Rupert Pupkin Speaks: February 2013 ""

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Rockie Juarez

Rockie Juarez writes for Isle of Cinema(www.isleofcinema.com) and works at the great Vulcan Video in Austin, Texas. Vulcan has become the hub of a new series on Ain't It Cool News called "The Vulcan Vault" where they highlight an obscure movie from the store:
#1: THE LONG SHOT(1986)
http://www.aintitcool.com/node/60926

#2 TWICE UPON A TIME(1983)
http://www.aintitcool.com/node/61051

Rockie can be found on twitter @RockieWarAntz

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Comin' At Ya! (1981) - This is a film that plays by old school spaghetti western rules. Much like the Great Silence or many others in the genre before it, a man is done wrong and he's going to slay, with extreme prejudice, the guilty parties at all cost. The main difference in this crazy ride the entire film was shot for 3D. And they go out of their way to remind you at every single damn turn. Each scene pokes and prods your eyes with an 'in your face' gag giving the film's title two meanings: shit will come at you constantly in 3D and our protagonist is coming to kill ya! Gags include beans raining down on you, a pitchfork threatening to take your vision, a horse eating a watermelon(my favorite one)and the bat-shit crazy(pun intended)sequence of a bat attack where a group of kidnapped women are stuffed into a spiral staircase only to have a ton of bats scaring them to death. Did I mention the film is entertaining? Because it is. The well never runs dry on the 3D and you are seriously rooting for our hero to get his due. Seeking this on home video can be achieved but unfortunately it will not be in 3D. But who knows, the print I was a new stellar digital restoration and they may drop it on Blu-Ray they way it was meant to be seen. I highly recommend this unsung gem. Having never heard of it before hand, it floored me. And most importantly stuck with me.


Roger Corman's The Pit And The Pendulum (1961) - Ashamed to admit, I'm really bad with old school horror films. Meaning I haven't seen very many. So when this film was screening for one night only I jumped on it. It was my first time diving into the series of Vincent Price/Edgar Allen Poe films directed by Roger Corman and based on my reaction to it, it will not be the last. A slow burn with a spectacular finale, it's a classic in the truest sense of the word. Vincent Price plays Nicholas Medina, a wounded soul who is deeply affected by the loss of his wife. He and his brother in law do their best to get to the bottom of her mysterious death unearthing unknown horrors mainly stemming from Nicholas' past. You see, Nicolas had a Daddy with a rough job and as the layers peel away, so too does Vincent Price's mind! Just witnessing that is a true joy to behold and worth all your coins alone. Vincent with that lovely voice, slowly going bonkers deserves a hyperbole shower like no other. I'm purposfully not diving into much of the story too much because I'm afraid of ruining a great thing. The well timed twists and turns will keep a crooked grin on your face for the entire third act. Another highlight is the old school special effects used to drive the narrative forward, my favorite of which being the matte paintings! Horror fans if you've not seen this, please find it and soak up the greatness. It also might turn you on to more Roger Corman gems which in my experience is never a bad thing. Highly recommended.


Marwencol (2010) - A facinating documentary about a rowdy drunk who after a near death experience finds peace by recreating World War 2 events in his backyard using dolls. An oddity of a story. I heard whispers from critics back in 2010 but ultimately it left my memory until one day I was shelving movies at Vulcan Video(located in Austin,TX) and I was reminded of it once again. Mark Hogancamp was the kind of drunk that could not stop drinking once he started. A demon. The kind of drunk demon that would argue with complete strangers over nothing thereby ruining their evenings. Mark also had a thing for dressing up like a lady, which he kept to himself expect for times when he drank himself stupid. Well, one evening he tells a group of men about the Eddie Izzard within him. The group of men wait for Mark outside the bar and proceed to beat him within an inch of his life. He goes into a coma and is thought to never recover from his injuries especially the brain damage part. Against all odds he does recover only to have some remarkable things happen to him. He finds a job at a local bar and although the bar is obviously surrounded by liquor, Mark NEVER partakes. In fact he's over liquor entirely. He also starts to create a fake town in his a backyard called Marwencol, where the WW2 With Dolls journey begins. He photographs the false moments, breathing new life into his world as well as these seemingly inanimate objects. Things get nuttier as his photos make the rounds into the art community and are deemed as high art! An odd journey from start to finish, Marwencol is a slept on documentary that is worth a visit. Mainly so you can visit the town of Marwencol, a town of so many emotions you might make it real in your mind as I did.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Paul Malleck

Paul "Dormarth" Malleck is a dude you should know. Become a regular reader of Dormarth's Horror Review!
Here's his Discoveries List from last year:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2012/01/dormarthpaul-mallecks-favorite-films.html
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THE HALLOWEEN TREE d. Mario Piluso, w/ Ray Bradbury 1993.
The fantastic Cartoon Network t.v. movie pulls out all the stops!! I don't know how in hell it took me so long to see this flick. Absolutely fabulous!! The glee, intrigue and overall childlike curiosity will sweep you away off this stupid digital planet and back to a time where cartoons were drawn by hand, and not by that Pixar poop. Come along for a ride and learn of ancient Halloween customs and sail upon Ray Bradbury's narration into lala land. One of my daughters favorite films!!


THE SECRET OF THE LOCH d. Milton Rosmer 1934.
A top notch fantasy monster comedy for the whole family. A kookoo professor sets out to prove the existence of Nessie despite everyone around him being poser ass skeptics. Hilarity and screaming matches follow most of the film as the battle to win the minds of the town ensue. And after a fantastic underwater quest with brilliant photography the beast is spotted and the town of non believers shut there mouths for good!!


