As a longtime reader and avid fan of Rupert Pupkin Speaks, I am honored to once again be invited by Mr. Pupkin to share my list of "older films first seen" this past year. I'm submitting a shorter list for 2011, but discussing the films in greater detail. Let's just say I got a lot of mileage out of my trusty Roku this year and gave my DVR quite a workout too.


PRINCESSE TAM TAM (1935)
Essentially Pygmalion starring the legendary Josephine Baker, who is more than enough reason to watch. Baker starred in only four talkies, and while ZOUZOU is more highly regarded (haven’t seen it yet--hopefully I‘ll be telling you about that one this time next year), PRINCESSE TAM TAM is a fine showcase for the versatile star. Baker sings two songs, performs a seductive, energetic dance and gives a vivacious performance. As was also the case with Nina Mae McKinney and Theresa Harris. we can only wonder what kind of Hollywood career she might have had in a more enlightened era.


THE BIG BOODLE (1957)
One of the last American films shot in Havana before the Castro revolution (and 1960 embargo), THE BIG BOODLE is also notable as one of Errol Flynn’s last features (he died in 1959) and for the eclectic supporting cast, with beauties Rosanna Rory and Gia Scala and the terrific character actor Pedro Armendariz. Routine story, but check out that scenery---you didn’t get to see much of it afterwards, at least not on U.S. screens. (Netflix Instant Link)


BLACK GIRL (LA NOIRE DE…)(1966)
Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene, often called the “Father of African film“, made his debut with this crudely made but undeniably powerful feature. Sembene makes a corching statement about the French colonization of Dakar and its devastating effects, and also has much to say that is timelessly relevant concerning alienation, the exploitation of the “have nots” by the “haves” (who often mislead them intentionally) and the sadly ironic disconnect between hard work and material wealth. Shot in black and white and only 65 minutes long, LA NOIRE DE… contains images that will stay with you, particularly in the final minutes.


WILD IN THE STREETS (1968)
Satire about the youth revolution succeeding and putting a President in place who is a younger, urban version of Lonesome Rhodes, only more adept at manipulating The Game. As a matter of fact, he makes the career politicians look like amateurs. Implausible government takeover? Hell, try mathematically impossible--even if 52% of the USA is ‘under 25’, only half at best would be able to vote even if the age is lowered to 14 as it is in the film. Christopher Jones’ Max Frost also seems a little too sexist to inspire complete unity. Okay, so there’s plenty here that is out of the realm of possibility, which means it ain’t DR. STRANGELOVE. It is still a satire with sharp moments and more thought provoking elements than you‘d expect in a film by AIP. For example, check out the uncanny foreshadowing of Kent State. Jones, who should have had a bigger career, is much more charismatic than his character. Look for a young Richard Pryor, Kevin Coughlin, Millie Perkins, and Hal Holbrook channeling JFK as the candidate seeking the “youth vote“ and getting far more than he bargains for. (Netflix Instant Link)


SHOWDOWN (1973)
Dean Martin’s last good role, and the last Western for both Martin and co-star Rock Hudson. The only time they worked together was in this derivative but entertaining film that is primarily worth a look. Martin seems to channel the turmoil in his personal life at the time successfully into his last really solid performance on the big screen. Also the last Western for Martin’s longtime horse Tops, who died at 18 during production. (Netflix Instant Link)


THOMASINE AND BUSHROD (1974)
Gordon Parks Jr. directed only four features before his untimely death in 1979; this was his sophomore effort, the followup to SUPERFLY. It was also the second effort for screenwriter Max Julien. Julien failed to convince Warners to cast his girlfriend Vonetta McGee as CLEOPATRA JONES, but he co-starred with her in this Western set in 1911 New Mexico. Julian, who also produced, lifts equally from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (the theme song and accompanying montages, constant bantering) and BONNIE AND CLYDE (latter day Robin Hoods on a doomed path). Curiously, Julien’s bland performance is the biggest liability, but fans of McGee will be pleased as she gets the opportunity to really shine as the tough-as-nails, defiant Thomasine. Stagnates between blaxploitation and western, and as a result won’t fully satisfy either audience. More interesting than good, but worth watching, One of McGee’s best roles.


