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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is an LA-based freelance writer, consultant, and moving image advocate who specializes in lost and forgotten films. He most recently worked at Annapurna Pictures and has contributed to MUBI, The Village Voice, LAist, and others. Kindly follow him on Letterboxd. :-)

1. CHROMIUMBLUE.COM (Zalman King, 2002)
An exhaustive aesthetic distillation of the early aughts CD-ROM / diskmag / web 1.0 aesthetic. An unblockable pop-up ad of a movie filled with precognition, digital sex, impromptu cage fights, lots of rabbits (for some reason), and even a sassy, mischievous gay ghost. Film as ultrachaos.

2. MADAME WANG'S (Paul Morrissey, 1981)
A curmudgeonly scowl at freaky west coast subcultures from infamous grumpus Paul Morrissey. Even Morrissey's disapproving eye can't sour the considerable charisma of his subjects. As a result, he's the butt of his own joke: the foul architect of this post-Warhol midway of LA ghouls.

3. SUNSET MOTEL (Eckhart Schmidt, 2003)
From the man who gave the world DER FAN (1982), something completely different: a loosey-goosey no-budget feature shot fast 'n dirty, probably on extremely short notice, on Sunset Blvd. In spite of its obvious cheapness and improvisatory feeling, there is an echo of MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) here insofar as capturing endemic loneliness and sadmadbad hetero relationships. Its ultra-cliche dialogue is undoubtedly a barrier to entry, but also its master stroke. Shabbily great.

4. ABANDON (Stephen Gaghan, 2002)
A thoughtful, effective take on untreated mental illness and cycles of abuse / violence, but about dipshit college students. In other words, (almost) nobody takes this film at all seriously because of how it looks on its surface. I urge you to take another look. It ain't perfect, but it's a wild, successful first feature. The recovering boozer detective subplot is its weakest element, but forgivably so. Full disclosure: I love trashy thrillers no matter what, but this is one of the greats.

5. LOVE MASSACRE (Patrick Tam, 1981)
A bloody, brutal tightly-constructed slasher with a visible formal appreciation of 60s Godard. It is desperately in need of a restoration, re-release, or at least a new scan. This is gonna be one of those films that everyone's suddenly talking about a year from now, given its due resurrection. 

6. HAVOC (Barbara Kopple, 2005)
Imagine deciding to risk alienating any potential audience in favor of accurately depicting rich, clueless, shitbag teenagers. That's what Kopple did with this film. And, like ABANDON (2002), it has more or less been dismissed because people can't see beyond its surface. Look deeper.

7. TOKYO POP (Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1988)
Warm, earnest, and wholesome. Underscored by watercolor backdrops. It's not rock 'n roll. It's Tokyo pop. I needed this one this year. Maybe this will give you the same lift that it gave me. :-)

8. BLOODSISTERS (Michelle Handelman, 1995)
Seen from the outside, an intimidating niche within a niche. From the lips of those who identify as leatherdykes and the like, rendered human, relatable, and wonderfully charming due in part to its candid testimonies boasting a frank, adorable video dating service vibe. Be safe. Be sane.

9. BOTH (Lisset Barcellos, 2005)
A deeply personal fictionalization that captures the paralysis of instinctively knowing something without intellectually knowing it. Once a child, now an adult, told a lie for a whole lifetime in an effort to somehow "save" them from the truth: from who they are. Vastly, devastatingly moving.

10. BETTY TELLS HER STORY (Liane Brandon, 1972)
Tell me a story. OK. Now, once more, with feeling. Sometimes a dress is more than a dress.

