Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Samuel B. Prime ""

Friday, December 13, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Samuel B. Prime

Samuel B. Prime is a film programmer, lost cinema historian, and contributor to Slant Magazine / The House Next Door. His all-time favorite Sonny Chiba movie, WOLFGUY: ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE (1975), features Chiba as a werewolf detective tracking down a murderous, invisible ghost-tiger.
LIONS LOVE (... AND LIES) (Agnes Varda, 1970)
A Pennsylvanian financier gave Agnes Varda $200,000 to make a feature film - and LIONS LOVE was the magnificent result. A brand new restoration of this title played at LACMA shortly after I returned to LA and, at the urging of a UW-Madison friend, I went to see it with high expectations. I was in awe of its every second, especially its freewheeling, funny, improvisatory nature and its portraiture of late 60s Los Angeles. The loose story is as follows: Shirley Clarke comes to LA to direct a big, fancy studio picture, but the deal goes south shortly after her arrival. While in LA, Clarke stays with Warhol's Viva, Jerry Ragni, and James Rado. The highlights of the movie are their collective antics and wordplay, a constant romp that stems from the film's own open-ended nature. It is a filmmaker (Varda) working more or less w/o any restriction. A three-way tie with EXPOSED (1983) and THE MODERNS (1988) for the best film that I saw all year.

WITCH HUNT (Paul Schrader, 1994)
Paul Schrader directed this certifiably insane, highly allegorical pastel noir for HBO. Dennis Hopper is a private dick named H.P. Lovecraft in an alternate universe 1950s LA, one in which magic (and its licensed/unlicensed practice) is meant to stand in for communism/the red scare. Seriously. At one crucial point, Dennis Hopper barfs up a raven at Julian Sands' scumbag of a character. See it.

LE JOLI MAI (Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme, 1963)
Icarus Films, bless them, re-released LE JOLI MAI in the Fall of 2013. I kept missing it. At Telluride, in Austin, but finally caught the honest-to-goodness last show in Los Angeles at Cinefamily. Definitely worth the wait. Marker and Lhomme have eyes for detail that allow them to illustrate Paris on both a macrocosmic and microcosmic level. They show the city with warts and all, but the film nonetheless manifests as a reticent love letter to a place with its share of quirks.

EXPOSED (James Toback, 1983)
James Toback's masterpiece is the one movie on this list that gives me chills just to think about. Underscored by the incomparable talent of Nouvelle Vague composer Georges Delerue, Toback tells the story of a girl, Elizabeth Carlson (Nastassja Kinski), who yearns for more than her small hometown and liberal arts education can offer. She moves to New York City in search of she knows not what and within minutes, the city begins to devour her. Much like Toback, Carlson has an unconscious predisposition towards risk, which leads her to a disturbing proximity with the man responsible for the rather explosive opening sequence, a terrorist named Rivas (Harvey Keitel). The story is one of self-discovery and, in particular, sexual self-discovery (which is best expressed in an impromptu dance scene that is the movie's most memorable signature). I wrote about this film once before for Rupert's Underrated Dramas series, but will never write about it enough. Spencer Parsons originally turned me on to EXPOSED and ever since then, I've been seeing all of Toback's films (2 to go!), docs on him, and reading anything I can get my hands on. *Bonus: Toback shares an unbelievable story about EXPOSED's financing in this video.*

THE MODERNS (Alan Rudolph, 1988)
1920s Paris as seen through Rudolph's lens of 1980s Los Angeles, or maybe vice versa. Either way, I pursued this film after hearing Ignatiy Vishnevetsky speak so enthusiastically about it on an episode of Peter Labuza's The Cinephiliacs. THE MODERNS is a romantic abstraction of history, a film that freely elides past with present towards its allegorical end: the writers and artists of Paris are equivalent in some way to the punks and new wavers of then Los Angeles. An incredible cast, delicately directed, the film sometimes elegantly fades from a still black-and-white still into full-motion color, evoking a kind of completely cinematic time travel, equally subtle and masterful.

THE HARD WAY (John Badham, 1991)
I might change my mind later on, but right now this is my candidate for the best buddy cop movie ever made. James Woods is a hard-boiled cop, Michael J. Fox is a Hollywood golden boy, and the rest is pure entertainment.

THE PUNISHER (Mark Goldblatt, 1989)
Forget PUNISHER: WAR ZONE and all other versions. Mark Goldblatt made an all-out, go-for-broke 80s action masterpiece. Dolph Lundgren is Frank Castle. He does battle with scuba-ninjas. Poisoned champagne. A bus chase scene. A pizza delivery man gets his ass beat (and his pizza stolen). These are a few of the pleasures of Goldblatt's THE PUNISHER. Watch it immediately.

THE GOLDEN BAT (Hajime Sato, 1966)
An evil bipedal donkey named Nazo gestures with his claw hand from inside his squid-shaped castle. In a show of contempt for the human race, he arranges for planet Icarus to collide with Earth, wiping out the entire human race. Only The Golden Bat can defeat him, once he is properly summoned from the lost city of Atlantis by a well-meaning group of scientists led by the incomparable Sonny Chiba. This movie is bonkers from start to finish. The Golden Bat is some kind of superhero, but you wouldn't know it from hearing the maniacal laughter that announces his presence or by seeing his expressionless, nightmare-inducing skeleton face. Cheap, wacky fun!

THE FOURTH MAN (Paul Verhoeven, 1983)
Boasts the formal precision of Kubrick and Polanski's best and most haunting works, replete with religious symbolism, and obvious, yet powerfully resonant allegorical imagery connected to sex. This is the Verhoeven film that made the international critics sit up and take notice. Some may call it heavy-handed, but those people can take a long walk off a short pier. Verhoeven forever.

THE TERMINAL MAN (Mike Hodges, 1974)
Had the rare chance to see Mike Hodges' own 35mm print and a previously unseen director's cut version of this film at the most recent Telluride Film Festival. Buck Henry presented the film as an underseen masterpiece that bit the bullet in its first test screening by way of a horrible fluke (essentially a stubborn projectionist refusing to correct a sync error). I have to say, this film is completely incredible. Segal gives a haunting, restrained performance as a man who suffers from seizures that send him into an uncontrollable rage. He also presciently fears that machines are competing with and may one day successfully overtake mankind. The film is composed with deft seriousness, peppered with subtly detailed jokes placed for keen viewers (ex. an officer inspects a hospital room + fixes his hair in the mirror). When Segal finally snaps, the ensuing moments are drawn out in blissful, arresting slow motion, beginning with his eyes opening wide towards a kind of automatic 'seek and destroy' impulse. Some of the very best sci-fi I've seen in years.


Anonymous said...

Samuel, have you seen the theatrical version of TERMINAL MAN? Just wondering if there is much difference. I saw it a few years ago on 35mm, and, while interesting, can't say it impressed me all that much.

S.B. Prime said...

I haven't seen the theatrical version. To my knowledge, the central difference is that Hodges' cut omits a scene where a doctor offers an explanation to Segal's seizures. In the version I saw, this remains a mystery. Sounds minor, but I wager it makes a big difference in one's initial impression of the film.