Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Freeman Williams ""

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Freeman Williams

Freeman Williams began scuffing up the Internet back in the 90s, when he ran a site called The Bad Movie Report (, Since his only produced screenplay was an unmitigated disaster, he felt it was a subject on which he could hold forth. Eventually he found that subject too limiting, and these days blogs about the movies he watches at Yes, I Know ( He has scripted three educational software games and is working on a fourth, and is an award-winning videographer for Stafford Municipal TV. He loves KitKat bars and his amazingly stinky pug, Mavis.
Twitter: @drfreex
Attack of the 50 Foot DVD!

2012 was the year I decided if I was going to call myself a "movie buff", I had better start acting like it. There were great, gaping holes in my education I am still trying to fill, and I am fortunate there are sources like The Criterion Collection, Warner Archive, Kino-Lorber and Netflix Instant to aid in my quest.

THE 300 SPARTANS (1962)
Zack Snyder's 300 was a pretty, history-deficient fantasy; Rudolph Maté's historical drama starts off by acknowledging the Athenian Fleet, which immediately put it in my good graces. Richard Egan is a fine King Leonidas, and Ralph Richardson does his best to steal the show as Themistocles. Still not totally accurate, but with a much better grip on the period. (DVD)

The term "magical" is probably over-used, but Marcel Camus' transplanting of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice into the kaleidoscopic world of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival earns it. This is a movie in love with life, with a soundtrack that grabs your dance gland and demands you exercise it. (DVD)

A movie so controversial, it seems constantly hidden, like a lunatic uncle locked in the attic. Fortunately, an almost-completely restored Region 2 DVD from the British Film Institute has allowed a new audience to finally experience it, myself included. Ken Russell's version of Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudon is indeed a dangerous movie - not for its explicit content, but its politics. The theme of religion turned into a weapon for political gain was never more relevant, and Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave are fantastic. Thank God for my region-free player! (R2 DVD)

THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972) Luis Buñuel's absurdist epic about a group of horrible people doing horrible things while attempting to sit down to a meal that never quite happens is like living inside an extended Monty Python sketch with no punchline. Dreamlike (sometimes literally so), engrossing and highly entertaining. (Netflix)

Georges Franju and Edith Scob come together to craft a haunting medical horror story. Scob's ethereal, masked accident victim can only use her expressive eyes and body language to convey her agony as her surgeon father kidnaps and mutilates girl after girl attempting to restore her face. Decent people committing atrocities is the real horror here, but a face removal done in extended takes apparently had them swooning in the aisles, back in the day. Still packs quite a punch today. (DVD)

Stanley Kubrick's first feature, notoriously disowned by the director. It is very obviously a first feature, full to the brim with pretension, artifice, and technical errors. You can hear Kubrick the editor cursing Kubrick the cameraman when he has to hide a lack of coverage with out-of-place close-ups. It's nonetheless fascinating to watch Kubrick feel his way across this new landscape, and see the first glimmers of a genuine cinematic genius come to light. (Blu-Ray)

Speaking of seeing the first glimmers of greatness: watching this seminal moving picture grants rewards far beyond its 12 minute runtime. Seeing the first popular interation of the Western, complete with shootouts, amazing (for the time) special effects, and even a dude having shots fired at his feet to make him dance, is pretty remarkable. (YouTube)

It has been said that all great samurai movies are really anti-samurai movies. I'm not sure about that feeling, but you still won't find a more representative example than Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri. Told in harrowing flashback while a masterless samurai prepares to commit ritual suicide in a corrupt clan's compound, it is a tale that reveals everything wrong with bushido and its blind code. (DVD)

Warner Archive not only serves up important classic movies, it also brings to light oddities like this. Almost impossible to describe, this movie combines lavish musical numbers with absurd humor, and some risque bits slipped in under the beginning of the Hayes Code. It has a cast that would be the envy of any star-studded disaster flick: Jimmy Durante, Lupe Velez, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges (still tethered to Ted Healy), and even Mickey Mouse! A movie that absolutely could not be made today, if not for its far-ranging high-level cast, then for its utter lack of any reason to exist, except for trotting out its stars.(DVD, Warner Archive)

