Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Thomas Duke ""

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Thomas Duke

Thomas Duke writes for his blog Cinema Gonzo ( as well as for Planet Fury (, and you can follow him at Twitter (@cinemagonzo)


Hollywood Cop (1987, dir-Amir Shervan)
If you thought Shervan’s insane buddy cop piece of foolishness Samurai Cop was an isolated incident, here is essentially the precursor to that movie. A woman’s goat loving son is kidnapped by a gang and held for ransom, so she enlists the aid of a cop-on-the-edge named Turkey and his wisecracking partner Jaguar (played by real people and not actual animals). Captain Cameron Mitchell is sick of having to explain Turkey’s antics to the mayor, even developing a Tums dependency as a result, so he demands that Turkey place his badge in his desk drawer in no uncertain terms (and by that I mean an F-bomb tirade). This, of course, forces the pair to go rogue.

Maybe more subtle in its insane stupidity than Samurai Cop, if such a hair could be split, but this is still a delightful combination of awkward no-budget action trash, inexplicable touches (my favorite being the scenes where the kid convinces a dog to help him escape), and dialogue so dumb it somehow transforms into surreal wit. For example, a guy takes a criminal hostage with a machete, and Turkey tries to negotiate with him by saying “I know this guy just fucked your wife, but he’s our prisoner now…the law’s gonna punish him!” Or this exchange when Turkey finds out he’s teaming with a new partner he doesn’t care for:

Turkey: Shit! I feel like a guy that’s been shipwrecked on an island with his wife!

New partner: You don’t have a wife.

Turkey: Well…your wife then!

Death Shadows (1986, dir-Hideo Gosha)
Basically, a woman is forced to become an assassin for an underground police force, taking the place of her estranged father who was forced to become an assassin in lieu of being sentenced to death. Armed with a ribbon (?!?), she has to hunt down and kill the evil and crazy gangster wife O-Ren (also the name of Lucy Liu’s character in Kill Bill, which might be a coincidence), who wears a black brick pattern kimono and purple eyeliner and lives in a house filled with traps. It’s a totally unique combination of 60’s comic book camp (albeit 80’s tinged) and somber existential dread, like Seijun Suzuki doing a remake of Lady Snowblood. An amazing and unique period yakuza movie that somehow never dips into silliness (except maybe when it intermittently cuts to one of the two female leads dancing amidst strobe lights and fog, although I think that stuff is awesome). This one is available on Hulu, and Gosha also did Three Outlaw Samurai, another highly recommended movie that I saw for the first time this year.

Who’s Minding the Store? (1963, dir-Frank Tashlin)
Jerry Lewis plays a hapless department store employee who is forced into progressively worse jobs, each new retail task another ring of Dante’s retail inferno. If one of the best attributes of comedy is allowing us to laugh at everyday stresses, here is a movie that turns the horrors of working retail (like having to deal with idiot customers making unreasonable demands) into a parade of delightful hilarity. Take, for example, the woman who demands that Jerry find a way to get an extremely heavy T.V. twenty feet in the air, since she wants to recreate her home viewing conditions before she makes a purchase, and she watches T.V. in bed with the set embedded in the ceiling for some unholy reason. Poor Jerry has to balance a surf board on a ladder and go up there and move the set to her exact specifications, putting his life in danger in the process. This basically takes the slapstick genius of the Tashlin/Lewis films and boils them down to their essence by eschewing plot entirely, like a series of W.C. Fields shorts tied together. My favorite Jerry Lewis movie I’ve seen so far (Geisha Boy is a close second, and another one I saw this year for the first time).

Deathtrap (1982, dir-Sidney Lumet)
A murder mystery writer (Michael Caine) invites a former student and aspiring murder mystery writer (Christopher Reeve) to his house so that Caine can read over Reeve’s first play and give him notes, but Caine may have an ulterior motive up his sleeve. That’s the catalyst for a fairly ingenious and amusing thriller based on the play by Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby). This is the rare murder mystery that is able to use humor to charm and distract the viewer from figuring out the twists without it ever turning into an out-and-out comedy, and Caine and Reeve are fantastic. Like several other Lumet films, this is basically a setbound play that manages to never feel stagey or uncinematic. A must see for any murder mystery fan.

The Lovers on the Bridge (1991, dir-Leos Carax)
Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant are amazing in this love story about two homeless people who live near a bridge, a firebreather and a young runaway painter who is slowly becoming blind. As unhollywood a love story as you can get, this shows the difficulty and horror of life as a homeless person, but their love manages to slowly bloom like a beautiful flower growing in a landfill. Normally people pay good money for poetry of that caliber, but you can have that one for free folks.

Broken Angel (1988, dir-Richard T. Heffron)
William Shatner is father with two major problems. For starters, the sweaters he wears are far beyond even Cosby sweaters, like the sweater a Bill Cosby knockoff would wear on Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood. Secondly, his daughter (Erika Eleniak, she of her amazing eyebrows and Under Siege pseudo-fame) has been kidnapped by a Los Angeles gang…or has she? Captain Kirk is forced to scour streets of urban decay for clues to his daughter’s whereabouts. This is a supremely dated and hilariously na├»ve portrait of 80’s L.A. gang culture that never ceases to amuse and delight.

