Rupert Pupkin Speaks: January 2013 ""

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Eric J. Lawrence

I have been a fan of DJ Eric J. Lawrence's radio show over at KCRW for more than a decade now. I've said previously that it is truly my favorite radio program out there and that remains to be the case. He plays quite an eclectic mix of old songs, and is also my go-to source for new music as well. Check out the show here:
Eric also contributed a list last year which can be seen here:
One of his picks from the last go-round was THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, which ended up making my 2012 list. This year he's done it again and I must say that THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS(see below) is already among my favorite discoveries of 2013 thanks to him. 
(btw, I've heard word that Warner Archive is in the process of remastering DIMITRIOS at present, though they've yet to set a release date)


Faust (1926)
Murnau’s final German production pulls out all the stops: enormous angels’ wings, Emil Jannings’ creepy Mephisto, old man Faust’s epically lit hair, weird Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse puppets (well, actually Three Horsemen), some of the most impressive hand shadows I’ve ever seen – and that’s all in the first six minutes! UFA’s biggest undertaking to date set the standard for special effects, and the image of Mephiso’s monstrous frame hovering over the town was copied outright for the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia. A genuinely scary parable.

49th Parallel (1941)
Canada usually gets short shrift in the cinematic world. A bunch of Royal Canadian Mounties serials, Nanook of the North, Cronenberg films, Strange Brew, Cool Runnings and that’s about it. But 49th Parallel stands tall as the best Canadian-themed film of them all, Laurence Olivier’s accent notwithstanding. Of course being a Powell/Pressberger production guarantees quality, but the stellarcast, including Olivier, Finlay Currie, Anton Walbrook, Raymond Massey (finally getting to play a countryman), Leslie Howard, Niall MacGinnis and especially Eric Portman as a fully-indoctrinated Nazi who still seems to be a real person (not to mention the movie’s protagonist). It’s probably the best WWII propaganda film ever made (it’s a hell of lot more entertaining than Triumph of the Will).

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
I got on a serious Sydney Greenstreet kick this year. Consider: the man made his film debut with The Maltese Falcon while in his 60s, gets an Oscar nomination, then eight years later retires from filmmaking with a legacy that includes serving as the inspiration for villains for decades to come, from Jabba the Hutt to Marvel Comics’ Kingpin. Over 23 films, he worked with such great directors as Huston, Walsh, Curtiz, Ulmer & Don Siegel, as well as playing with most of the key Warner Bros. stars, from Humphrey Bogart to Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Crawford, George Raft and, most famously, Peter Lorre. The Mask of Dimitrios is the 5th of the Greenstreet/Lorre pairings, and one where Lorre actually gets to play a good guy (Sydney still gets a plum creep role though). It’s not perfect, but it is an underappreciated piece of noir with some familiar 40s-era faces.

Hollywood Canteen (1944)
Less an actual narrative movie & more an excuse to celebrate the real Hollywood Canteen, where thousands of film industry employees, including some big-time stars like Bette Davis & John Garfield, would donate their time to serve, entertain and clean up after US servicemen & women at a club on Cahuenga Blvd. The thin story line involves a G.I. who visits the club while on leave & ends up dating Joan Leslie (playing herself!) It’s hard to envision today’s young Hollywood starlets offering themselves up for free dances to returning Afghan war vets, but that’s the golden age of Hollywood for you! This bit of fluff serves as a parade of fun cameos, from Jack Benny to Roy Rogers (on Trigger), all hanging out at the club. The film’s best moment involves Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre weirding out an over-enthusiastic dancer terrorizing one of the Andrew Sisters. They don’t (and probably can’t) make them like this anymore.

It’s a Great Feeling (1949)
The pairing of Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan was Warner Bros. attempt to create their own version of the Hope/Crosby “Road” movies. Though no Bob & Bing, they have their own old-school Hollywood charm, where they can insult each other yet still seem like the best of pals. Here they do a bit of meta-acting, portraying themselves, struggling to get their next film made (with some funny cameos from directors Curtiz, Vidor & Walsh all refusing to work with the pretentious Carson). Doris Day makes an early film appearance as the ingĂ©nue Carson & Morgan are trying to find for their film. There is some singing, some dancing & tons of cameos (Gary Cooper! Syndey Greenstreet (again)!! Ronald Reagan!!!). It also features my favorite quip of the year: Doris Day: Mr. Morgan, you shouldn’t hold my hand! What would Mr. Carson think? Dennis Morgan: What would Mr. Carson think with?

Beat the Devil (1953)
Huston, Bogart, Lorre, but no Raines or Greenstreet. However we do get Truman Capote, Robert Morley, a super-sexy Gina Lollobrigida and even Bernard Lee (Bond’s original M), so it washes out in the end. A polarizing film, borderline half-baked & almost certainly not great, but entertaining nonetheless.

