Monday, February 5, 2018

Riske Business: Underrated February Releases I Love (Part One)

by Adam Riske
This column grew out of control. Here are eight to start with!

Vision Quest (1985) – I caught up with this movie a few years ago prior to our 1985 F This Movie Fest and it was the pleasant surprise of my new-to-me discoveries for that year. Vision Quest is a solid high school sports movie, a sweet romance, and a fine acting showcase for Matthew Modine (who, like my waist, has grown on me over time) and Linda Fiorentino (giving her patented zero fucks and I dig her for it). I love the soundtrack, too, with jams like Journey’s “Only the Young” and Madonna’s terrific “Crazy for You,” which is my favorite song of hers. It’s what drew me to the movie in the first place and I’m glad it did. Also, Vision Quest was directed by Harold Becker, a director I’ve become a super fan for recently. He made this, Malice, Sea of Love (PACINO!), the very funny Domestic Disturbance and other good movie junk food like Mercury Rising (which needs a 20 Years Later). I still need to see Taps and City Hall (PACINO!). In other words, I have homework to do and so do you – you need to watch Vision Quest!
Fools Rush In (1997) – I absolutely adore this romantic comedy to the point where I watched it once on the TV Guide Channel instead of using the TV Guide Channel to find something else to watch. I enjoy Fools Rush In for obvious reasons, like the chemistry of its stars Salma Hayek (radiant) and Matthew Perry (flustered), its comfortable ‘90s vibes, and the fact that it leans into the romance even more than the comedy, but I think I dig the movie the most because it caught me by surprise. I had zero interest in Fools Rush In when it came out but I was dragged to see it by my parents because they wouldn’t see Dangerous Ground. I still haven’t seen that movie (should I?), but I have seen Fools Rush In probably twenty times since 1997. It’s nonsense, for sure, but it’s my nonsense. Check it out this Valentine’s Day and prepare to swoon. I’ll be watching Dangerous Ground.

Blast from the Past (1999) – Oh, 1999! Oh, New Line Cinema! Here’s another movie I had no interest in seeing initially, but then caught on video and fell in love with. Brendan Fraser (’99 was good to him on film) is doing his thing, which can be funny, Dave Foley is on hand to provide comedic stylings, which can be a benefit, and Alicia Silverstone is finally in a movie again that knows what to do with her being an angel. I really want to re-watch Blast from the Past now. I haven’t seen it in a very long time, so my memory is hazy. I know it rented well at Blockbuster (that’s how I saw it, did you?). Oh, and watch the trailer at the part where they run through the cast near the end. Is the moment where they say “and Sissy Spacek” not the funniest thing you’ve ever seen in your life? I’d skate around this movie’s block.

October Sky (1999) – OMG. Laura Dern is so pretty in this. No wonder why this kid feels like he can reach for the stars. October Sky checks a lot of boxes for me of things I enjoy in movies: a) coming-of-age story, b) about outer space (in this case the space race), c) set in the ‘50s, d) ‘90s Joe Johnston movie and e) Jake Gyllenhaal, so I’m not surprised it makes me well up with inspiration/sad tears every time (I’ve seen it once) I see it. It also features a great Chris Cooper performance as Gyllenhaal’s father. I like that there seems to be a “see the film that has audiences cheering” movie like this every late winter/early spring. It’s a good time of year for that kind of thing with the bad weather depression and New Year’s resolutions and such. If you’re like me and avoided October Sky because it looked like homework, give it a try. I’m glad that I did.
Boiler Room (2000) - One of the essentials and peak Ribisi. It’s great (it’s not great but I love it). I think I’ve seen this movie more times than its director at this point. It nails the telemarketing/young salesperson vibe, and, more importantly, the "I’m Jewish and from a big city so I’m hip-hop" and Goodfellas mentality. Plus, Scott Caan! I like to pretend this is a prequel to The Fast and the Furious and explains that Dom is Diesel’s Chris in Boiler Room but in hiding and funding his garage out of the big rips he got at JT Marlin. P.S. The director is Ben Younger, who also made a movie called Prime that is really good and stars Uma Thurman. You should watch it because we should all be supporting Uma Thurman right now.

