Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Brian Salisbury's Favorite Older Films Seen 1st in 2011! ""

Friday, January 13, 2012

Brian Salisbury's Favorite Older Films Seen 1st in 2011!

Brian Salisbury is a writer for Spill,, and Film School Rejects as well as a member of the Austin Film Critics Association. He is the main 'man behind the mask' as it were for a wonderful series on FSR called Junkfood Cinema which I like a lot. He just did a 2nd annual Junkfood Cinema awards list. Good stuff. Read him.


Black Belt Jones (1974)
As an unashamed connoisseur of blaxploitation, it always delights me to discover new titles. However, diverging from the “according to Hoyle” classics can often be an exercise in frustration and can leave you mired in painful amateurism. But when the elements coalesce just right, you get something that is charmingly schlocky and yet legitimately entertaining. Enter the Dragon’s Jim Kelly is so accidentally charismatic as to carry much of the film and compensate for the few lags. The non sequitor line about a popular fast food chain will have you both guffawing and applauding the sheer outlandishness.

Meatballs (1979)
There was a time when my only exposure to summer camp films involved either Ernest P. Worrell or Jason Voorhees. Given that Meatballs was a low budget teen comedy, I expected an endless parade of vulgarity tempered with little substance. However I found the film to be far more heartfelt and good-natured than I could have possibly imagined. Young Bill Murray shines; employing just enough snark in a time before he ventured into full-blown cynicism. Are you ready for the summer? After watching Meatballs, my answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
A southern-fried cinema classic, but one I’d somehow missed for ages. The silver screen proves to be head-over-heels in love with Burt Reynolds, his charisma is as unmistakable as his signature mustache and he chews the scenery like so much of his trademark gum. The film seems to elicit laughs despite itself, boldly poking fun at the racism inherent in the region most receptive to its set pieces. Sally Field is so goddamned adorable it makes me want to cry.

Kansas City Confidential (1952)
Released on Blu-ray by a seemingly clandestine distribution company called HD Cinema Classics, Kansas City Confidential is rapidly becoming one of my favorite film noirs. It’s the story of an armored car robbery, a frame-up, and a revenge plot. The film’s influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs could not be any clearer and, on its own, it has the gritty violence and celebrated darkness we’ve come to expect from the tent pole titles in this genre.

The Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
2011, for me, truly was the year of Brian De Palma. Prior to last year, I was woefully ignorant of any De Palma that didn’t feature spies, Al Capone, or Cuban drug kingpins…modeled after Al Capone. But during a marathon of offbeat Universal Monster incarnations, I discovered the stylish whirlwind of pop rock and vengeance known as The Phantom of the Paradise. The film is a colorful, thunderous, Art Deco spaceship taking us to a planet on which we didn’t know we wanted to live forever. We’ll get to some of my other De Palma discoveries momentarily.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Tragedy. That is the only word apt to describe my being a horrorphile and not having seen Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers; a movie that earns every inch of its classic status. The film is a tense, gripping sci-fi nightmare on the surface with a brilliant condemnation of conformity lurking underneath. The ending sticks in my brain like an eerie, insidious splinter.

Quick Change (1990)
Bill Murray makes his second appearance on my list in a 1990 comedy that I had previously not even heard of. The premise is terrifically clever: three expert bank robbers masterfully execute the perfect robbery and then can’t seem to get across town to the airport. The unlikely combo of Murray, Geena Davis, and Randy Quaid mesh together in this gleefully silly, late-80s farce. Additionally, if you make a drinking game out of spotting the ridiculous amount of cameo talent, you’ll be wasted by the end of reel one.

Gambit (1966)
When rolling the dice on films with which I am not familiar, two words tend to assuage any lingering doubts each and every time. Those two words are Michael Caine. In 1966’s Gambit, Caine plays a cat burglar who envisions the perfect heist using a dancer, played by Shirley MacLaine, to distract a rich recluse while he steals a priceless bust. The surprise of the film is not simply how this well-laid plot goes awry, but how far Caine envisions its success before he is slapped with a hilarious reality check. The Caine/MacLaine duo proves to be absolute dynamite in this mod crime comedy.

Dressed to Kill (1980)
Another Michael Caine, another Brian De Palma. You’d have to be blind, deaf, dumb, and dumb to not recognize the influence of Alfred Hitchcock on De Palma. In Dressed to Kill, he puts a sexier, bloodier spin on Psycho whilst simultaneously forging and honing his own trademarks. Every frame of this film is gorgeously shot, every performance is a triumph, and Nancy Allen is an unbearably hot little sex kitten. In that same regard, Angie Dickinson fogs up her share of eyeglasses as the Marion Crane styled character even as she approached her 50th birthday.

Death Wish 3 (1985)
I fell in love with Death Wish years ago, but never sought after its numerous sequels. Then, last January, I engaged in a 50hr/20 film retrospective of mustachioed testosterrificness I dubbed Bronsothon. I discovered that it actually takes four sequels for the greatness of Death Wish to wane. Particularly fancy-tickling was Death Wish 3 in which Bronson expands upon his already adept talent for righteous murder by becoming a one-man army with the capability to level entire city blocks. Look for the lost Cunningham brother as the vile gang leader.