THE LAST DINOSAUR, d. Alexander Grasshoff, 1977.
Late entry dinosaur horror/fantasy with a big game hunter meathead trapped in a prehistoric pocket of modern earth. Stalked by the very game he hunted and surrounded by prehistoric man. What a breath of fresh air to run upon a dino-film in the late seventies chock full of claymation and kindred heartfelt magic. Another nail in the coffin of CGI!!


4D MAN. d, Erwin S. Yeaworth Jr. 1959.
Two brothers discover the 4th dimension and fight over a woman. Draining the life out of others and fighting the world while passing through walls and killing people. Has science gone too far? What perils can a love torn heart drive a man to madness? Awesome effects and a fast paced thrill into the macabre while questioning science and morality!!



THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, d. Guillermo Del Toro, 2001.
Before Del Toro became famous for the films Blade 2 and CGI Labrinth, he trekked subtler grounds with The Devil's Backbone and Cronos. It's a beautiful and dark ghost story, but not necessarily a horror film either. The characters are very developed and so so interesting, especially the broad missing a leg. Proving again, the poorer the director the better the product.


BLACK RAIN, d. Shohei Imamura. 1989.
Stark realism and brutal honesty. The H-bomb, what a fucking discrace. Following the aftermath of Hiroshima through the eyes of grieving families you start to realize the true lasting effect of war. Every human on the planet needs to sit down and watch this while burning the American flag. We only learn from our past when we care about history!!


THE JAWS OF SATAN, d. Bob Claver. 1981.
A priest battles Satan incarnate in a snake in the filthy dirty south. The same bible belt where Jesus zealots dance with snakes?? The priest bumbles everything including his faith and his sanity. I also hate snakes and religion so this one scared the hell outta me.


INVISIBLE AGENT, d. Edwin L. Marin. 1942.
Another sequel to the Invisible Man, but this one is the best. This time he's an agent infiltrating the Nazi's thus making it Nazisploitation. So fun, but so racist too. There's a lot of anti-asian shit in the film which makes no sense. I am a sucker for Nazi horror, and this one is an old motherfucker.


MIAMI CONNECTION, d. Y.K. Kim, Woo-sang Park. 1987.
Overlooked gem in the late 80's comes back with a punch in modern times to teach us what is important in life in our times of soul less digital sterile lives. A rock band with the most positive lyrics in history comprising of many a race becomes a true family and takes on drug tycoons and ninjas with martial arts. Families are reunited, independent restaurants are supported and above all else, true genuine heart bleeds through the film and touches your darkest hatred.



CAZADOR DE DEMONIOS, d. Gilberto de Anda. 1983.
With no gringo ass subtitles this Mexican blasphemy spits in the face of God with the crispest of Modelo's. From what I get as a gringo a child is stillborn into blasphemy as a priest waves a pediphile finger. This child is a half beast werewolf and reaks havoc until some asshole kills him. This is my epitome of Mexican horror, so fucking dark, so fucking fun and so opposite of the Catholic stranglehold on their country!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Jeremy Richey

Jeremy Richey, the proprietor of the fantastic film blog Moon In The Gutter(and the Jean Rollin tribute site Fascination), provided today's guest list. If you're not already reading Jeremy's stuff, I have to recommend you check it out. Now.
Jeremy has done a previous Film Discoveries list here:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2012/01/jeremy-richeys-favorite-older-films.html
and an underrated horror films list here:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2010/10/guest-list-jeremy-richeyof-moon-in.html

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1. The Touch of Her Flesh (1967): Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, writer Heather Drain, I dove into the world of cult-filmmaker Michael Findlay in the late part of the year. I was already familiar with his wife Roberta’s work but had only read about his films. The Touch of Her Flesh was the first film in a trilogy by Findlay and it is a really amazing work…quite unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s available on disc from Something Weird paired with the other two films in the trilogy. All three are incredibly distinct, disturbing and quite brilliant.


2. Muhammad and Larry (1980): This documentary by The Maysles Brothers , chronicling the devastating boxing match between Ali and Holmes that all but destroyed the great Ali, is one of the most heartbreaking works I have ever seen. The 2009 edit screening on Netflix contains newer interviews that help put the original tragic fight in perspective. I cried for days after thinking about this work.


3. Outer Space (2000): Peter Tscherkassky’s short reimagining of Sidney J. Furie's 1982 feature THE ENTITY is one of the most terrifying things I have ever experience. Made up of manipulated footage from Furie’s work, Outer Space presents THE ENTITY from the demon’s point of view and it really is a shattering experience. It is currently screening over at Fandor…watch it late at night with the lights out for full effect.


4. Zombie High (1987): I had always avoided this mid-eighties film starring one of my favorite actors, Virginia Madsen, because I thought it was just going to be an unwatchable cheese-fest but I was really pleased to find this to be a really smart, and quite funny, satirical stab at the rising ‘Reagan Youth’ of the eighties. Ron Link’s film, screening at Netflix, is terrific and Madsen’s work is, as usual, really special.


5. Hausu (1977): I am not sure what to say about this amazing masterpiece, out on Criterion, from filmmaker Nobuhiko Ôbayashi except where have you been all of my life. I loved every frame of this film.


6. Superstar in a Housedress (2004): Craig Highberger’s fascinating look at legendary Jackie Curtis is one of the most insightful and moving documentaries I have seen is sometime. It comes as a free bonus with Highberger’s book of the same title and both are a must.


7. Thirst (1979): I went into this great late seventies Australian vampire film cold over at Fandor but what a pleasant surprise it turned out to be. Rod Hardy’s film is a real treat featuring intelligent direction, a great script and terrific performances. Synapse has a special edition disc out which I need to pick up.


8. Bel Ami (1976): Loved, loved, loved this stylish adult offering from the great Swedish cinematographer and filmmaker Mac Ahlberg starring the lovely duo of Marie Forsa and Christa Linder, as well Harry Reems, seen here at his coolest. Available from the great folks over at Distribpix!


