The forgotten. The underrated. The obscure. The underappreciated. The cult. There are a million reasons why some films get consigned to cinematic oblivion and there are a million films that deserve it. These don’t. Grab your shovels and your pick axes, it’s time to unearth the gems of cinema’s past.
Welcome to Monsoon’s Buried Treasures – Volume Two.
Star 80 (1983)
Directed by: Bob Fosse
Plot: Based on the true story of 1980 Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten, a successful young model finds trouble when her obsessive manager-turned-husband becomes dangerously jealous.
When Mickey Rourke won the Golden Globe for his performance in The Wrestler, he dedicated his award to Eric Roberts, who he affectionately referred to as “the best actor in the room” and tried to make a case as to why Hollywood should cast him in everything. His speech was met with mostly laughs and indifference because Eric Roberts has evolved from “Julia Roberts’ brother” to a hack that won’t say no to any project.
Like Danny Trejo and Samuel L. Jackson, his work ethic has made him a punchline. But long before his IMDb page became an endurance test to get through, he was going to be the next Marlon Brando and Star 80 was his Streetcar Named Desire.
Based on the murder of Playmate turned actress Dorothy Stratten, Star 80 is the dirty, unpleasant cousin to A Star Is Born. It’s equal parts a love letter to a talent tragically cut short and an indictment of Hollywood and the dangers of being addicted to fame. It’s a nihilistic look at the American dream and at the center of it all is Eric Roberts. His performance in this is one of the best of the entire decade. He’s sleazier than James Woods and more despicable than a weasel (Read: also James Woods). Everything about him is unpleasant but it never goes over the top. He’s unlikable but never cartoonish. It’s a stellar performance and everyone who mocked Rourke’s speech can go eat some dick.
Directed by: Takeshi Koike
Plot: A story about the most popular racing event in the galaxy, the Redline, and the various racers who compete in it. It’s non-stop racing.
Imagine an even crazier version of Mad Max: Fury Road, which in and of itself sounds impossible but even then, you’re still nowhere near the balls-to-the-wall, action-packed craziness this film delivers. It’s a hyperkinetic blast to the senses.
Picture the scene in the film Clue where Tim Curry’s character is hastily dispensing exposition while simultaneously running in and out of rooms, but replace Curry with a car, the dialogue he’s shouting with more cars, and you’re high on PCP.
Pumping Iron II: The Women (1983)
Directed by: George Butler
Plot: Follow four women as they prepare for the 1983 Caesars Palace World Cup Championship: the current champ, Rachel McLish; Rachel’s toughest competition, the super masculine Bev Francis; and newcomers Lori Bowen and Carla Dunlap.
Arnold Schwarzenegger may not have created bodybuilding but he’s solely responsible for making it the billion-dollar industry it is today. Even though every record he broke has been surpassed multiple times, he’s still unquestionably the face of the sport. He’s synonymous with it. The Babe Ruth of steroids and weightlifting.
On top of being the world’s most perfectly sculpted man–he’s also naturally charismatic, which made the documentary Pumping Iron — about him and the sport — fascinating.
He’s the reason Pumping Iron works as well as it does but he’s also, inadvertently, the reason Pumping Iron II doesn’t. The sequel has everything the first one does — the drama, the engaging behind-the-scenes look at the minutia of competition, as well as a look at the sexism and ridicule that comes with female bodybuilders. You’ll watch them get treated like meat because they have vaginas but also treated like shit because they have muscles. It’s far more interesting than the good guy vs. bad guy narrative of the first one. But as interesting as the new gender dynamics are, not a single one of the competitors is as entertaining as Schwarzenegger. It’s a great overlooked gem that’s sole problem is that it can’t escape the shadow of Schwarzenegger.
The Man from Hong Kong (1975)
Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Plot: Hong Kong Inspector Fang Sing Leng travels to Australia to extradite a drug dealer. When the hood is assassinated on his way to court, everyone suspects Jack Wilton, a crime lord who the local police haven’t been able to pick up.
Brian Trenchard-Smith never hit the same level of success as George Miller or Peter Weir, but for all their many awards and numerous accolades, neither one of them directed Stunt Rock. So, you know, even-stevens.
But as amazing as Stunt Rock is, Trenchard-Smith has a much better film in his arsenal. The Man From Hong Kong is, in the director’s own words, “a veritable smörgåsbord of martial-arts mayhem, James Bond spoofery, and general thud and blunder.” I have no idea what the fuck thud and blunder mean but the rest is spot on.
I’ve long maintained that George Lazenby — if he continued the part for at least as many entries as Sean Connery — would have been the best James Bond. And that argument is based solely on his work in this film. This is a James Bond film in everything but name (and the lead, who is Asian) and although Lazenby plays the villain this time around, he’s a better Bond in this, than his actual Bond film. And speaking of Bond films, if this was an actual officially licensed Bond film, this would be in the top ten. That’s how good it is.
Fallen Art (2006)
Directed by: Tomasz Baginski
Plot: A volunteer soldier plummets to his death. A photograph is taken and sent by courier to a huge man, who adds it to his macabre collection.
Since the short is only six minutes long, it’s hard to talk about any aspect of it without ruining what it’s really about but since six minutes might be too much of a time commitment for you goddamn millennials, I have to say something to convince you it’s worth your time.
It’s my absolute favorite short of all time.
There’s something about Its grotesque humor I find inexplicably appealing. If I was a director, I’d pull Aronofsky and buy the remake rights just to use the entire last bit, shot-for-shot in a movie. It could even be the beginning of a Batman film, with the Joker doing the exact same thing at an overrun Arkham Asylum. I’ve been obsessed with this idea since I first saw this short over a decade ago and like a plague, the only way to purge myself of it, is to infect everyone I know with its insanity. I cast you out demon!
Directed by: Frederick Wiseman
Plot: A documentary that depicts every avenue of America’s broken welfare system, from both the people who desperately need it to live, to the workers dealing with the governments infuriating rules and regulations.
Fredrick Wiseman has been consistently producing extraordinary documentaries for over forty years but the film he’s most remembered for was his very first. The 1967 film Titicut Follies is inarguably one of the most important films ever made but its monolithic stature amongst documentarians has forever put him in the shadow of his own work. But Wiseman is not a man to rest on his laurels. He never chased success; he simply made films about topics he was passionate about and hoped they’d find an audience.
Welfare is not a glamorous topic. It’s not a particularly interesting one either but a great documentarian can make any topic fascinating and Wiseman is most definitely a great documentarian. It’s astonishing what he’s able to capture (the “happy couple” segment is unbelievable) but anyone with a camera and enough time can capture incredible moments. Wiseman’s gift isn’t the footage he gets but the narrative he weaves with it and Welfare has one hell of a story.
Because it’s all true.
Star 80. Redline. Pumping Iron II: The Women. The Man from Hong Kong. Fallen Art. Welfare. These films have been unearthed. Now go watch them.