Topper (1937)
One heretofore overlooked factoid about myself as a movie geek, of which I was happy to be reminded this year, is that I love Cary Grant something fierce. Seriously, it borders on a man crush or something otherwise requiring of deep, uncomfortable introspection. But one film that allowed for this personal revelation was 1937’s Topper in which Cary Grant plays a fast-talking, gin-swilling ghost whose well-meaning attempt to shake up the boring life of his still-living friend yields hilariously slap-sticky results. The physical comedy and the witty banter allow for this eighty-year-old film to feel far from dated.

Maniac (1980)
William Lustig was already one of my favorite directors before I saw Maniac. His Maniac Cop franchise (more specifically the first two) and Vigilante had already found high purchase on my list of favorite exploitation films. But there is something so raw, so fearlessly unhinged and dirty about this 1980 slasher flick that makes a solid case for its designation as his masterpiece. Joe Spinell turns in a devilishly miraculous performance as a seriously disturbed human being that is, despite everything we see and our own innate repulsions, a human being. Tom Savini’s practical effects have never looked better and it was incredible to watch him perish so explosively by his own methods.

Night Warning (1983)
“Night Warning is not technically a supernatural horror film, but that doesn’t mean the familiar tropes aren’t present. There are demons, ghosts, and a monster in Night Warning…and they are all neatly housed within Susan Tyrrell. What elevates Night Warning from an obscure piece of exploitation to a lost gem is firmly rooted in Tyrrell’s force-of-nature performance. She slowly descends from quirky to unsettling to a full-blown estrogen-fueled, psychotic hurricane.”—My review for Horror’s Not Dead says it all.

Corvette Summer (1978)
I’m ashamed to say that until this year I had never seen Mark Hamill in a film that didn’t take place in a galaxy far, far away. I didn’t expect much of this film and was soundly punished/rewarded for my skepticism. Corvette Summer is not a typical 70s teen comedy, it’s a whimsical quest movie not unlike Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure; a hot rod in place of Pee-Wee’s bicycle. The colorful array of characters the magnetic Hamill meets during his travels, as well as the unflappable zeal with which he pursues his stolen prize, makes Corvette Summer a film that not only epitomizes the era, but also one which proves Mark’s star power is not beholden to Star Wars.

Blow Out (1981)
Not only my favorite discovery of 2011, but also a film that now occupies a space next to the likes of The Godfather, The Third Man, and Halloween as one of my favorite films of all time. Brian De Palma wears his love of Rear Window on his sleeve as he crafts this story of a b-movie soundman privy to (read: burdened with) recorded information that may spell his own doom. John Travolta tears the screen apart with his driven, vulnerable, and ultimately tortured Foley artist, John Lithgow creates one of cinema’s nastiest villains, and the score sings with equal parts danger, love, and loss. De Palma’s directing is pitch-perfect and the ending will leave your ears ringing with the reverb of your jaw hitting the floor. Truly an American classic.


Ned Merrill said...

A lot of my longtime favorites on this list...makes me wistful for the days when I "discovered" things like BLOW OUT and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE as a much younger lad. Caught up with BLACK BELT JONES a few years ago via the Warner blaxploitation 4-pack...I found BBJ decent, but it was THREE THE HARD WAY and BLACK SAMSON that really impressed me. Agreed about BODY SNATCHERS. I watched Siegel's original as a young child, but it took me until my 30s to finally see Kaufman's follow-up. What was I thinking? I don't know, but I do know that it belongs in the top, top ranks of all '70s cinema.

Rupert Pupkin said...

I of course have that Warner Blaxploitation 4-pack, but have yet to see THREE THE HARD WAY or BLACK SAMPSON. I must get on that! Could be fodder for the 2012 discoveries list!

Aaron said...

Good stuff. I've been late to the De Palma game as well and have been discovering (and re-discovering) his amazing films for myself over the last couple of years. Early De Palma, for me, is hard to beat.

Ned Merrill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ned Merrill said...

The "lost Cunningham brother" who played "Fraker" in DEATH WISH 3, Gavan O'Herlihy, also made an impression a couple years before as Smallville douchebag Brad in SUPERMAN III.

After watching DEATH WISH 3 very recently, I can't decide who has the worse haircut, O'Herlihy in 3 or Kevyn Major Howard as "Stomper" in II.

Does the book BRONSON'S LOOSE, cover why the production did away with Roman numerals after DEATH WISH II? Have to get that will probably make my best of '12 list.

Ned Merrill said...

Answer to my question about the lack of Roman numerals in the DEATH WISH series via Paul Talbot's book:

"According to the book 'Bronson's Loose' by Paul Talbot, the original working title "Death Wish III" was changed to "Death Wish 3" because the Cannon Group conducted a survey and found that nearly half of the U.S. population could not read Roman numerals."