9. Cold Comfort Farm (1995): John Schlesinger’s warm and witty film stands as a reminder as to just how incredible Kate Beckinsale can be when given decent material. This is one of the most charming and well-done British films of the nineties and it is streaming at Netflix as well.


10. Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon (2008): Jeffrey Schwartz’s moving look at the truly remarkable life of Jack Wrangler is a stunning work that is also streaming at Netflix. It’s a wonderfully probing, honest and touching film on a really fascinating man. 
http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Wrangler_Anatomy_of_an_Icon/70105016?trkid=2361637

Monday, February 25, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Jon Abrams

Jon Abrams is a New York-based writer, cartoonist, and committed cinemaniac who has written for television, comics, and various internet venues, most often these days on Daily Grindhouse. The rest of his work and credits can be found at his personal website, Demon’s Resume. You can contact him on Twitter, as @jonnyabomb.



THE BIG GUNDOWN (1966)
Sergio Sollima is only the third most famous of all the Sergios who made Westerns in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s. He is maybe best known for his terrific crime films (including REVOLVER and VIOLENT CITY – see those pronto, by the way). Sollima only made three Westerns, but they are more than enough to place him amongst the ranks of Leone and Corbucci.

In THE BIG GUNDOWN and its sort-of-sequel RUN, MAN, RUN!, Cuban-born Tomás Milián plays the crafty, unruly bandit Cuchillo. In THE BIG GUNDOWN, Cuchillo spends the first several scenes entirely unseen, only discussed. He’s wanted for the rape and murder of a young girl, and it’s his bad luck that the lethal Jonathan Corbett is the mercenary hired to find and destroy him. Now I happened to have seen RUN, MAN, RUN! first, so I knew going in that Cuchillo may not be guilty of these crimes, but for most of THE BIG GUNDOWN, you assume he’s the bad guy, and that makes things complicated, because he’s so comical, funny and annoyingly likable.

THE BIG GUNDOWN is built around its marquee star, Lee Van Cleef, best known for his role as “Angel-Eyes” (THE BAD) in Leone’s THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY. This movie was made soon after that one. Van Cleef, as Jonathan Corbett, is playing a more heroic character here – but again, we can’t quite tell for sure. Corbett can be pretty nasty, as seen in the introductory scene where he calmly toys with three wanted men he’s got cornered – we just figure he’s better than the man he’s tracking. Once Corbett sets out on Cuchillo’s trail, the movie becomes the same kind of Tom & Jerry cat-and-mouse game Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach played out in THE GOOD THE BAD & THE UGLY – only even more satirical and way more sociopolitically engaged.

There is currently a version of THE BIG GUNDOWN up on YouTube, but the complete Italian cut of the film is what you want to see, and on the biggest screen possible, which is what I got to do in 2012 thanks to the “spaghetti” Western series at Film Forum. It’s one of the most straight-up entertaining movies I’ve ever seen. Ever! No exaggeration. Instantly one of my favorite movies of all time.


RAW MEAT (1973)
Before 2012, I had no idea this movie existed. I knew of director Gary Sherman’s lesser-known cult classicDEAD & BURIED, but I’d never even heard mention of RAW MEAT (known as DEATH LINE in the UK). It’s an important film in the cinematic lineage of carnivorous underground maniacs, which is one of those subgenres you don’t realize has a long history until you start digging. (Pun probably intended.) Also, if all you know of Donald Pleasance is the sad British guy from THE GREAT ESCAPE or HALLOWEEN, or even as a bad bald guy from the James Bond series,he will be a coarse, hilarious revelation here.

You can read more of my take on RAW MEAT over at Daily Grindhouse. 
http://dailygrindhouse.com/reviews/screenings-in-nyc-raw-meat-1972/


THE MAGIC BLADE (1976)
This is a tremendously enjoyable Shaw Brothers buddy-comedy horror kung-fu epic which centers around the pursuit of a magical artifact called the Peacock Dart. By the way, I am convinced “Peacock Dart” is a euphemism. I mean, if you want to see a Peacock Dart I can probably oblige you. But the Peacock Dart is beside the point anyway – this entire film is a delivery device for inventive costuming, absorbing set design, and delirious feats of kung fu madness and mayhem.

There’s so much to talk about when it comes to the wild characters who populate THE MAGIC BLADE, but I was particularly enamored by Devil Grandma – or Devil’s Granny as IMDb names her. Devil Grandma, she of the deranged cackle and the unenviable dentistry. Devil Grandma, who commands the Thunder Bullets and wields entire human beings like weapons. Devil Grandma, who I kind of wish had her own movie. I don’t even know if I’m describing this properly, by the way – watching this movie was like a car accident in which I was personally involved. It happened in a blur and I feel woozy and disoriented, yet happy to be alive.


THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)
I knew of this movie, both by its unforgettable title and poster and by its hushed reputation amongst horror connoisseurs. Most of those guys can never look at a trumpet the same way again. TCM Underground aired THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN recently, and Shout Factory has a Blu-Ray release on the way. A remake has been rumored, but that sounds to me to be a particularly unnecessary exercise.

What makes this movie so special is the uniquely 1970s feel, somewhere between a dated but oddly charming school documentary and a spooky, freaky proto-slasher. As I wrote about in more detail here, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN falls precisely between THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and HALLOWEEN (1978) chronologically, and in fact it feels exactly like the missing link between both. That means it’s a little more than just a fun and eerie midnight movie – it’s also culturally significant.


