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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Todd Liebenow

Todd writes about neglected cinema at his blog Forgotten Films, which I am a big fan of:
He also runs a great podcast about those kind of movies there too and I was just a guest on the show (talking about MIDNIGHT MADNESS):
Todd also has another podcast called "Walt Sent Me" all about Disney films:
He also writes articles for Man I Love Films:

Lastly, find him on twitter here:
Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975)
I watched this moving drama within days of events which are eerily similar to those portrayed in the film. It features several fantastic performances from the likes of Moses Gunn, Rosalind Cash, Bernie Casey, and most of all young Laurence Fishburne making his film debut. He brings a power and depth to his performance that we rarely see in young performers. It’s a powerful film that remains relevant 40 years after its release.
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The Big Brawl (1980)
The first attempt at bringing Jackie Chan to the American market is often regarded as lesser-Jackie. It is to some extent, as director Robert Klauss clearly didn’t realize how to let Jackie be Jackie. However, the film is still a lot of fun; featuring some wonderful action sequences...not to mention a strange depression era roller derby scene.
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Zero Hour! (1957)
I had heard that Airplane! Was inspired by a 50’s airplane disaster flick, but I had no idea to what extent. The Zucker Brothers comedy is essentially a remake of this film with jokes inserted along the way. Today, it is hard to divorce the two films, but Zero Hour! is a riveting thriller spearheaded by an intense performance by Sterling Hayden. The film also works, though, as an unintentional comedy for those who have seen it’s successor as many times as I have
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Being There (1979)
Every year there is one film on this list that I am ashamed it took me so long to see. This year it is Being There. I have always loved Peter Sellers and this may be his best performance. This quiet and touching film had me enthralled from its first moments. Simple, thoughtful, and funny...this is such a beautiful film.
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Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Often seen as the unwanted stepchild of the Halloween series, Halloween III is the first of three horror franchise sequels that surprised me with how completely wacky they are. In this case we get a twisted tale that is almost more sci-fi than horror and which certainly gets some points for creativity, even when the execution may not be stellar.
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Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
The next horror sequel on the list is one that I’m not going to dare to call a good movie. But for all of it’s failings (which are many), Exorcist II is charming on a certain level for just how out-there it is. It dares to be different from its predecessor, and for that I give it props. Ultimately, though, the bad movie fan in me reveled in Richard Burton’s incoherent performance, Linda Blair turning up the steam, and James Earl Jones as some sort of human locust.
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Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
I was very unimpressed with the original 1979 The Amityville Horror. The first of the many many many many sequels, though, I found to be a crazy and downright effective piece of horror. I found the film quite captivating and it weirded me out at several turns. Besides, who can resist Burt Young as a scuzzy and abusive father?
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I Love Melvin (1953)
After Singin’ in the Rain, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor both appeared in this really really strange musical. Just to give an idea of how bizarre this film is, it features a musical number full of dancing football players where Debbie Reynolds is cast AS THE FOOTBALL! Even through all the weirdness, though, both Reynolds and O’Connor are a real treat.
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Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970)
Robert Redford and Michael J Pollard both turn in great performances as a couple of guys on the motorcycle racing circuit in the southwest. It’s more a character study really but wrapped up in a few of the traits of a biker flick. It also has an amazing soundtrack headlined by the man in black himself, Johnny Cash.
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The Hot Rock (1972)
Speaking of Redford, this comedy heist flick was an unexpected treat. It’s kind of like Ocean’s 11 but with less guys and they’re all a bunch of screw-ups. Besides Redford, we have George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand, Moses Gunn, and Zero Mostel rounding out an impressive comedic cast.
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A Man Called Horse (1970)
I found this gritty and slightly psychedelic western to be absolutely enthralling. Richard Harris is fantastic! The notorious sun vow sequence is not graphic but not for the squeamish either...yet very moving. I’m anxious to check out the two sequels.
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Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting out of my first foray into the world Russ Meyer films...but this far exceeded it. Yes the film is mean and violent, but it’s also a brilliant piece of visual storytelling. The care and creativity Meyer puts into the shot composition here could be the subject of a cinematography class. This goes way beyond what is par for the course with most exploitation films.
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The House on Sorority Row (1983)
Slasher films were never my thing in the 80’s, but I’ve developed a new appreciation for some. This film was unexpectedly clever and gave me a few legitimate surprise moments. Gore fans are also given plenty to enjoy. Head in a toilet...that’s all I’m gonna say.
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Film Discoveries of 2016 - Micael Viers

Michael Viers is an independent filmmaker, occasional podcaster and editor from Milwaukee, WI. He likes to brag that he edits videos for Troma Entertainment (though few really care) and likes giving monthly film recommendations on his Instagram .