IKIRU (1952)
It is almost impossible to go wrong with any of Akira Kurosawa's movies, but this one is especially recommended if you are only familiar with his samurai flicks. Ikiru - literally, "to live" - is the tale of a lifelong bureaucrat, played by the versatile Takashi Shimura, who discovers he has terminal stomach cancer and searches desperately for something, anything that will allow him to either cram a wasted lifetime onto his remaining six months or, finally, something to make that life worthwhile. At times darkly comic, at others despairing, Kurosawa's humanist leanings were rarely more obvious or affecting. (DVD)

Andy Milligan's threadbare period pieces are a grueling chore to watch, but somehow I find myself thinking well of them afterward. Almost always set in 19th century England (but filmed in Staten Island), their ambition so far outstrips his means they become a sort of paean to ineptitude and hubris, yet you can generally find some extraordinary bits of genius hidden in the dross and 1970s hairstyles. Milligan is definitely not for all markets, but with a title like that, you have to admit you're at least tempted to seek it out. (DVD)

To watch Buster Keaton in action is to watch a superb athlete often take his life into his own hands and take our breath away while making us laugh. It comes as no surprise that Jackie Chan is a devoted fan. Sherlock Jr is a bit uneven, but once it gets moving in its second half, it becomes a non-stop thrill-ride of exciting stunts, visual puns and just plain hilarity that should make most modern comedies hang their heads in shame. (Netflix)

SOLARIS (1972)
Andrey Tarkovsky's film version of Stanislaw Lem's famous novel serves up a sort of anti-2001, presenting us with a messy, lived-in and not-terribly-well-cared-for future. Donatas Banionis plays a psychiatrist sent to an observation station orbiting the title planet, a planet covered by a plasmic ocean that is itself one huge, living organism. The ocean is somehow manifesting physical duplicates of people from the observers' past, and the psychiatrist finds himself trapped by his own regrets and sense of loss. A poignant rumination on what it is to be human, and how mankind is fated to always screw up first contacts. (Blu-ray)

As a card-carrying former hippie, it is unreal that I managed to go this long without seeing Richard Sarafian's Möbius strip of a movie. Barry Newman is Kowalski, who bets he can deliver a car from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours. Calling this "The Ultimate Car Chase Movie" is doing it a disservice, as it becomes an existential trip traveling the back roads of Kowalski's life while he defies the law and becomes "The Last American Hero" by default. I recommend the UK version, which contains a worthwhile scene featuring Charlotte Rampling as the most desirous spirit of Death until Neil Gaiman created his version in the Sandman comics. (Blu-ray)

While not one of Fritz Lang's most suspenseful outings, any Lang movie is worthwhile, and this slice of newspaper noir has a top-notch cast to make the time speed by. Vincent Price is the inexperienced news mogul making his subordinates vie for a new top-level position by attempting the crack the case of The Lipstick Killer, a serial murderer targeting single women. Dana Andrews is the world-weary newscaster returning to his old police beat, George Sanders is his usual refined heel, and the always welcome Ida Lupino as a quick-witted and sharp-tongued society reporter. Watching Lang invent character profiling on the fly is half the fun. (DVD, Warner Archive)

Z (1969)
Costa-Gravas, using the real-life assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambakis as the basis of this political thriller, creates a compelling, gripping movie out of, basically, a lot of scenes of people sitting in rooms talking. Described by a friend as "The best movie I've ever seen that pissed me off," Z remains particularly potent to this day. (DVD)

1 comment:

Jake Cole said...

While the City Sleeps is excellent. Vies with The Big Heat as my favorite of the (admittedly few) American Lang films.