Sapphire (1959)/All Night Long (1961)
I had seen a couple of Basil Dearden films before – The Blue Lamp, Victim, The Smallest Show on Earth & his parts of Dead of Night – and wouldn’t have cited him as a particularly significant auteur. But these two films have caused me to revise my opinion. Both films deal with racial tensions, though from two different angles. Sapphire is basically a classic police procedural with a couple of decent twists, while All Night Long is a version of Othello set in a London warehouse party for jazzheads. Both films have solid acting, but ANL gets the nod for the always intensely entertaining presence of Patrick McGoohan (of Danger Man/The Prisoner fame), playing the Iago role as a scheming drummer. The montage during his drum solo is about as intense a music-related scene as I’ve ever seen, ‘cause no one can put on a creepy stare like McGoohan! Plus jazz greats Charles Mingus, John Dankworth & the recently passed Dave Brubeck play themselves during the musical interludes. And, if that wasn’t enough, Richard Attenborough shows up in a minor role as well (although he gets to narrate the trailer, which is well done).

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963)
Another McGoohan appearance, this time in a Disney film! Originally\ run as a three-part serial on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, it was edited down to a feature for the European market. Either way it’s a fun bit of fluff with McGoohan playing a Robin Hood-like vicar in southeastern 18th century England who doubles as a masked smuggler called “the Scarecrow.” Like a darker version of Disney’s earlier Zorro, the Scarecrow regularly fools the bumbling British militia, but his getup is pretty freaky, aided immeasurably by McGoohan’s perfectly played vocal switch from the vicar’s comforting croon to the Scarecrow’s guttural barking of orders (alternating with an almost sinister laugh).

Zatoichi: The Fugitive (1963)
Fourth in the long-running series (26 films starring Shintaro Katsu, plus a TV series, a 2003 Japanese revival (starring Takeshi Kitano!), a stage version (directed by Takashi Miike!!) & an American remake (starring Rutger Hauer!!!) about a blind masseur from Japan’s Edo period (basically the classic samurai era), charmingly & disarmingly played by Katsu. While I’ve only made slight progress towards seeing all of the original films, this one is my favorite so far, with a wrestling sub-plot and a masterly final duel, with Ichi’s cane sword & unique inverse grip style. There are a number of references to the prior films in the series that might make this hard to fully
appreciate in isolation, but for fans of classic samurai films by Kurosawa, Gosha & Kobayashi, the Zatoichi saga is worthy entertainment.

Dressed to Kill (1980)/Blow Out (1981)
I ended the year with a couple of De Palma thrillers – surely a better way to close out ’12 than with “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” without Dick Clark! Dressed to Kill begins with a shower scene, but it was I who wanted to wash off after the smutty goings on with Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Dennis Franz and company. Certainly full of some of De Palma’s most memorable shots (the long museum sequence is a model of creating tension without an obvious threat), the film was unfairly hurt by me already knowing the twist (like with Chinatown, it’s hard for cinephiles who hadn’t actually seen it yet to avoid knowing about the film’s reputation). Blow Out was a bit of a revelation for me though, with a solid performance from John Travolta as a sound-effects man for low budget horror movies. It begins with a nice nod to Dressed to Kill in the movie-within-the-movie, and also keeps continuity with past De Palma films through the regulars in the cast & crew. It also reminds me how big of a guy John Lithgow is, making for an effectively hulking villain.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Honorable Mentions

OK, so here is the last part of my favorite film discoveries of 2012 list - my Honorable Mentions. Don't let their HM status deter you, as many of these could have just as much or more appeal than anything on my other lists. It's an odd eclectic mix of movies too. Oh and if you haven't read Parts 1 & 2, please have a look here:
Part 1:
Part 2:

Certainly not flawless by any means, but for fans of the band it serves as a very interesting document illustrating the rise and fall of the Beach Boys(as a two-part TV movie special). A lot more sadness here than I would have imagined, which made it resonate with me quite a bit. It's a little overwrought in the 2nd half, but I'll forgive it that.

BEN & ARTHUR(2002; Sam Mraovich)
Simply stunning...One of the worst yet most entertaining things I've ever witnessed. Could be called a gay version of THE ROOM. Auteur writer/director/star Mraovich must be seen. In fact, see below:

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY(1944; Robert Siodmak)
Beautiful, bleak film noir. This one was recommended by both Joe Dante and Alonso Duralde. Dark role for Gene Kelly. Import dvd available.

DEATH PROMISE(1977; Robert Warmflash)
Tagline: "Filthy rich landlords get away with murder. It's time they pay for it." A low budget revenge flick that's pretty fun.

FAST WORKERS(1933; Tod Browning)
Breezy, comedy/drama from Browning, the story of some fast-living high rise riveters. Warner Archive put this out.

THE 5-MAN ARMY(1970; Don Taylor/ Italo Zingarelli)
Another Warner Archive Podcast favorite. Guys on a mission to rob a train carrying $500,000 in gold. Great stuff from Peter Graves and Bud Spencer.