TANYA’S ISLAND (1980)
Here’s another movie I had no idea even existed before this year. I’m glad I know about it, but I’m not sure it needs to be here. Honestly, I kind of hated it. TANYA’S ISLANDis not any good, and it may even be a racist allegory. I can’t quite tell. It’s French, so that kind of ambiguity happens. But love it or hate it, I needed to know that this movie exists. If a movie is out there somewhere starring Vanity and a temperamental gorilla stranded on a desert island, I’d need to see it.

Vanity is my personal favorite Prince protégée, because she’s the craziest and because she’s the only one who was in BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON, NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE, 52 PICK-UP, and ACTION JACKSON. This was made before all that. She wasn’t even Vanity then. The credits list her as “D.D. Winters” (the same billing she took in 1980’s TERROR TRAIN). I’m positive that she’s not happy that people are still talking about this thing. I’m sorry. How can I not though? This is a movie about a love triangle between Vanity, a heavily-bearded male character named Lobo, and a gorilla named Blue. And the gorilla steals the woman away from the guy. And sexual congress is involved.

It’s friggin’ weird. The director made pornos before this. It shows. Maybe by the lax standards of porno directing, he could have been an auteur. However, some other crew members went on to more important things – cinematographer Mark Irwin shot most of David Cronenberg’s 1980s movies (and 2005’s THE RINGER, which I worked on!), and the gorilla suit was made by Rick Baker and Rob Bottin. All of which makes TANYA’S ISLAND a notable asterisk. A weird, perverted, possibly racist asterisk.


POSSESSION (1981)
Here’s a list of movies to contemplate: KRAMER VS. KRAMER. IN THE BEDROOM. THE HOURS. FAR FROM HEAVEN. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. A SEPARATION. BLUE VALENTINE. And POSSESSION. All of these films are linked by a common theme: marital decay and the dissolution of domestic relationships. Only one of them, however, features a gigantic hideous tentacle monster. Would you like to guess which one I’ve seen?

POSSESSION is a ferocious, incredibly disturbing movie from filmmaker Andrzej Żuławski, featuring awesome, raw, incredible performances from Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill. There is no other movie like it. I’ve never been married so I can’t relate to some of the feelings encapsulated in the film, but then again I’ve never had my wife stolen away by a gigantic hideous tentacle monster either, so I can only watch from a distance, mouth agape in horror and awe.

The geniuses – yes, geniuses – at Cinefamily brought this insane lost classic to my attention in 2012 and I wrote a little more about it here.
http://demonsresume.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/31-flavors-of-horror-possession-1981/


ROAD GAMES (1981)
Sometimes you can arrive at a filmography in the wrong order. When I wrote about LINK, I callously disregarded the work of Richard Franklin, because I didn’t know any better. LINK is a fun movie but hardly a great one, so I didn’t give the director much thought. I was an ignorant buffoon. Luckily, I was set straight by the irreplaceable Vern, who suggested I check out Richard Franklin’s earlier movies. Again in 2012, it was thanks to TCM Underground that I finally got that job done. ROAD GAMES is terrifically wicked fun. Franklin was a Hitchcock devotee, and ROAD GAMES is one of the all-time great Hitchcock homages. It’s like Steven Spielberg’s DUEL (Spielberg was also an acolyte of Hitchcock) cut with equal parts REAR WINDOW, PSYCHO, and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. It’s odd, funny, and spooky, the kind of movie you always hope to encounter late at night.

I wrote at greater length about ROAD GAMES here.
http://demonsresume.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/31-flavors-of-horror-road-games-1981/


PHENOMENA (1985)

Oh.

My.

GOD.

I have known for a long time that this movie existed, but for whatever reason I didn’t get around to it until this October, as part of my month-long horror-movie odyssey. More than maybe any other movie I saw in 2012, PHENOMENA was a revelation. Every time I try to describe the movie to a regular human person, they decide that I am making it up, and also that I am insane. Let me try recapping it and you can decide for yourself:

A teenage girl (Jennifer Connelly) who has the ability to commune with insects arrives at a Swiss boarding school, where a diminutive murderer has been killing girls at night. Jennifer teams up with a local bug expert (Donald Pleasence of course), his chimpanzee lab assistant, and a flesh fly in a box, in order to solve the murders.

Take a moment if you need to.

Let me also add that for much of the movie, you can’t be sure that the chimpanzee isn’t the murderer. You know what that means? It’s not just a vicious horror movie. It’s not just a demented fairy tale. It’s also a Hitchcockian wrong-man thriller starring an ape! It’s everything all at once, and it blew my goddamn mind. Great score and soundtrack too – courtesy of Goblin and many of the biggest names in ‘70s & ‘80s heavy metal. I may have seen PHENOMENA for the first (and second and third) time only recently, but it already feels like a movie I have known and loved forever.
http://demonsresume.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/31-flavors-of-horror-phenomena-1985/


BODY SLAM (1987)
I had definitely seen BODY SLAM before 2012 – it was one of those movies that I spent time with as a kid when it ran on HBO – but this year I watched it in a theater with Hal Needham himself. (I wrote a little more about that experience here.) Hal Needham is a legend – most famous for SMOKEY & THE BANDIT and THE CANNONBALL RUN, and for being one of the all-time great stuntmen in Hollywood history. This was the last theatrical feature he directed before moving into television and semi-retirement.

BODY SLAM isn’t much more than what it sounds like: The A-Team’s Dirk Benedict plays a sleazy promoter who moves into wrestling out of desperation and takes on THEY LIVE’s Rowdy Roddy Piper (nicely underplaying) as a client. In fact it’s maybe a little less than what you might want it to be. It’s slack on energy in some places and there is some dubious race-based humor in others. But it’s also a Hal Needham flick, which means it’s overall a boisterous, lusty, ingratiating comedy with a palpable enthusiasm for showmanship. It was a treat to rediscover it.


