Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Paul Corupe

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Paul Corupe

Paul Corupe writes about movies. He writes for RUE MORGUE magazine, Fantasia Festival's official webzine SPECTACULAR OPTICAL and his own spectacular site, CANUXPLOITATION. All his writing is recommended reading. He is a man of many varied likes as far as film goes. He has turned me onto many fine and less than fine films all of which have brought me great enjoyment. Let him do the same for you!
Be sure to also check out his discoveries list from last year:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2012/01/paul-corupeof-canuxploitations-favorite.html

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The Nickel Ride (1974)
I have no particular affinity for organized crime movies, but this paranoid, stark portrait of criminality in L.A. must be one of the most engaging examples of the genre. Robert Mulligan's film slowly evolves from a typical gangster neo-noir into a gripping nightmare of violence and tragedy. Jason Miller puts in an exceptional performance as Cooper, a low-ranking mob associate charged with renting some warehouses that his bosses need to stash stolen goods. But this everyday transaction spirals out of control when Cooper's contact suddenly can't be reached. Putting on the squeeze, his bosses send cocky cowboy Turner (Bo Hopkins) to keep a close eye on Cooper, who begins to suspect it's all a set up for his forced "retirement". Considerably more low key than the other cops 'n' killers films that dominated the 1970s, Nickel Ride is a notable character piece that makes the most out of its crumbling urban locations and the sense of mounting dread that overtakes Cooper as he finds himself struggling to stay one step beyond the mob brass that wants him dead.


Little Darlings (1980)
I missed catching this gender switch-up teen sex comedy until its TCM airing in 2012, only to discover a memorable coming-of-age tale with two teen girls vying to lose their virginity by the end of summer. Kristy McNichol is Angel, a chain-smoking, streetwise 15-year-old who meets up with her Odd Couple opposite, suburban darling Ferris (Tatum O'Neal) at a picturesque summer camp. Once the bet is made, the film bounces between playful camp hijinks and the psychological growing pains of being a teen, as the girls take wildly different approaches to seduce some older boys. To it's credit, it's more like Porky's (1982) than, say, Hardbodies (1984), and the girls quickly learn that the act in itself will not bestow on them a new level of maturity, giving the film a unique perspective on sexuality. And the film lacks the spit and polish that characterizes John Hughes' best-loved work, helping Little Darling's themes ring with more messy emotional intensity than the teen pics it helped inspire.


Moonrunners (1975)
Looks like them Hagg boys are in a heap o' trouble again! Before Roscoe and Enos took off for in hot pursuit of Bo and Luke Duke every week in The Dukes of Hazzard, series creator Gy Waldron and producer Bob Clark (yep, that one) gave many of the show's base elements a dry run in Moonrunners, a nitro-charged slice-of-life Southern comedy about a pair of country cousins running 200 proof corn liquor for their bootlegger uncle in a supercharged stock car. Being a warts-and-all fan of The Dukes, it was exciting to discover that many of the elements that make the show so memorable had their seeds here--the Boar's Nest, hunting bows, characters named Uncle Jesse and Sheriff Rosco Coltrane, even Waylon Jennings providing running narration with the expected down home twang. Kiel Martin stars as Pikkens County good ol' boy Bobby Lee Hagg who, along with his cousin Grady (James Mitchum, whose father starred in previous illegal alcohol classic Thunder Road (1958)), tries to outdrive local authorities and outlast pressure to join an organized bootlegging syndicate run by pimp Jake (George Ellis in pre-Boss Hogg mode). The car stunts may be an improvement on Thunder Road, but they're still underplayed compared to the other car chase films of the era and even the later high flying work on the Dukes. Still there's a raw edge to the film that the squeaky clean Bo and Luke often lack--the shit-kickin' Haggs are unrepentant about their criminal activities, get in brawls, cuss and even manage to have an affair with Jake's unsatisfied young wife. Now ain't that slick?


Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971)
Roger Vadim outdoes his work on Barbarella (1968) at every turn with this erotically charged, campy black comedy that--for me--ranks as one of the greatest films of the 1970s, one that certainly could never be remade today. Rock Hudson is a high school guidance counselor whose dalliances with the female student body is tied to the sudden appearance of several dead girls with notes pinned to their panties. When he's not convincing a pretty substitute teacher (played by Angie Dickinson) to seduce one of her shy male students, he's covering up evidence of his deadly affairs, while Keenan Wynn and Telly Savalas tag-team as the luckless cops assigned to solve the crimes. A brilliantly garish clash of European and American sensibilities, Pretty Maids All in a Row comes off like a more graceful Russ Meyer film, as Vadim's leering camera obsesses over the female high school students in a way that skirts the boundaries of propriety--especially today--and yet the film still captures the sexually charged atmosphere of high school, from an adolescent's point of view, that has never been done quite so well before or since. That the film is also frequently funny and stacked with excellent performances is almost a bonus.


Miami Connection (1987)
Though my year-end lists tend to focus on lesser-known films that people may have missed, it wouldn't be right for me to ignore new favourite Miami Connection, a true bizarre outsider film discovery. I caught producer/star Grandmaster Y.K. Kim's ode to Tae-Kwon-Do and heartfelt plea for world peace three times (twice in theatres), gave it as Christmas gift and can't wait to share it with more unsuspecting friends in the new year. Interracial orphan martial arts devotees and college synth rock band Dragon Sound faces off against Orlando-based motorcycle-riding ninjas trafficking exclusively in stupid cocaine. But, in a strange kind of non-achievement for an action film, the fights in Miami Connection are its most tedious aspect, making viewers impatient for more visceral joys like a maudlin long-lost dad subplot, improvised screaming matches, guilty pleasure rock anthems and Kim's intense, almost pathological concern for his fellow bandmembers. With more mullets than the 1984 Toronto Maple Leafs and dialogue that would have sent Ed Wood back to his typewriter for serious rewrites, the film closely resembles a Godfrey Ho fever dream. But despite all its eccentricities, there's something very human and even inspiring about Miami Connection, as Kim somehow manages to rally audience support behind Dragon Sound and their quixotic quest to unite the world with Tae-Kwon-Do-themed singalongs, somehow giving the film an unexpected emotional punch that makes it endlessly rewatchable. It's why I hope to stay friends forever with Miami Connection, sticking together through thick and thin.


Phantom Soldiers (1987)
From an already certified trash cinema classic to one that still remains in the shadows, Teddy Chiu's bullet-riddled Vietnam war epic Phantom Soldiers is a graphic, over-the-top action film that should really get its due. I'd already yawned through Chiu's Blood Debts (1985) earlier this year, but Phantom Soldiers is something else. This Philippines-shot entry from the infamous Silver Star Film Company is a hyper-violent comic book of sorts that features a rogue squadron, dressed in menacing, head-to-toe black outfits and gas masks massacring innocent Vietnamese villages. When an U.S. Green Beret goes missing in the area and is believed captured, his brother Dan Custer (Max Thayer) arrives by plane and heads in the dark jungles to rescue him, and murder about 200 soldiers for good measure. Let's be clear, here: like most Silver Star releases, Phantom Soldiers is not a good movie, and there are few scenes of unintentional hilarity, but for all out carnage you can't beat this film, which has some of the most amazing no-budget battle sequences I've ever seen. Beginning with a brutal village raid with exploding huts, piles of bodies (including women and children) and rudimentary squibs, the film continues to plot out lengthy 10+ minute gunfire exchanges with what must be hundreds of extras falling over sandbags, tumbling down hills or flying through the air like they've escaped from an Enzo Castellari film. Max Thayer puts on the most Kevin McCarthiest expressions he can muster as he mows down row upon row of enemies to learn the soldiers' secret. As opposed to Blood Debts, the film moves along steadily and Thayer isn't too bad, but the sight of Thayer screaming "sons of bitches!" in rage from behind a helicopter-mounted machine gun as the camera swoops in for a close up of thousands of spent shell casings is what you'll remember.


