UNDER THE RADAR – The Handmaid’s Tale and The Dark Backward

Little film gems which escaped wide attention and perhaps yours too.

by greg moss

Under The Radar will be a semi-regular post in which I bring to light little-seen films, which got lost in the crowd due to lousy distribution or were misunderstood at the time of their release, but which deserve to be seen for one reason or another.

First up this week …

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (1989)

Directed by The Tin Drum helmer Volker Schlondorff, based on a novel by Margaret Atwood with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. It stars Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern and Robert Duvall.

A cautionary fable set in a near future America where the religious right has seized power after chemical toxins have caused infertility in 99 percent of the female population. The remaining one percent of fertile females are rounded up by the state and forced to bear offspring for members of high society.

Why it’s worth seeing:

I never really had an opinion on Natasha Richardson one way or the other, but she’s really good in this. In fact, the entire cast is excellent. And it was a surprise to hear Fine Young Cannibals’ ‘Johnny Come Home’ featured on the soundtrack in one particular scene.

Virging on satire (in a Starship Troopers kind of way) without crossing the line, this is a handsome, classy, thought-provoking film; a feminist’s nightmare which guys can also enjoy.

Highly recommended.

And from one extreme to the other …

THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)

Debut feature written and directed by Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City). Starring Judd Nelson, Bill Paxton, Wayne Newton, James Caan, Rob Lowe and Lara Flynn Boyle.

A lurid dark comedy set in a bizarre ‘future 50’s alternate LA’ where Judd Nelson is a garbage man with unfounded aspirations of becoming a stand-up comic, only to have a third arm grow out of his back and ruin everything – or does it?

Why it’s worth seeing:

The underbelly of Hollywood show biz was never this sleazy and weird.

Aside from the Brazil-like production design and Lynchian milieu, the big draw card is Bill Paxton’s OTT performance as Judd Nelson’s best friend, Gus – a gleefully perverse and disgusting chubby-loving, rancid chicken-scoffing ‘human cockroach’.

You’ll never open the fridge door again.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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