RELENTLESS (1989)
Bill Lustig makes low-budget genre pictures that in my opinion deserve even better than the beloved cult status they currently enjoy. He’s a B-movie auteur, not quite at the level of a Sam Fuller but not too far removed either. Just look at some of Lustig’s better-known films: MANIAC is a skin-crawling voyage into a nocturnal netherworld of violence and perversion. VIGILANTE is a prickly screed brimming with emphatic arguments concerning vengeance and justice. MANIAC COP is a weird, eerie, occasionally dreamy whodunit with a wild spin on the slasher film.

RELENTLESS gives you a little bit of all three in the same movie. It’s a two-hander, equal parts the story of the Judd Nelson character, an LAPD-reject-turned-serial-killer, and the story of the Leo Rossi character, a recently-promoted homicide detective pushed to the wall by this particular case. Both actors are solid in their roles, particularly Nelson, spookily playing against type as a wide-eyed psychopathic murderer with a genuinely disturbing backstory.

Still, neither lead actor feels exactly perfectly-cast. Leo Rossi fires off some great wisecracks with enthusiasm – he resembles a smirkier version of Robert Z’Dar (star of Lustig’s MANIAC COP). Yet when things get serious, he doesn’t quite adjust smoothly to the tone change. And while Judd Nelson convinces as a cruel and unhinged killer, he still can’t help but register as the petulant delinquent from the teen roles he’d only recently been playing. He’s not as threatening as he maybe should be. He’s no Joe Spinell, but to be fair, no one is.

The greatest pleasure of RELENTLESS is of course legendary character actor Robert Loggia, in his gravel-gargling prime, careening around the movie like a wrecking ball forged from spite and belligerent charisma. Robert Loggia may actually be one of the most underrated presences in movies. No one else makes toughness nearly as ingratiating. He makes RELENTLESS snap to attention when he’s onscreen, and makes the movie suffer when he isn’t. Lustig and screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson (who made FIELD OF DREAMS the same year!) provide Loggia with plenty of combustible dialogue to blow up. If you’re half the connoisseur of Robert Loggia character turns that I am, this movie is primo vintage, and if somehow you aren’t a fan yet, you’ll be one when it’s through.


HARDWARE (1990)
Richard Stanley is a drastically-underrated director and Sergio Leone enthusiast from South Africa whose work is ripe for rediscovery. I’d seen his 1992 film DUST DEVIL before, but not his debut feature, HARDWARE, which I happened to finally get around to during the same weekend I saw the new DREDD movie.

From where I’m sitting, there aren’t many movies as true to the post-punk 2000 AD aesthetic as these two movies, although my friends in the UK will definitely have more trustworthy opinions on the matter. HARDWARE is based on a short strip from 2000 AD, the same series from whence Judge Dredd arrived. It actually is derived from a Judge Dredd storyline!

This is the basic pitch: A trenchcoat-rocking soldier named Moses (Dylan McDermott) purchases the wreckage of a robot found in a post-apocalyptic desert, and brings it back to his sculptor/artist girlfriend Jill (Stacy Travis). While Mo is out, the robot activates and attempts to murder Jill in her apartment. It may visually call to mind the Terminator of 1984, but this guy’s got some even nastier tricks. The deceptively-cheap movie (it’s stylish and relentless and looks like plenty more than a million bucks) is almost entirely about this battle, although it makes time for awesomely bizarre and/or disturbing performances by John Lynch (BLACK DEATH), Mark Northover (WILLOW!), and most unshakably, William Hootkins (STAR WARS, BATMAN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) as maybe the grossest movie pervert ever. Iggy Pop and Lemmy also briefly contribute their talents, but it all comes down to Jill and her fight to stay alive under attack by that freaky, ferocious robot. It plays out, under Stanley’s direction, as an intensely tangible experience, despite springing out of a totally bonkers sci-fi set-up.

HARDWARE is available for purchase from Severin Films.


TRESPASS (1992)
The only reason I didn’t see TRESPASS before 2012 was because I was sure I had seen it before. I hate to think it’s because I’d confused it in my mind with the similar, but not nearly as entertaining, JUDGMENT NIGHT. (To be fair, they do both have incredible soundtracks.) Hopefully it’s because I’ve already seen all of Walter Hill’s greatest hits. This – comparatively speaking from a man who made HARD TIMES, THE DRIVER, 48 HRS., SOUTHERN COMFORT, and THE WARRIORS – is one of the B-sides, but sometimes the greatest pleasures can be found buried among the B-sides of a favorite artist.

Hill is a genre giant who can wring blood from a stone when it comes to simple high-concepts. Here Bill Paxton and Bill Sadler play firemen who get wind of a fortune hidden in an abandoned tenement and go in looking for it, but once there, they witness a murder and spend the rest of the movie being pursued by the gang responsible. Even though this movie is set in Illinois, the gang is led by West Coast heavyweights Ice-T and Ice Cube. From a script from Bob and Bob (Gale and Zemeckis), it’s Bill and Bill versus Ice and Ice, and it’s pretty much breakneck-paced from the jump. Turns out – no surprise – Hill can do plenty with a confined setting and a bunch of growling faces. TRESPASS is quick and crafty and down and dirty. It’s THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE retrofitted for the golden age of hip-hop, and it’s super-worth seeing if you haven’t already.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Gregory Joseph

Gregory Joseph is a librarian and film-obsessive who lives in Western Massachusetts. He blogs about animation and Japanese music at http://waxmask.blogspot.com, posts images at http://torturevillage.tumblr.com/, and can be found on Twitter as @Gregory_Joseph and on Letterboxd at http://letterboxd.com/waxmask/. He also edits an old-fashioned ‘zine called Samurai Dreams: Fringe Film and VHS Culture which is sort of dormant but will hopefully return at some point.