Carnival of Sinners (1943)
At the same time that Jacques Tourneur was shooting The Cat People (1943) for Val Lewton in America, his father, cinema legend Maurice Tourneur, was busy in France making this exquisitely shadowy twist on both Faust and The Monkey's Paw. Pierre Fresnay plays an unsuccessful, lonely painter who purchases a severed human hand that, the seller promises, will make his dreams come true. At first, Pierre revels in his newfound success and the female attention that comes with it, but after a visit from the devil himself--more of an accountant in this incarnation--he learns he must dispose of the hand before he dies to escape Satan's clutches. As fine a piece of visually dazzling grotesquery as you're likely to see, this one wraps up with a poignant finale as the devil puts the painter on trial, forcing him to face the other tragic owners of the hand. Aside from the work of Lewton and a handful of other filmmakers, Hollywood horror was stagnating in the 1940s, which is another reason why this flight of Gothic fancy is so much fun.


Man on the Roof (1976)
Martin Beck is one of Scandinavia's most famous fictional characters, a downtrodden detective with the Stockholm Homicide Squad who appeared in 10 books released in the 1960s and '70s. Beck made his initial leap to he big screen, as portrayed by Walter Matthau in Stuart Rosenberg’s underrated Hollywood police procedural The Laughing Policeman (1973), albeit with a different name. but it wasn't until 1976 that director Bo Widerberg brought Beck back to his Swedish origins with the thrilling Man on the Roof, which is still considered one of the country's most accomplished films. In this film, Beck’s investigation of a police officer’s murder leads him to a rooftop raid on a sniper picking off cops. Obviously inspired by The French Connection (1971), but with a deeper sense of paranoia and bleakness mirrored in the chilly Swedish settings, it's a film that dishes out violence in brief flashes of brutality. Though relatively unknown outside of Europe, Man on the Roof is sure to please fans of gritty 1970s Hollywood crime films.


Shoot (1976)
This testosterone-soaked Canadian co-production was one of the most devastating films I saw this year, a pointed rebuke of gun culture that still remains a favourite of hunters and firearms collectors alike (if my e-mail inbox is any indication, at least). It's surely because the tightly-wound story tends to outweigh the politics, in which a group of guys (including Cliff Robertson, Ernest Borgnine, Henry Silva) are out for a weekend of hunting and spot another, similar group which, for unexplainable reasons, they confront in a tense stand-off. When a gunshot goes off, all hell breaks lose in a flurry of bullets, leaving one of their men shot dead. When Cliff Robertson leads his friends away to try to figure out what to do, the film lurches into paranoid thriller territory, as they try to second guess the other party and run reconnaissance missions to see if revenge is in the cards. Stocked with veteran character actors and featuring a spectacular twist ending that even caught me off guard, this is about as tough as films get.


The Organization (1971)
Virgil Tibbs is back in what has easily become my favourite of the three films starring Sidney Poitier as the unflappable cop. Leaving behind the heavy-handed moralism that Norman Jewison brought to In The Heat of the Night (1967) and the relative tedium of They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970), reliable TV director Don Medford cuts straight to the pulp action in the oft-forgotten third entry as Tibbs is assigned to solve the murder of a business exec killed during an office building break-in. He's soon contacted by a group of well-meaning Black Panther-esque revolutionaries who admit their only crime was to break in to the office, a mob front, to grab $4 million in heroin to keep it off the streets. Tibbs has to walk a fine line between busting the organization and protecting the nieghbourhood crusaders (including Raul Julia and Ron "Superfly" O'Neal) as the mob begins to track down their stolen shipment. Released within a few months of Shaft (1971), The Organization is a tight, tense urban crime drama with notable location shooting and above-average performances that definitively connects Tibbs to the blaxploitation boom that was poised to explode in the '70s.

3 comments:

Ivan said...

Oh wow, "Shoot" sounds great! That's one of those flicks I say, "How come I never heard of that before?"

Can't wait to see it; thanks!
--Ivan

Robert M. Lindsey said...

This is about the 6th time I've read about Miami Connection in just a few months. Seems I must seek it out.

Moonrunners and The Nickel Ride look perfect.

Ned Merrill said...

Big fan of THE NICKEL RIDE, which I wrote about a few years back here:

http://knifeinthehead.blogspot.com/2009/04/nickel-ride-1974-robert-mulligan.html

I really need to see SHOOT, PRETTY MAIDS, and MAN ON THE ROOF.

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