You can listen to his podcast THE SHAMELIST PICTURESHOW on SoundCloud or iTunes and if you're interested check out some of the things he's made on the website he doesn't update with a blog he forgets to write on.

Michael's website (
The Last Challenge (dir. Richard Thorpe, 1967)
I'm a sucker for a good western, I really am. Even more so if the film has a good poster. While playing around with my newly purchased Roku and SlingTV app I was pleased to find that Turner Classic Movies has a lot of what they show available on demand. Sadly most of the films lacked a poster, except for THE LAST CHALLENGE. It's a pretty basic “fastest gun in the west” plot about an aging Sheriff (Glenn Ford) who is cursed with this title as he tries to live his life in peace. He's done bad things, but is trying to make up for them and trying even harder to not ruffle any feathers. All of that changes when a young man (Chad Everett) comes to town aiming to take his title. The film takes great care to let the audience get to know our two lead protagonists and show that a bond is forming between the two, but they'll never truly be friends because one of them will won't be coming out of this ordeal alive. Simple, but very well made.
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The Honeymoon Killers (dir. Leonard Kastle, 1969)
I was unsure how I felt about this film when I first saw it. In my opinion the first half dragged a bit, but the second half was outstanding. Weird thing is, I've not been able to get this film off my mind. I've become a bit obsessed with it and have been reading every piece of information I can find surrounding Leonard Kastle, the real Ray Fernandez and Martha Beck, and the decisions made while making the film. This film could have easily become a “lovers on the run” BONNIE & CLYDE rip-off, but under the direction of Leonard Kastle it takes on a more humanist approach that lingers with you for days, if not weeks.
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F for Fake (dir. Orson Welles, 1973)
I feel like this is a film I'd normally never watch and/or appreciate, but much to my own surprise I did... and I'm still trying to decode why. Orson Welles' F FOR FAKE is... I guess a hoax, to quote Welles himself. It's also a film about a hoax. It's partially a documentary about a famous hoax, partially a film essay about art and honesty, and another part a narrative film constructed by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. It's hard to really put into words why this film is so special, so I'm just going to tell you to seek it out and let the films weird magic overcome you.
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Lady Snowblood (dir. Toshiya Fujita, 1973)
I've known about LADY SNOWBLOOD for some time because of Quentin Tarantino and the KILL BILL movies, but for one reason or another I never got around to it. I guess I was afraid I'd not like it? Who knows. Well, with the Criterion Collection parting ways with Hulu this past Fall, I thought it was finally time to put up or shut up, and I'm so happy I did. LADY SNOWBLOOD was a beautifully made film that combined a very solid revenge story with geysers (yes, geysers) of blood and an arthouse eye for visuals. A film like this could have easily fallen into exploitation territory, but filmmaker Toshiya Fujita takes the subject matter seriously. I never found myself giggling at the screen like I would with films like MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (as much as I love it). I was completely engrossed in Yuki's (Meiko Kaji) story of revenge and even when the film left the realm of reality, I never questioned it's believability. To be fair, I've never visited Japan, so a geyser of blood erupting from a severed limb could totally be normal.
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Grizzly (dir. William Girdler, 1976)
I've got to be in a very specific mood for a “nature run amok” film because, honestly, a lot of them suck. I know they've got their fans, but few have impressed me. However, after seeing GRIZZLY, I may need to start giving them more attention. GRIZZLY is a basic JAWS rip-off about a 15-foot tall, man-eating grizzly bear starring Christopher George. However, what no one ever told me about this movie is that while it totally rips off JAWS in all the best ways, it's also very much a slasher film with lots of first person POV shots of young people wandering through the woods. Sure, it's a good way to save on showing the bear too much, but it had such a unique vibe that made it hard not to love. I also need to give a shoutout to the opening credits because there are few things as great as a helicopter shot with the world GRIZZLY in big, bold yellow letters.
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God Told Me To (dir. Larry Cohen, 1976)
Larry Cohen is a filmmaker I've been having a great time discovering. He's one of those names as a horror fan and cinephile I knew, but wasn't very familiar with his catalogue sans MANIAC COP. GOD TOLD ME TO is one of the strangest, most fascinating films I've seen. It begins with a sniper on a roof picking off unsuspecting innocents all in the name of God. When a New York City police detective played by Tony Lo Bianco gets involved, he starts following a trail that leads him to a group of Cultists. However, this cult isn't what it appears to be. Shot on a shoestring budget with Cohen's typical run-and-gun style, it's a film I can't quite explain why I love, but I do.
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Real Life (dir. Albert Brooks, 1979)