An expanded version of this list can be found at:
http://letterboxd.com/waxmask/list/for-rupert-pupkin-speaks-2012-discoveries/


01. Profound Desires of the Gods (1968), Shôhei Imamura
An arduous production and a financial disaster, Shôhei Imamura's notorious Kamigami no Fukaki Yokubo is an overwhelming, even humbling film in sheer scope and ambition. Scripted by Imamura and frequent collaborator Keiji Hasebe, "The Profound Desire of the Gods" chronicles Tokyo salaryman engineer Kariya's intrusion upon the lives of the inbred, disgraced Futori clan, on the isolated, superstitious island of Kurage.

To say that the film's landscape photography is gorgeous is an understatement; Imamura and DP Masao Tochizawa capture the space and beauty of Kurage with staggering, wide vista frames and blistering natural light. There is currently a stunning HD print of the film available to watch on Criterion's Hulu channel, which hopefully signals a Region-1 Blu-Ray release of the film for 2013.


02. Fascination (1979), Jean Rollin
I spent 2012 becoming acquainted with the fantastic, transfixing, narcotic, terrifying, genuinely dream-like films of French master Jean Rollin, films often featuring dazed, depersonalized characters enacting bizarre scenes of ritual and transference in ostentatious isolated country villas. In Fascination, escaped thief Mark (Jean-Pierre Lemaire) hides out in a home occupied by the vampiric, game-playing Eva (Brigitte Lahaie) and Elizabeth (Franca Maï), with predictably horrific results. While I had seen Night of the Hunted and Grapes of Death (which remains my favorite Rollin film), Kino's Redemption lines of Blu-Rays has allowed me to survey Rollin's career more completely via these excellent releases. Fascination is the best of the bunch for the year, and the best film I saw in 2012 aside from Profound Desires of the Gods.


03. The Evictors (1979), Charles B. Pierce
Charles B. Pierce's films are legitimately nightmarish: feverish, amoral, distancing, familiar but somehow "wrong". The strategies and habits of classical Hollywood cinema are present, only perverted and submerged. This one ditches the faux-documentary style of his best-known work but is equally presentational. While Pierce doesn't want anything from the viewer, The Evictors demands careful attention and concentration. Seeing leads Jessica Harper, Michael Parks and Vic Morrow work in various configurations here is a privilege.


04. Violent Stories (1985), Daniel González Dueñas, Diego López Rivera, Carlos García
Agraz, Gerardo Pardo and Víctor Saca
Realized by five separate directors but relatively uniform in style and tone, writer Pedro F. Miret's Historias Violentas is a wholly successful full-spectrum examination of violence both physical and otherwise. The five segments here expand and escalate spatially, beginning with a scene of two men in a narrow hallway and ending with frenzied, collaborative destruction and murder in a crowded village square. While surrealistic, most of the segments here are rooted in the mundane world, and only "Reflejos" features fantastic elements.

Historias Violentas is nightmarish in the true sense; characters find themselves in hopeless and desperate situations, their psychological well-being--if not their lives--at themercy of irrational, mysterious or anonymous forces. One memorable, reflexive scenario sees compliant theater-goers rounded up after the movie one-by-one for an arcane, sinister line of inquiry. Miret's mastery of pace and thematic development, combined with his interest in occult scenario, recalls Nigel Kneale's productions for the BBC and especially his ITV series Beasts.


05. Paris is Burning (1990), Jennie Livingston
Jennie Livingston's swift, spirited 1990 documentary Paris is Burning has been discovered by a lot of folks in the past year. The film's subject, NYC's still extant “Ball” culture- presentational, performative drag costume-competitions organized by gay, trans and gender non-conforming Blacks and Latinos--has had a kind of aesthetic revival of late, referenced by and sampled in contemporary dance, rap and r&b music and in the  fashion world. Livingston's film joins the ranks of great New York documentaries, and shines a light on an oppressed, marginalized cultural force that is nevertheless absolutely vital. My personal favorite scene explains the Ball category "Executive Realness", where contestants dress in high-end business wear, often stolen from upscale department stores.

Paris is Burning is a sobering film as well, not shying away from the violence--both physical and otherwise--that is cold hard reality for its subjects, many turning tricks to survive. The tragic murder of a central subject (which happened during the course of filming) brings into focus the poisonous prejudice and hatred weighing on so many folks in America who are rarely represented in cinema.


06. Retribution (1987), Guy Magar
Sharing much in common with The Hidden, a film also released in 1987, Retribution shamelessly synthesizes De Palma, Mann and Friedkin for its own demented purposes, unapologetic in both its easy competency and its juvenile depravity. Imagine Robocop 2 or Street Trash unmoderated by deliberate comedy; imagine a film that never grants respite or remove from grubby violence or amoral predation. Director Guy Magar seeks only to match and surpass his own cinematic perversity.

Retribution's premise is flatly absurd and won't suffer credibility: a malicious psychic gangster is gunned down in the street, only to gift his untethered consciousness to manic- depressive painter George Miller. Dennis Lipscomb plays George as a bumbling weirdo, fearlessly presenting a truly embarrassing, pathetic protagonist for the audience to pity rather than cheer for.

The film's escalation of occult phenomena is fully nonsensical; there are no governing, restricting universal rules here. The murders are shot with abandon: Magar cranks the already-mean, hysterical tone of the film into feverish levels of sustained hysteria. The film is sickeningly lit, all greens and pinks and violets, from subtle putrid halos to solid alien-abduction beams. The reliance on neon here is downright vulgar: in one scene, George and Suzanne Snyder's character Angel even visit a gallery for neon-sign art. The print rescue on the recent Code Red DVD release is superb but a Blu-Ray would be essential.