Letter Never Sent (1960, dir-Mikhail Kalatozov)
A team of geologists are sent to locate a diamond mine in Siberia, but they become trapped in a forest fire in the process. This is easily one of the best survival movies I’ve ever seen (if not the best), and the amazing cinematography manages to truly place the viewer inside of a raging inferno while also simultaneously conveying the emotional states of the characters (you’ll have to watch it for that to kinda make sense). Like Kalatozov’s later film I Am Cuba, this has more than a few breathtaking shots that will have you questioning how they ever could have gotten them. Maybe they just kept switching out cameraman after they would catch fire. It’s the only reasonable explanation I can come up with.

Busting (1974, dir-Peter Hyams)
Elliot Gould and Robert Blake play two L.A. vice cops who don’t exactly play by the rules, doing whatever is necessary to bring down a gangster who’s corruption seems to hold sway over the entire city. Gould is cast against type as the hothead, while Blake is the nicer, more reserved one, and the pair are ultimately seeking justice in a corrupt town, giving it more of an offbeat noir feel than the formula buddy cop movie it might sound like. Darkly humorous but still sleazy and cynical, and oh-so 70’s. Look fast for Sid Haig, and this also may be the only movie where Antonio Fargas doesn’t play a pimp.

La Main du Diable (1943, dir-Maurice Tourneur)
Here’s a faustian variation of the oft-told “Hands of Orlac” tale, although it’s technically an adaptation of a short story titled “The Enchanted Hand”. An unsuccessful painter makes a deal with the devil to buy a magic hand that replaces one of his own. The catch is that he has to sell the hand before he dies, otherwise his soul goes to the devil. Folks, just remember…the devil is like a casino; the house always wins. A wonderfully atmospheric gothic horror film that combines the Universal horror style with a distinct Jean Cocteau influence, particularly with the cool special effects and a dinner scene where former owners of the hand gather, wearing creepy masks and recanting stories of how they each acquired the hand, shown via expressionistic flashbacks. This would make a great double feature with Mad Love (1935), the classic MGM adaptation of Orlac starring Peter Lorre. Also, Maurice is Jacques Tourneur’s father, who made Cat People the same year, if that means anything to you.

Catch the Heat (1987, dir-Joel Silberg)
Jason Hannibal (Rod Steiger) is a talent scout that moonlights as an evil drug lord, and he has a brilliant plan to smuggle drugs inside of silicone breast implants. I’ve always maintained that fake tits are a bad idea, but now I may have to rethink my position. Anyway, karate cop Checkers Goldberg (!), played by the Vietnamese Tiana Alexander, the only female who was trained by Bruce Lee, is sent undercover as professional actress and dragonlady Cinderella Poo (!). You see, Hannibal will be seduced by the thespian talents of a ludicrous and jaw dropping racial stereotype long enough to be distracted from the fact that she’s actually there to infiltrate and stop his sophisticated drug tits plan. Then there’s her partner Waldo Tarr, who collects information by sticking his gun in the crotch of a criminal and saying “give me a name or I’ll give you a vagina!” You can’t always play by the rules folks.

If this sounds like a spoof precursor to National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, believe you me when I say that the movie is taking itself relatively serious. Steiger oscillates between deeply saddened shame for having to play the role and deeply furious shame for having to play the role. Tiana herself is a ridiculous force of nature, determined to entertain the crowd and showcase her abilities in foot stomping camp glory, like a kung fu Pia Zadora. Director Silberg was responsible for Breakin’ and Lambada (not at the same time; you’d pull a hammy or something), and this movie does have a Cannon-esque feel, but is somehow even more ridiculous and inexplicable than even the most lunatic Cannon action flicks. Take, for example, the scene where Checkers is so angry she resorts to using a flying karate kick to kick down a door to a gym rather than simply turning the knob and opening it. She’s not after any criminals mind you; that’s just the movie’s way of showing us that she’s frustrated. There is also the incongruous camp that comes with the fact that the movie stars an Asian female action hero, yet the script was written by her husband and hamfistedly employs sexist and racist exploitation elements. So, my point is, just watch it you dumbass.

Honorable Mention:

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990, dir-Pedro Almodovar)
Angst (1983, dir-Gerald Kargl)
Intimidation (1960, dir-Koreyoshi Kurahara)
Freeway Maniac (1989, dir-Paul Winters)
Legend of the Drunken Tiger (1990, dir-Baoshan Dai)
Scream for Help (1984, dir-Michael Winner)
The Young Rebels (1980, dir-Keisuke Kinoshita)
Violence and Flesh (1981, dir-Alfredo Sternheim)
The Evictors (1979, dir-Charles B. Pierce)
Sorority House Party (1992, dir-David Michael Latt)


SteveQ said...

I had a film fest with "Samurai Cop," "Maniac Cop," "Psycho Cop," "Zombie Cop" and a few others... but I didn't even know "Hollywood Cop" existed!

"Deathtrap" was the movie that made my friend Scott say, "You are NEVER choosing which film we see again!" I liked it, though I thought it was stagey.

Thomas Duke said...

Don't forget Psycho Cop II!

And holy shit, that 2nd Busting poster is amazing.

deadlydolls said...

Haven't seen any! Now must see Death Trap!

Ivan said...

Hey, Busting is available on Nflix Streaming! I'm there! Thanks for the recommendation!