As a huge fan of THE SIMPSONS, I knew of Albert Brooks. His iconic voice and dry sense of humor has kept me entertained for years. Strangely enough it wasn't until recent that I learned of his directing career and thanks to Netflix I was able to catch his film REAL LIFE. It's a fun little film that blurs the lines of documentary and reality. Albert Brooks is in the film, playing a Hollywood jerk version of himself, and he's trying to make a documentary unlike anything anyone had made before... about real life! Issue is, what Brooks never expected, real life isn't always the most cinematic – or interesting. The film then becomes a comedic struggle for Brooks not to get involved in the lives of the family. Brooks is great in this film and his comedic timing as a filmmaker reminds me of Woody Allen at his best. The film is lighthearted and goofy as hell.
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Fade to Black (dir. Vernon Zimmerman, 1980)
Amongst the VHS collectors I know, this film is infamous, and many have told me it's one of their favorite films of all time. FADE TO BLACK has been on my watchlist for years and now that I've finally seen it, the movie didn't disappoint. Based on the poster you'd assume FADE TO BLACK would be a more traditional horror film, but in reality it's a character study of a shy movie obsessed young man named Eric Binford. The central plot revolves around a beautiful Australian model that looks strikingly like the late, great Marilyn Monroe. Eric becomes obsessed with her as she becomes his proverbial manic pixie dream girl and his mental state begins to worsen as bullying intensifies and his interest in the Monroe lookalike intensifies. The film teeters between slasher and  insane love letter to cinema, and while it occasionally feels uneven it has successfully left an imprint on me.
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Q: The Winged Serpent (dir. Larry Cohen, 1982)
I once tried to describe this film to my wife, and the more I went into detail the more she stared at me as if I was pulling her leg. I've learned Larry Cohen's work has this ability to be completely batshit yet grounded. Q: THE WINGED SERPENT is at times a gangster film, a cop drama and a creature feature. It manages to juggle so many tones yet never feels bogged down by it. The film stars frequent Cohen collaborator Michael Moriarty as a part-time crook and Jazz pianist named Jimmy. He takes part in an unsuccessful diamond heist that leads him to the top of the Chrysler building where he discovers the nest of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Yes, you read that correctly. The film continues to get even weirder from this point but, much like GOD TOLD ME TO, there's an absurdist quality to Cohen's work that keeps you invested. Larry Cohen is a talented writer, but few other actors can bring his work to life the way Michael Moriarty can.
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Swingers (dir. Doug Liman, 1996)
A newer entry and one that has been on my “shamelist” for ages, I wasn't sure what I was going to think about SWINGERS as I had never seen a trailer, I just knew it featured a young Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. The film tells the story of a struggling comedian named Mike (Favreau) and his actor buddy Trent (Vaughn) as they go to parties, meet women and traverse through life. During all of this we also see Mike's journey having just broke-up with his longtime girlfriend. He doubts his love life, his career and almost daily considers moving back to New York. The film is frantic, it's goofy as hell, it wears it's influences on it's sleeve and it's anchored by two great performances. I'm not usually a big Vince Vaughn guy but I loved him as Trent and I'm also reminded of how great Favreau is as an actor and I wish he had more roles like this. I also love this film because it reminds me of film school and how many of us, at one point or another, wanted to make a movie like SWINGERS, CHASING AMY or EMPIRE RECORDS. It makes me nostalgic for naivety and simplicity.
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Honorable Mentions:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Pure Cinema Podcast - Movie Recap - Episode One: "Handshake Five"

Okay, so I'm going to try to do a weekly post that at least summarizes the lists that Elric and I are doing on Pure Cinema. I'm usually going to wait a week or so after the episode has been out there so folks get a chance to listen for themselves, but I thought it'd be nice to see our lists in some kind of posted format in case you want to check out any of the movies we recommend. 
Remember, you can subscribe to Pure Cinema on Itunes here (we are also on Stitcher):
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In episode one, we did our "Handshake Five" films and this is what those lists look like:

Brian's "Handshake Five":

5. THREE O'CLOCK HIGH (1987; Phil Joanou)
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4. AFTER HOURS (1985; Martin Scorsese)
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3. ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979; Allan Arkush)
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2. DUCK SOUP(1933; Leo McCarey)
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1. RIO BRAVO (1959; Howard Hawks)
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Elric's "Handshake Five":

5. THE SHINING (1980; Stanely Kubrick)
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4. THE 'BURBS (1989; Joe Dante)
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3. POSSESSION (1981; Andrzej Zulawski)
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2. A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951; George Stevens)
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1. BLUE VELVET (1986; David Lynch)
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