07. Plot of Fear (1976), Paolo Cavara
Members of an informal gang of idle-rich sexual game-players are being murdered one- by-one. Presumably these are revenge-killings, after the accidental death of a young participant pushed too far. Chief Inspector Gaspare Lomenzo (Michele Placido) discovers the killer's signature: pages from an old child's book left at each crime scene, illustrations from the folktale "Shock-headed Peter".

The narrative is a bit ropey at times but Plot of Fear is loaded with evenly-dispersed sequences of brilliance. A beautifully grim, multiplicitous ending offers a fantastic walking two-hander between Placido and Eli Wallach that is as compelling as any quiet sequence from the best of the genre, which turns into a thrilling, desperate chase scene that is unceremoniously snuffed.


08. Level Five (1997), Chris Marker
Chris Marker's final feature-length film is a scripted narrative with a fictional central character and premise, additionally incorporating documentary footage, primary source interviews and narration from Marker himself. A prophetic film, Level Five is an early meditation upon communications technology and the internet. Frequent Marker collaborator Catherine Belkhodja plays Laura, a documentarian and game-designer, in the early stages of creating an educational PC-game about the Battle of Okinawa, the Allied assault on the Ryukyu Islands of Japan during the late stages of World War II. Laura scans Level Five's version of the internet, "OWL" ("Optional World Link"), a kind of primitive VR terminal interface, for primary and secondary research materials. The film is largely composed of documentary footage and interviews with survivors, academics and the filmmaker Nagisa Oshima (whom also provides documentary footage), broken only by Laura's lonely, hypnotic, contemplative personal diary entries addressed to Marker.

Autocritical and ahead of its time, Level Five is a stunning if difficult to parse film. Conceptual, talky and collaged from media of varying format and quality, as a film it resembles some of Godard's work, yet feels somehow more traditionally cinematic. Unquestionably Level Five asks of its viewer questions which are difficult to process and to answer, and as an examination of both technological peril and human trauma it stands as an affecting, uncompromised experiment.
on Vimeo Here:
http://vimeo.com/19193986 


09. Boardinghouse (1982), John Wintergate
A baffling admixture of William Castle-gimmick, illegible text scrawl, Casio noise, O- mind camerawork, random bees-buzzing sound design and strobe-edits, Boardinghouse is one of the finest counter-intuitive "real people" SOV horror films of the 1980s. A simple slasher set-up somehow also allows for voodoo, telekinesis, possession, power tools and ghost curses, accounting for the film's relatively lengthy run-time.

Despite all of its excess narrative, it is fully possible to process Boardinghouse as abstract sound and image only. The constant, hyper-exploitative co-ed nudity and brutal spaghetti gore effects are disturbing rather than titillating, embarrassing rather than exciting. Stylistically the film is close to porn or TV-news re-enactment, with both its rippling, fuzzing art-Brut sound design and harsh video-photography.


10. Shredder Orpheus (1990), Robert McGinley
Action International Pictures remains the most unfairly unheralded DTV distributor of some of the best and weirdest action movies of the 80s and 90s. Director, writer and star Robert McGinley's Shredder Orpheus may be A.I.P.'s most ambitious release. McGinley is Orpheus, of Greek myth, here recast as post-apocalyptic skate-punk messiah. While the film essentially retells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, McGinley dresses it up with ideas and images borrowed from Street Trash, Repo Man, Videodrome and Brian Trenchard-Smith's Dead-End Drive In.

Orpheus, his wife Eurydice and legions of other hopeless punks and skaters inhabit "The Grey Zone", a shanty town of shipping crates and scrap metal. Orpheus sings for The Shredders, the Zone's favorite band. While there is a narrative through-line here, McGinley is just as concerned with detailing his universe, taking breaks for junkyard percussion jams and half-pipe exhibitions. The film's narrative engine starts when Eurydice is kidnapped by talent scouts for "The Ray", a mind-control television show broadcast from the "Euthanasia Broadcasting Network". Orpheus rides a mythical skateboard through Hell's parking garage to save her, but not before jamming a set of digital noise on a proto-tablet, an explosive protest remaking him a Zone hero. McGinley has directed little else, which is a shame.


11. The Survivor (1981), David Hemmings
Produced by exploitation overlord Antony Ginnane, David Hemmings' 1981 film The Survivor is a calculated yet genuinely compelling, unbelievably drawn-out thriller that is more interested in interrogating the wracked psyches of its characters than it is in delivering any forms of genre convention. Robert Powell plays Keller, the pilot and sole survivor of a brutal plane wreck, an event that he has no memory of. Jenny Agutter plays occultist Hobbs, a witness to the crash supernaturally drawn to its aftermath. Watching these two outstanding performers work is a privilege, as they gradually stitch together the crash's true cause and meaning. The film also features a brief but memorable turn from Joseph Cotten--his last.

Hemmings frames the Australian countryside wide, in breathtaking painterly compositions. The Survivor is deliberately paced, and at only 100 minutes feels twice as long. Flawed, yet casts a certain spell.


12. Baptism of Blood (1996), Kenichi Yoshihara
Horror manga legend Kazuo Umezu's work, with its precarious combination of folklore, elegant plotting and moments of genuine shock, presents filmmakers with a unique challenge. This is why most Umezu adaptations disregard the essential qualities of his cartooning in favor of more conventional horror tropes. Kenichi Yoshihara, in adapting Umezu's Senrei, chooses to simultaneously amp up the gore and mitigate the truly horrific elements of Umezu's original story.