Charmingly dopey, yet oddly infectious for me and sort of WTF at times. Some good 60s lingo here.

THE GUY FROM HARLEM(1977; Rene Martinez Jr.)
If Ed Wood had directed BLACK BELT JONES, the result might look something like THE GUY FROM HARLEM. Theme song is mind blowing.

HANNIBAL BROOKS(1969; Michael Winner)
For fans of Oliver Reed, Michael J. Pollard, Michael Winner, WWII Era stories and LARGER THAN LIFE. I am all of the above.

HOT RHYTHM(1944; William Beaudine)
Very affable little B-musical. Dona Drake is wonderful and easy on the eyes. Nice songs too. On Netflix Instant. Read about it at Forgotten Films:

Quite excellent, as I'd been told.

KING OF THE MOUNTAIN(1981; Noel Nessick)
Interesting slice of life drama dealing with the L.A. scene(recording, street racing) in the early 80s. Meanders a bit, but overall pretty worthwhile. Good cast.  

LADY IN CEMENT(1968; Gordon Douglas)
"C'mon, let's hoist a martini flag" says Sinatra, chain smoking his way through this second outing as private detective Tony Rome. I had heard this one was more fun so I skipped the first film and started here. Enjoyable stuff. From the director of THEM!(1954), IN LIKE FLINT & SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIP-OFF.

MERRILY WE GO TO HELL(1932; Dorothy Arzner)
Stumbled onto this one via a recommend from Kim Morgan.

MOVIE MOVIE(1978; Stanley Donen)
Interesting late career effort from Donen. Would love to see a Blu-ray release of this film.

MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE(1996; Terry Jones)
Quite a wonderful envisioning of the classic Wind in the Willows tale by Mr. Jones. Unjustly overlooked. Alonso Duralde mentioned this movie on Linoleum Knife at one point, which is what made me go hunting for it.

NEW YEARS EVIL(1980; Emmett Alston)
If you're a fan of 80s slashers(and I very much am) this one nestles in nicely and is quite pleasant comfort food.

NO MORE EXCUSES(1968; Robert Downey Sr.)
This one was singled out in Zack Carlson's Discoveries list from last year and was at that time, very hard to see. Thankfully, the eclipse Downey Sr. Boxset arrived in 2012 and I quickly snapped it up to see this film and the others featured there. An odd and hilarious portait of the NYC singles scene in the late 60s. Brilliantly bizarre.

PETE 'N' TILLIE(1972; Martin Ritt)
Offbeat romantic drama from director Ritt, with fine acting from Matthau and Burnett. A little downbeat, but moving.

QUINTET(1979; Robert Altman)
Dense and uninviting, but oddly compelling for me. This, the most bleak Altman film, plays out like some post-apocalyptic Shakespeare play. Many will(and do) hate this movie and it's glacial pace.

RECORD CITY(1978; Dennis Steinmetz) / SWAP MEET(1979; David Schweitzer)
Two cheapies that both only aspire to be as fun as VAN NUYS BLVD, but that supremely entertained me nonetheless. Interesting casts in both, especially RECORD CITY.

SKY RIDERS(1976; Douglas Hickox)
Takes a little while to get to any actual sky ridin', but is nonetheless an enjoyable guys-on-a-mission flick. Nice Schifrin score. From the director of SITTING TARGET(which you should absolutely see if you haven't).

SNAKE EATER(1989; George Erschbamer)
Waaaay more enjoyable than it should be. A campier, sleazier version of DELIVERANCE meets FIRST BLOOD. Nutty as a Payday bar. I need to see parts 2 and 3.
On YouTube:

I started a personal retrospective of Jim Wynorski films after seeing the POPATOPOLIS doc on Netflix. This is pretty classic Wynorski I must say.

SUBURBAN SASQUATCH(2004; Dave Wascavage)
BIRDEMIC meet Bigfoot.
(obviously this movie preceded James Nguyen's masterpiece)

Ken Wahl plays an ex-football star hero/John McClane type and Max Headroom backs him up against some baddies looking to loot all of Beverly Hills. I recall my friend Phil Blankenship programming this film at some point and had meant to see it since then. Relegated to a VHS only release thusfar, this film has been lost in the shuffle a bit, which is a shame. 

I really kinda hoped for a little more Phantom. He is a great, iconic boogeyman. This is still a haunting, creepy movie.

TRANSYLVANIA TWIST(1989; Jim Wynorski)
Chuckled more than I expected to at this. Decent spoof. One of my favorite Wynorski efforts.

WARNING SIGN(1985;  Hal Barwood)
a la CHINA SYNDROME, ANDROMEDA STRAIN, THE SATAN BUG...this classic contagion scenario headlines its cast with Sam Watertson, Kathleen Quinlan & Yaphet Kotto. Supportings include Richard Dysart, G.W. Bailey, Rick Rossovich, Jerry Hardin & Jeffrey DeMunn. The amazing Dean Cundey running the photography.