existentially cruel terms.
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