Monday, January 11, 2021

New Release Roundup for the week of January 12th, 2021

BURIED ALIVE on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

JUST BEFORE DAWN on Blu-ray (Code Red)

RITUALS on Blu-ray (Code Red)

SATANTANGO on Blu-ray (Arbelos)


THE FRESHMAN on Blu-ray (Mill Creek)

CROSSROADS on Blu-ray (Mill Creek)

BLIND FURY on Blu-ray (Mill Creek)

LIKE FATHER LIKE SON on Blu-ray (Mill Creek)

STRETCH on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

BLOOD SISTERS on Blu-ray (Media Blasters)

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Sean Wicks

A former Creative Executive for Academy Award nominated Producer Andrew Lazar (10 Things I Hate About You; Space Cowboys), a past long-time social media volunteer for the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles and currently working in Visual Effects Production and a member of VES (Visual Effects Society -, Sean is movie obsessed and passionate about all-things cinema and physical media – and especially a strong side-interest in film scores. Active on Twitter when life allows (, Tumblr ( and Letterboxd ( he also blogs about movies (what else!) from time-to-time (

So much more movie watching time in 2020 made for a big list of discoveries to choose from. A wealth of riches, and here are the top titles.

GERMANY YEAR ZERO (1948; Directed by Roberto Rossellini)
This is one heart breaking picture to watch. It follows the struggles of a young boy in war-torn Italy as he tries to help his family survive. The boy comes across as naïve, unable to fully comprehend just how bad things are, and this naivete sets him up with some shady characters. One set are extremely nasty, the shocking thing is that for a picture made in 1948, it does not stray away from depicting a probable pedophile who fondles the boy lustfully and openly.

Uplifting this is not and made even more depressing thanks to the neo-realistic camerawork and lighting that director Rossellini is known for. You have to be in the mindset for this one.

Viewed via The Criterion Channel.

DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959; Directed by Andre de Toth)
For a year filled with real-life downers, I ended up watching a lot of dark and dreary pictures. Day of the Outlaw is one of those. Featured as part of the Criterion Channel’s Noir Westerns programming, it starts off as one thing, and quickly transitions into a whole other story entirely.

At first you have Robert Ryan, a rancher and clearly a former gunslinger at odds with homesteaders in an isolated mountain community. Not only is there a land dispute, but as usual a woman factors in – in this case the wife of one of the homesteaders (Tina Louise – that’s right, Ginger). However, just as that story is about to explode into conflict a group of soldiers turned outlaws arrive in town after pulling a job, on the run from the army. These guys are mean, real mean. They are tired, they are hungry, and they are horny. The latter appetite they do not even try to hide, pretty much ready to ravage (meaning rape) any woman they see, and well Tina Louise, she more than exudes sensuality.

The bandits are led by Burl Ives. He has been shot. He can barely keep them under control while clearly his health is in jeopardy from the gunshot, and even worse, once he has gone there is nothing stopping the men from tearing the town and its residents to shreds. As they beat on and harass the homesteaders, Ryan comes up with an ingenious plan to get them out of the mess, one that has dire consequences for him. Once again, he is forced to help a town, but lose for himself.

This is one fantastic motion picture. I kind of wanted to watch it again shortly after. Ryan and Ives are perfect in their roles, and the outlaws are truly the mangiest, angriest, and most dangerous bunch seen on screen. The only weak factor is Tina Louise. Her looks help as the sexpot vibe drives the already worked up outlaws over the edge, but her acting is flat. In a love moment with Ryan, there is barely any chemistry at all. It is not enough to ruin the picture though that has easily made it onto my list of great discoveries.

SCANDAL SHEET (1952; Directed by Phil Karlson)
This picture reminded me of The Big Clock or No Way Out but instead of the person trying to hide an investigation that would declare an innocent person guilty, the main character (Broderick Crawford) is guilty as sin. That is not a spoiler at all. The one sheet and even all the descriptions of it give this fact away. Crawford in this case is the publisher of a sensationalist newspaper, and his protégé is John Derek who is cocky as he is talented. He butts heads with co-worker Donna Reed and clearly there is sexual tension between them even if she is totally disgusted by the way he operates. Someone from Crawford’s past appears and Crawford commits a murder. Derek is on the case and reporting to Crawford is clearly investigating a murder that implicates his boss. Crawford continues being a publisher, knowing he cannot stop Derek without implicating himself, but knowing that if Derek succeeds, he is also doomed.