Wonder Boys (2000) – A great little comedy-drama from late director Curtis Hanson, who was on a real roll during the period he made this film. I saw it at the Fine Arts building in college as part of an independent film series called The Ryder, where they showed art house movies in classrooms for students and people in the community. I’ll always remember how, when a reel ended, there was a five-minute intermission until the guy/girl running the projector could put the next reel on. Sometimes we audience members would mini-review the act we just saw as we waited. I treasure those memories because I saw a lot of great 2000-2004 independent and foreign movies that way and had the pleasure of taking long walks on campus back home from the screenings. Wonder Boys takes me back to that era (era). The film itself is a great commentary on writing and writers and college in general. Michael Douglas is wonderful in this (he had a great 2000, between this and Traffic) and he’s surrounded by a terrific supporting cast, including Frances McDormand, pre-Molly Bloom Tobey Maguire, post-U.S. Marshals Robert Downey Jr., and Katie Holmes. I need to give this one another look soon.
Eurotrip (2004) – Not much more to say other than it’s just a damn funny comedy and praise should be paid when that happens because it’s rare. The ensemble is terrific (this is where my Michelle Trachtenberg crush developed everlasting), the bits are inspired, and it has a spirit to it that I find infectious. This is a movie I avoided for a while because it played at a party my ex-girlfriend went to where she cheated on me, but when I finally got around to seeing it, the strength of Eurotrip superseded that trauma. I felt like Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz, aka Dollar Tree Josh Hartnett) because, for a while, I didn’t know. How did this movie not gross a billion dollars?

Miracle (2004) – Like everyone else, I love Kurt Russell. Miracle might be his best acting he’s ever done. I’m not saying it’s his best (or even my favorite) performance of his, but what he does in this movie, based on the story of the Miracle on Ice, is extraordinary because he’s compelling without relying on what we love about him as an actor. He disappears playing USA Hockey coach Herb Brooks. I love how he is a total dick but he does that so the young men on the team band together to rally against him and to give these nice guys an angry edge they’ll need to defeat the Soviet Union. It’s a great movie about coaching philosophy on top of a strong re-telling of an inspiring event. Sports movies don’t get much better than this one.

Part Two, with more recommendations from 2005 to now, comes later this month…

Am I missing any underrated February movies you love circa 1985 to 2004? Leave a comment below!


  1. I'm so glad you're doing these articles because I'm so tired of the internet's obsession with "January/February movies suck blah blah blah this movie belongs in January". haha Thanks for always being different in a good way F This Movie.

  2. Boiler Room was a movie my friends and I owned on VHS in college. I've probably seen it 73 times. I love it. It's so quotable. There are lines from that movie and my friends and I still say to each other.
    "You're running a Back. Door. Card. Game. Seth!"
    "I'm a judge for Christ's sake!"
    "I got a connection at the airport."
    "Because I'm a Jew with the mind of a champion."
    "Big Bird mode."
    "My fucking leg was BROKEN!" *ugly crying face*

    Also, a legitimately awesome soundtrack.

    1. I could never get on board with Boiler Room simply because it really wants to be Glengarry Glen Ross and Affleck's awful speech is embarrassing. Ben Younger clearly loved Mamet for that film, but his version of "mamet-speak" was cringe worthy. I do like Vin and Gio in it though. And, yeah, good soundtrack.

    2. I like Boiler Room even more when it's awful. Now get your ass out of my Italian leather chair.

    3. Yeah, I can't make the argument that it's good, but I can't deny my love for it. Now pick up your skirt, grab your balls, and lets go make some money.

    4. I need your whole C drive backed up on a floppy


  3. Looking back at February movies from 1985-2004 a lot of good movies came out in February. My Underrated February movies....Action Jackson & Bloodsport from 1988...The Burbs 1989....The Vanishing 1993....8MM 1999 & May 2002.

    Also, Wildcats from 1986 I feel like is forgotten comedy gem that was a hit.

  4. Regarding “Vision Quest”, this is a movie I first saw on home video in the late 1980s, and that I’ve always liked. However, when I last saw it two or three years ago, after not having seen it for well over 10 years, three things stood out to me for the first time. First, the girl who has the obvious crush on Louden Swain, but who’s affection isn’t reciprocated in that way, is played by Daphne Zuniga. This is Daphne Zuniga just a short time before hitting that Spaceballs-to-Melrose Place sweet spot. The “road not taken” aspect of this stood out. Second, Louden Swain is putting his health severely at risk to drop weight to wrestle Shute. At one point in the movie, I think he mentions that he’s on a 600 calorie per day diet, in addition to the intense daily physical training. And Matthew Modine was around 6’3”. That is ridiculous. I believe he gets nosebleeds at points during the movie. Third, Louden Swain’s goal in this movie is to wrestle and defeat a guy who is presented as a fearsome, Hercules-like figure. But in fact, Louden Swain is a natural 190-pound 6’3” wrestler who is dropping a significant amount of weight to wrestle a guy who is in the 168-pound weight class, and who probably isn’t taller than 5’8”. I still like the movie though.