Umezu's protagonists are usually powerless children, often at the mercy of exploiters and predators--the corruption of innocence by a cruel, amoral adult world. In Senrei, pubescent Sakura (here played by Rie Imamura) is besieged by her vain, former movie- star mother Matsuko (Risa Akikawa). Disgusted by her aged body and a strange moss- like lesion on her face, Matsuko pays a mad doctor (Tatsuya Go) to devise a brain- transplant machine, so that she may switch bodies with the young Sakura. The eventual brain-transplanting scene is lengthy and disgusting, featuring kitchen-sink Gigeresque effects and harsh cinematography.

While the film doesn't succeed in an unqualified, confident manner, it does contain isolated moments of achievement, and features a brilliant performance from Imamura in a kind of dual role. While Yoshihara never does translate his source material's tone, he does manage to capture Umezu's line in some of his framing and shot composition, as utilitarian as it is. The elements of Baptism of Blood that feel the least like Senrei-- the noirish double-crossing, the way the third-act twist is essentially telegraphed as an extended Psycho reference--are often its greatest assets. While Baptism of Blood is in many ways unsatisfying, its aesthetic rawness and adaptive compromises animate it with at least some perverse life-force.


13. Future Schlock (1984), Chris Kiely and Barry Peak
Australians and theater-owners-turned-filmmakers Barry Peak and Chris Kiely produced- -working in varying, likely interchangeable roles--a string of bizarre, farcical films, beginning with 1984's Future Schlock. Featuring the operational tagline "Ordinary people get theirs!", Future Schlock is a loosely-threaded narrative film incorporating faux- documentary footage and sketch-comedy, relying heavily upon its constant narration to unify its disparate attentions. The filmmaking here is decidedly DIY, with Peak and Kiely proudly foregrounding their low-budget aesthetic.

A genuinely radical satirical attack on normative mainstream values and middle-class culture, Future Schlock envisions a literal class war, a world divided between racist, fascist "subbies", whom mindlessly adhere to a literal rulebook, "The Standard Set of Middle Class Guidelines", and destitute, marginalized street-punks, living in a destroyed anarchist wasteland, sedated by tranquilizers in their water supply. The Robin Hoods of the "ghetto", outlaw art-prankster saboteurs "Cisco Kid" and "Sancho Panza", are the secret identities of Future Schlock's main characters, synth-punk performance artists Sarah (Maryanne Fahey) and Bear (Michael Bishop). Bear and Sarah's performances and their missions into the suburbs are the film's best moments, as they wreak havoc at dinner parties, police stations and fake press conferences, dressed in drab subbie disguises. As they're being terrorized in a wasteland club, an unfortunate couple cry, "It's not a crime to be middle-class!" Bear responds, "Around here it is!"


14. Street Wars (1992), Jamaa Fanaka
Jamaa Fanaka's Penitentiary trilogy of films remain some of  he most vital--and bizarre- -films of the American exploitation era. 1992's Street Wars is Fanaka's follow-up to Penitentiary III, and remains his most recent feature. While Street Wars differentiates itself from Fanaka's earlier work in many ways, it is nevertheless his familiar admixture of cartoonish sex and violence, non-diagetic music videos, surreal humor and hand- wringing righteous sermonizing and clichéd visual metaphors.

Street Wars follows Boyz n the Hood by only a year, and is essentially a more genre- minded riff on that film. Leading a cast of largely obscure performers, Alan Wone plays Exeter grad and West Point-bound golden child "Sugar Pop", initially merely determined to survive a violent summer living with his crack-kingpin brother Frank (Bryan O'Dell). When Frank is slain in a revenge-killing, Pop immediately and confidently assumes his brother's leadership role, vowing to "go legit" within a year, dismantling the city's crack infrastructure with the aid of machine gun-strapped ultra-light recreational aircraft, which one character dubs his "ghetto air-force".

The most compelling element of Street Wars is the tension between Fanaka's desire to entertain a mainstream audience and his sincere, heartfelt need to create politically engaged, meaningful work. These twin impulses allow for both shoot-outs involving rocket launchers and a vat of acid, and a cameo from Khalid Muhammad as himself.


15. Super Xuxa versus Satan (1988), Anna Penido and David Sonnenschein
Brazilian personality Xuxa Meneghel’s career as a pop star and children’s TV host is still going strong after some 30 years. Xuxa plays a superhero version of herself in several feature-length films, beginning with 1988’s Super Xuxa Contra o Baixo Astral--literally translated as “Super Xuxa against the Down Mood”, but sometimes labeled “Super Xuxa vs. Satan”.

Busy riding around on her motorbike, teaching the children of Brazil the power of positive thinking and white-washing graffiti, Xuxa underestimates the power of the evil Baixo Astral (“Down Mood”), living in squalor with his two rat-like minions underground. Recognizing Xuxa as a force for good, Down Mood kidnaps her talking puppet dog Xuxo—who in one scene chastises his fleas for being lazy—forcing Xuxa to journey into hell, a quest allowing for many vignettes and music videos. These lavish musical numbers are undoubtedly the film’s raison d’être and what makes the film so fun, and Xuxa such a winning personality. The film’s greatest music-video scene also closes the second act: Xuxa—and Xixa, the “Gypsy caterpillar”—meet a talking new age crystal and its psychedelic flower friends, inspiring the film’s catchiest song, “Alto Astral” (http://youtu.be/_GxJ_A0iW5w).

Super Xuxa, in addition to being merely surreal, is fairly horrific: a demon accidentally chops his finger into a bowl of stew, a beached, netted pink porpoise waits for its lucky eyeballs to be harvested by poachers, and Xuxa is in one scene tied in bondage ropes and asked to produce a “sadomasochism Visa”. Such moments of darkness both clash with and compliment Xuxa’s cartoonish utopianism, and the numerous bright, relentlessly upbeat pop-music numbers that punctuate the otherwise ultra-thin narrative.