Based on a novel by Samuel Fuller this is one fun picture. Watching the conflict as Crawford the murderer internally battles Crawford the publisher who knows the story of his own crime is increasing sales of his paper. Yes, he tries to stop Derek from digging deeper, but then his newsman instinct keeps it going. This is one role that Crawford fits into perfect, the sleazy sensationalist newspaper publisher as well as a man who will kill to get what he needs.

Viewed via a Samuel Fuller DVD set
THE SPY IN BLACK (1939; Directed by Michael Powell)
For a while, The Spy In Black will make you think that it is treating the German U-Boat captain (Conrad Veidt) who is behind enemy lines in Scotland to coordinate an attack on the British Fleet with a disgruntled British officer is the hero of the piece. There is a schoolteacher who is a German plant to help him out, and everything seems geared for him to succeed. A British director making a War picture where a German is the hero? Diabolical!

Of course, I do not want to talk about the picture much more as it would spoil the journey, and this is a good one at that. Directed by Michael Powell (Screenplay by Emeric Pressburger) I was surprised I had not come across this picture earlier. Veidt is solid as the lead, so much so that even though deep down you do not want him to succeed because technically, he is a villain, you sort of root for him at the same time as he carries out his plot to destroy the British fleet. Not at all what you will suspect it to be, and that works for it in spades.

Viewed via The Criterion Channel.

LUST FOR GOLD (1949; Directed by S. Sylvan Simon)
I remember as a child seeing numerous cartoons with the message of “all that glitters is not gold” but in this case, the gold indeed glitters and it inspires a whole lot of greed and larceny. This picture is also Gold spanning 3 time periods – the first, a massacre that leaves a large stash of gold buried in a remote location, the second, a flashback that has Glenn Ford finding that gold and being deceived by Femme Fatale Ida Lupino, and the third, present day where William Prince is trying to find the secret of the gold. In all cases there is gold fever, and people die and are turned into murderers as they try to get their hands on it.

Part of the “Western Noirs” programming on the Criterion Channel that whole lineup of pictures that are pure gold.

WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950; Directed by Norman Foster)
The irony of Woman on the Run is that it is not actually the woman (Ann Sheridan) who is on the run, but her husband. He just so happened to witness a big murder while walking his dog and is told by the police that he now must testify against a mob syndicate. He makes a run for it, leaving Sheridan to hold the bag as the cops and a pesky reporter badger her to get to him. The thing is, they were not getting along so well so Sheridan isn’t too keen about the spot she’s in.

A great Film Noir that uses the suspense story to also work out marital difficulties between Sheridan and her husband. The twist is a solid one, and there is an element of the dog that really makes things interesting. It is while walking the dog that the husband finds himself caught up in the mess, and the dog is prevalent throughout the entire picture, so much so that the police detective in charge of the case is seen walking him even while they hunt down suspects. I grew fond of that dog, and this picture.

Viewed on Kanopy.

THE WALKING HILLS (1949; Directed by John Sturges)
Another “Western Noir” from the Criterion Channel, another gold-level picture. In this case, a group of card players go on the hunt for a legendary wagonload of gold said to be buried in the Mexican desert. IN addition, a detective played by John Ireland is tracking one of them suspected of murder. The minute he reveals what his agenda is, the entire game changes as secrets brimming under the surface of all the gold-hunters increase the tension.

Directed by John Sturges (who would go on to direct The Great Escape among other titles) this one has layers of twists you do not see coming, many of them underplayed in such a way that they are truly a surprise when they are revealed. It all culminates in an epic sandstorm set piece that brings a fitting end to an already exciting picture.

HOPSCOTCH (1980; Directed by Ronald Neame)
Talk about one fun picture, this sees Walter Matthau as a CIA agent who after being regulated to a desk job due to office politics, decides to retire and write a tell-all memoir which gets his former bosses on his trail to make sure that said memoir never gets published. Matthau spends the entire picture comfortably outwitting and staying well ahead of his pursuers.

The irony with this is I had just re-watched Burn After Reading which had a somewhat similar premise (John Malkovich being the memoir writer in that). It made for a great double feature.

Viewed on The Criterion Channel.

ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953; Directed by William A. Wellman)
John Wayne’s transport plane goes down in the frozen north of Quebec, and he and his men fight to survive hostile conditions while searchers try to locate them.

Tense movie that succeeds on several levels, with Wayne and company doing everything they can to stay alive while the other pilots, including Andy Devine, do everything they can to locate them. Most of these pictures tend to be claustrophobic, but the wide-open territory where Wayne’s plane went down somehow adds to the desperation as there is so much wide open terrain around them, that they feel so completely like a needle in a haystack, not to mention the temperature issues making the search difficult.

Viewed on DVD.

Monday, January 4, 2021

New Release Roundup for the week of January 5th, 2021

THREE FILMS BY LUIS BUNUEL on Blu-ray (Criterion)

THE TRAIN on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

TINTORERA on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

SAVAGE STREETS on Blu-ray (Code Red)

THE BLACK GESTAPO on Blu-ray (Code Red)

BEACH RED on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

THE SECRET WAR OF HARRY FRIGG on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

ROUGH NIGHT IN JERICO on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

INGAGI on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

Friday, December 25, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Lars Nilsen

Lars is a programmer at Austin Film Society and there he curates repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics.
The Austin Film Society can be found here:
and Lars excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here:

Check out his previous Discoveries lists here:

CIRCLE OF POWER aka BRAINWASH (1981 D. Bobby Roth)
I certainly wasn't expecting the extreme darkness of this melodrama about a self-help retreat that goes off the rails. Yvette Mimieux plays the head of an executive consciousness-raising group called Mystique that effectively tortures and brainwashes its participants. You can imagine a lot of approaches to this subject matter. CIRCLE OF POWER takes the rawest and most intense path. It is a disturbing movie, and deserves credit for being so uncompromising. Participants are tortured both physically and psychologically - couples' bonds are deliberately frayed and torn. I may never watch it a second time, but I loved it, even as I could barely believe what I was watching. It's an achievement.

CITIZENS BAND (1977, D. Jonathan Demme)
Here's one that has eluded me forever somehow. It's really special, and it may be the best part Charles Napier ever had, as a trucker with a complicated love life. There are a number of subplots here and the different character arcs converge and diverge throughout with the CB radio being the thread that holds them all together. There's an Altmanesque energy here but it is somehow more innocent and hopeful. Deserves a place on any cinephile's Oddball Seventies shelf.

DOG DAY (1984, D. Yves Boisset)
Lee Marvin is clearly old and depleted here but he is absolutely 100% Lee Marvin in this story of a fugitive gangster who hides out with a French farm family. Very eccentric and odd in its effects. With an actress who has become a big favorite of mine, Miou-Miou. At one point she says to her son, "We'll be rich! We'll be real shitheads!" It's genuinely very funny and I would love to know what Lee Marvin was thinking the whole time it was being made. Also with Tina Louise, somehow.

A GENIUS, TWO PARTNERS & A DUPE (1975, D. Damiano Damiani)
Having seen all the Sergio Leone westerns multiple times, and considering myself a big fan of Euro-westerns I nonetheless never made it a priority to see this Leone produced comedy-western. The very political director Damiano Damiani (A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN) is a very odd choice to make a Terence Hill western, and nobody seems to like the film very much. Consider me surprised to find out that it's a very smart, sophisticated western comedy, not at all elegeic or sentimental like its companion piece, MY NAME IS NOBODY, which I also like, though I do prefer this one. Apparently Leone was a big fan of Bertrand Blier's GOING PLACES (this should clue you in that the comedy here is very offbeat) and brought in Miao-Miao to co-star. She's awesome, as are Terence Hill and bad-guy Patrick McGoohan.

HOLLYWOOD STORY (1951, D. William Castle)
Many years before William Castle became the master of horror movie ballyhoo gimmicks, he was just one of the crowd, a talented journeyman who made solid and semisolid 'B' product. This is Castle's seamy SUNSET BLVD ripoff, in which he rips the lid off the dark side of Tinseltown. Richard Conte plays an upstart movie-mogul who buys the old Chaplin studios and becomes fascinated by an unsolved murder that is clearly inspired by the William Desmond Taylor case. There's real affection for old Hollywood here, and it benefits from cameos by many former stars of the silent era.