    Anyway, here are some movies I found:

    School Daze (1988) – February 12 – Spike Lee’s second movie, set at a fictional HBCU (Historically Black College or University), dealing with intra-racial social/political divisions, fraternities, etc. Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, Samuel L. Jackson.

    Frantic (1988) – February 26 – Harrison Ford’s wife is kidnapped in Paris, because of a switched suitcase at the airport. Harrison Ford, Emmanuelle Seigner.

    Cousins (1989) – February 10 – I saw this four or five years ago and liked it. A romantic comedy involving extra-marital affairs. Isabella Rossellini, Ted Danson, Sean Young, William Petersen.

    Loaded Weapon 1 (1993) – February 5 – A “Lethal Weapon” spoof. Samuel L. Jackson, Emilio Estevez.

    Absolute Power (1997) – February 14 – A sexually abusive President of the United States, a victim shot dead by Secret Service agents in the presence of the President, a cover up, and a professional cat burglar who bears witness to the whole thing. Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Laura Linney, Scott Glenn, Dennis Haysbert, Judy Davis, Ed Harris.

    Rosewood (1997) – February 21 – Based on the true story of the 1923 Rosewood massacre in Florida. Ving Rhames, John Voight, Don Cheadle, Esther Rolle, Michael Rooker.

    Donnie Brasco (1997) – February 28 – Based on the true story of F.B.I. agent Joe Pistone’s six years undercover as a New York mafia associate during the 1970s. Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen.

    Dark City (1998) – February 27 – Roger Ebert’s top film of 1998. Also, hardly anyone saw it. Ebert did a full-length audio commentary for DVD/Blu-ray releases. Science-fiction. Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly.

    Sweet November (2001) – February 16 – A romance which has a somewhat predictable reveal midway through, but doesn’t end predictably. Charlize Theron, Keanu Reeves.

    Hart’s War (2002) – February 15 – American P.O.W.s in a WWII German prison camp plot to escape, while using the distraction of a murder trial of a black American P.O.W. falsely-accused of killing a guard. Bruce Willis, Colin Ferrell, Terrence Howard, Marcel Iures.

    Dark Blue (2003) – February 21 – Corrupt cops in the L.A.P.D. circa the early 1990s. Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Michael Michele, Brendan Gleeson, Ving Rhames.

    I have five more from 2007 to 2017, but I'll wait for the Part 2 column.

    1. Some really good picks here. I skipped a few on this list because I questioned their underratedness. I need to see Rosewood and Dark Blue. Thanks too for hanging onto your 2007 to 2017s so my thunder isn't stolen :-)

  5. These are all great picks, Adam. I particularly love October Sky and Miracle. But, HOW have you not seen Taps? That's VINTAGE CRUISE, Man!

  6. Eurotrip is so much fun, owned it on DVD and showed it to all my friends back in the day. I think the reason it was overlooked at the time was the lack of so-called 'star power' in the cast. There's no Tom Green, no Sean William Scott, no connection to Road Trip other than the 'Trip' part of the title, but I'd say Eurotrip is just as funny if not funnier. Michelle's a shame she didn't get a lot of work after this...also Fred Armisen makes the most of his screen time, unknown at the time, now one of my favorites. Never knew this was a February release, now I get why it didn't reach a larger audience.

    1. Dollar tree Josh Hartnett! I laughed at that more than I proly should have, so good.

    2. It's like he studied under Hartnett or something. Does no one else see this?

  7. 1985: Into the Night (Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer)
    1987: Black Widow (Debra Winger, Theresa Russell)
    1988: She's Having a Baby (Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth McGovern)
    1992: Final Analysis (Richard Gere, Kim Basinger, Uma Thurman)
    1994: Blue Chips (Nick Nolte, Shaquille O'Neal)
    1995: Boys on the Side (Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, Mary-Louise Parker)
    1999: 200 Cigarettes
    2002: Big Fat Liar (Frankie Muniz, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes)

  8. May I nominate 2007's Breach, with Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe, about the real-life FBI Russian spy Robert Hanssen?

    1. It's on my next list. This one was only through 2004.