Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Bret Berg ""

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Bret Berg

Bret is one of the programmers for the Cinefamily, an outstanding repertory theater in Los Angeles.
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The Rubber Gun (1977)
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Easily the best film to come out of Canada in the '70s that I've ever seen.  

Most Americans know more about Russia than they do about Canada, and that's a damn shame, for our neighboring culture offers a wealth of quietly, subtly strange film offerings.  Remember the plot of "The Producers": the scam that they pull, where in orderto make money, they have to lose money on their stage production?  In-between the mid-'70s and the early-'80s, the entire Canadian film industry worked off that same premise, with the government providing a rewarding tax shelter for films made within the country, and utilizing Canadian talent both in front of and behind the camera.  If you were, say, a Canadian dentist, and wanted to funnel $2 million into a tax shelter, you invested in a Canadian film; it didn't matter whether or not the film made money, lost money, came out or was even finished, so long as it happened it some form.  The Canadian government was so desperate to build a homegrown film industry, that this not only jump-started it exponentially, but also built a haven for abuse that eventually led to the repealing of the tax shelter code several years after it started.  This all made every Canadian film of the time essentially an art film, since financial considerations really were out the window.  

The layman's gateway drug into the world of Canadian tax shelter movies are the early Cronenbergs: "Shivers", "Rabid", "The Brood", "Fast Company", "Scanners".  These are really the only ones to have cut across the cultural line, and become hardcore staples of the American film watcher's diet.  But hundreds of other productions were churned out during this period -- very few of them on DVD, and still fewer remembered fondly by more than a handful of people, regardless of their nationality.  ("The Rubber Gun" is not actually a tax shelter production, but it's important to remember the context of the era under which it was made.)

Directed by Allan Moyle (who would later go on to do such Hollywood fare as "Times Square", "Pump Up The Volume" and "Empire Records"), "The Rubber Gun" is an incredible mélange of Cassavetes, Warhol, and uniquely Canadian charm.  Nominally following a threadbare plot about a drug deal gone bad, it's really all about a sociology student (Moyle) infiltrating a social circle of junkies, misfits and other genial losers.  

It's one of those loose, improvisational films where the actors are all playing characters with the same first names as their own -- and the cast is led by Stephen Lack, whom you might know as the leaden lead dude in "Scanners."  In that film, he's wildlymiscast, as he's being called upon to do an "actor" thing he's very uncomfortable with, but in "The Rubber Gun", he's playing a version of himself.  And what a self it is: intensely charismatic, unpredictable, bug-eyed, profusely prolix and likely methamphetamined-out.  Picture an "SCTV"-style hoser crossed with both George Carlin and a runway model, and you might start to have an idea of Lack's undeniable presence.  

The film's music is by Lewis Furey, himself a mixture of Dr. John, Lou Reed and Van Dyke Parks.  His songs that pepper the film here and there are toe-tappin' earworms that add to the local Montreal flavor.

Barely released theatrically and on VHS, "The Rubber Gun" has sadly not been seen by pretty much anyone ever.  Let's change that.

Next of Kin (1982)
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One of the great treasures of the ‘70s/’80s Ozploitation wave, Next Of Kin expertly blends threads of ghost story, psychological thriller, gialloand the inherent spooky elements of the desolate Outback to create one of Australia’s most criminally underseen genre films.  The score by ex-Tangerine Dreamer Klaus Schulze is ether, pulse-pounding and wonderfully lays down the bedrock for some truly rad slo-mo.  As director Tony Williams effortlessly glides us around the cavernous confines of this abode with an eerie Steadicam eye, one might catch echoes of The Shining -- but Next of Kin holds more in common with early Michael Mann efforts like The Keep, as it balances its arch Gothic trappings with a beautifully naturalistic backdrop.  And, in its final fifteen, Williams turns on the burn to blast-level, delivering one of the greatest batshit-crazy finales you’ve never seen.  YOU’LL REALLY WANT TO CATCH THIS.

Executive Koala (2005)
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An uploader to the torrent site Cinemageddon said it best: "Tamura is an average Japanese salaryman working in the offices of a pickle distribution company. He is well liked in the office, hard-working, polite, wears a suit and tie, and also happens to be a six-foot tall koala bear."  In the reality of the movie, no one really notices (or cares) that an anthropomorphized koala dude is sharing their office with them.  That's how it should be, right?  There's also a giant rabbit and a giant frog tossed in there.  There's also scenes where the koala guy's eyes glow and he kills people.  Fun!  

Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)
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In the early '80s, John Schlesinger attempted to replicate the brand of satirical Americana that folks like Altman ("Nashville"), Michael Ritchie ("Smile") and Peckinpah ("Convoy") were routinely putting into theaters at that time.  Sadly, with "Honky TonkFreeway", Schlesinger landed more in the "Convoy" camp than the "Nashville" camp, as the film's leaden attempts at comedy, crossed with an immense cast of undercooked-yet-overbaked caricatures (I think you know what I mean) equal up to a seriously uncomfortable time.  But it's afascinating failure, and those are always some of the best viewing experiences -- especially for the jaded, think-they've-seen-it-all types.  And it does have a rad cast: William Devane, Howard Hesseman, Teri Garr, Beverly D'Angelo, Daniel Stern, Geraldine Page, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, the always creepy George Dzunda and a lot more.

Parking (1985)
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Another interesting debacle, drowned in neon.  Jacques Demy is best known Stateside for "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg", an outstanding, colorful 1964 musical about the working class, wherein the dialogue from the film is all sung and the melodies from Michel Legrand are absolutely stunning.  Almost twenty years later, Demy and Legrand teamed up for another effort, this time a New Wave re-telling of the Orpheus myth starring Francis Huster (who had rather brilliantly weird turns in Andrzej Zulawski's "La Femme Publique" and "L'Amour Braque".)  Full of strangulated, embarrassing art rock, with a off-key Huster trying his very best to hit the notes and getting there -- hmmm, "some" of the time, the ambition is very much there.  That's the key takeaway.   

1 comment:

S.B. Prime said...

Spectacular list, Bret. You can bet I'll be tracking down a copy of THE RUBBER GUN immediately. I've also wanted to see HONKY TONK FREEWAY ever since first reading about in the old Z Channel magazines.