This hard-edged and occasionally brutal telefilm was the pilot for the Quinn Martin-produced DAN AUGUST show, which replaced the movie's costars Christopher George and Keenan Wynn with Burt Reynolds and Norman Fell. The show's good, but the movie is fantastic. After years of not really liking Christopher George and considering him a generic leading man type, I finally got him. He's a good actor and he always gives it his all. But this film is ultimately Janet Leigh's show. She is seen in flashback as she consummates a number of love affairs behind her husband's back. It's a great role for Leigh. Her character is an aging beauty, worried that the currency of her youth and desirability is rapidly devaluing, and trying to fuck her way out of it. What a part. And what a performance. She is amazing, never holding back, and never using her star power to force Joan Crawford-y rewrites where everyone talks about how gorgeous she is. This is an aging beauty playing the part of an aging beauty and meeting it head on. Very solid and memorable on all counts.

HOUSEKEEPING (1987, D. Bill Forsyth)
Bill Forsyth followed up the legendary LOCAL HERO with this film, his first American work. It's a period piece, and Forsyth works a kind of magic by giving us powerful nostalgia in the most classically true sense - the word is from the Greek and means something like "the pain of going home." It's the story of two sisters who lose their mother and settle into the old family mansion with their eccentric (to say the least) aunt played by Christine Lahti. As the aunt's behavior becomes more unusual and socially embarrassing, one sister grows closer to her and the other drifts away. It's a painful schism, and the memories are both shimmeringly beautiful and uniquely painful. It's a film that does things that I have never seen another film attempt, exactly, and it's a beautiful, unforgettable experience.

POISON IVY (1953, D. Bernard Borderie)
I have a watched a lot of Eddie Constantine movies this year and I have been reflecting on why he wasn't a bigger star. He definitely had his audience, mostly in Europe, but he really should have been an action star in his native America. But it was the '50s and Hollywood did not have much use for an ugly/beautiful mug like this one. Fortunately for all of us, Europe understood Eddie Constantine's appeal. This is only his second film appearance, and his first as wisecracking FBI agent Lemmy Caution. The dialogue is sharp, the director Bernard Borderie knows how to make these films, and the female lead Dominique Wilms is gorgeous and witty. It's as good a place to start as any. Hollywood's loss is our gain.

SIREN OF ATLANTIS (1949, D. Gregg G. Tallas)
This one just plain hit the spot with its German fantasy influences and deeply psychotronic feel. Shot by legendary German cinematographer Karl Struss, it is silvery and luminous, even as the sets and costumes give evidence of a very low budget. Maria Montez is truly a sight to behold as the Queen of Atlantis and she shimmers befittingly. Just as magic kingdoms vanish like a desert mirage, the plot of this film has drifted mistily away over the horizon of my memory, but I liked it, I promise.

THE SPELL (1977, D. Lee Phillips)
This is the kind of movie that might just as easily be a silly bit of fluff if the casting was different, but the lead role here went to Lee Grant and the dynamism of her performance makes it all so, so worthwhile. She doesn't take a breath or an eye-blink off, even though an Academy Award winning actress might well be forgiven for cruising through a movie-of-the-week CARRIE ripoff on reputation alone. If Grant feels slighted about the direction her career is headed, she pours all that high-octane resentment in the tank and steps on the accelerator. There's one scene - and it's not a major scene in the structure of the plot at all - when she lets her cigarette do the talking and convey her character's mental state. It's high-level mastery. As I was watching this, I was waiting for the inevitable left-turn into silliness as the long-delayed horror elements come to the fore. Well, thanks to Grant's performance, the schematic plot twist works - really well, in fact. The other performers (James Olsen, Lelia Goldoni) are good too, but this movie is Grant's - it's a little like hearing a transcendent singer performing an OK song - it all gets suffused with her greatness.