LEADBELLY (1976)
Roger Mosley shines in one of his few leads, a biography of blues legend Hudie Ledbetter that breaks all the music bio conventions. It isn’t quite at the level of director Gordon Parks Sr.’s groundbreaking THE LEARNING TREE, but it’s a good one. Underrated; quietly rewarding film stands up to repeat viewings. Hi Tide Harris provides the spirited vocals for Mosley, and Madge Sinclair, Art Evans and Paul Benjamin have good, if brief, supporting roles. Sadly, the senior Parks’ cinematic swan song. (Netflix Instant Link)


LEMON POPSICLE (1978)
The original Boaz Davidson Israeli classic, later Americanized by the director in 1982 (as THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN). Certain aspects work far better in this version: for example, the locker room contest lost a lot in translation. On the other hand, the scene at the pharmacy worked far better in the U.S. version, thanks to the incomparable Mel Welles. LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN struck out at the box office in the U.S. but LEMON POPSICLE was popular enough in Israel to spawn a decade's worth of sequels. I plan to checking out a couple during 2012; HOT BUBBLEGUM (aka LEMON POPSICLE 3) is currently on Netflix Instant. (Netflix Instant Link)


CALIFORNIA DREAMING (1979)
AIP was the go-to studio for mindless celebration of the surfer lifestyle throughout the 1960’s with the BEACH PARTY series. Just a year before American International’s demise, the studio was the unlikely distributor of this deconstruction that shows the “endless summer” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Dennis Christopher (BREAKING AWAY) and Seymour Cassell (CONVOY) star. For those who’d like to celebrate a little conventional hedonism with their cautionary tales, Glynnis O’Connor gets naked twice. (Netflix Instant Link)


DUMPLINGS (2004)
Miriam Yeung’s husband is having an affair with his much younger masseuse, so she seeks the assistance of mysterious chef Bai Ling. Ling’s dumplings seemingly carry the secret of eternal youth, but what ingredients is she using? I'll say no more, lest I spoil the multiple surprises, but be warned that this Fruit Chan (MADE IN HONG KONG) film is not for the squeamish. (Netflix Instant Link)


FAT, SICK AND NEARLY DEAD (2009)
If you watched Morgan Spurlock’s journey into obesity in SUPER SIZE ME, you might like Joe Cross’ inspiring journey back from it in FAT, SICK AND NEARLY DEAD. At the outset Cross is 310 lbs. and suffering from autoimmune disease when he decides to hit the road and limit his intake to fresh fruit and vegetable juices for 60 days. Cross travels cross-country and finds a kindred spirit to help along the way. (Netflix Instant Link)


THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY (2010)
This premiered at SXSW in Austin in March 2010, and I finally caught up with it on DVD this month. It’s about time the legendary Blowfly got his own documentary. If you’ve never heard of him, imagine a blend of Weird Al and Dolemite who dresses like a Mexican wrestler/superhero. He's been doing this on record since 1971, and even wrote arguably the first rap song ("Rap Dirty") years before that. It is very sad to learn that the influential and very talented pioneer of the Miami music scene made a poor business decision under duress that cost him the rights to some of his greatest songs. I can’t list those song titles here, as my good friend Mr. Pupkin might get slapped with an “Adults Only” blog disclaimer if I do. On the plus side, it’s great to learn that Blowfly a.k.a. Clarence Reid is still out there surviving and in some parts of the world, thriving. All the while marching to the beat of his own very unique drum. 90 minutes but easily could have been longer--Blowfly is one of the most fascinating musical cult figures of all time. If you like dirty jokes to funky beats, he’s been the best in the biz for 40 years. Well worth checking out, and afterwards, if you can stand a lil’ profanity (ok, a LOT of profanity) check out some of the man’s CD’s. Some recent live versions of his songs are included in the DVD’s extras.