Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Jake Scherzer ""

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Jake Scherzer

Jake Scherzer is occasionally funny and charming. Half wolf, half man, all cop. Born and raised in the backwoods of East Texas, he made his way out here to L.A. and has called the place home for nearly a decade, learning more and more about film and film history. He can now pronounce Werner Herzog's name correctly as a result. You can read stuff from him at writeyourwrongs.tumblr.com.

The Devils d. Ken Russell (1971)
I saw this one in the confines of a West L.A. screening room while in a feverish state due to being in the midst of a second week of the flu, and it was appropriately fitting given those circumstances. It was also my first brush with Ken Russell, and boy was it a brush. Oliver Reed is a powerhouse and Vanessa Redgrave is simply fantastic. It's a gorgeous movie with some amazing set design, and it's also ABSOLUTELY INSANE. I don't want to spoil anything because it's best to go in blind on this one, but it's safe to say that if you're expecting some stuffy period piece about corruption in the church...well, it totally defies expectations. If you track this one down, be sure to grab the BFI release as it's apparently the most complete version out there - this one still had its X rating in the credits.

Who Can Kill A Child? d. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador (1976)
Does what it says on the tin, pretty much, but you know you're in for something bleak just based on the eight or so minutes of punishing (actual) atrocity footage that kicks this one off. The Horrordads have a really insightful, awesome round-table discussion here (http://moviemorlocks.com/2010/10/15/the-horrordads-ask-who-can-kill-a-child/) wherein they talk about how they view it now that they've become parents themselves, and they touch on many of the things that I enjoyed about the movie, particularly how convincing the relationship between the two leads is, which heightens the sense of danger you feel once they get to the island and the shit truly hits the fan. It's also impressive how much pure, atmospheric dread Serrador managed to pull out of a sparse, seemingly abandoned locale - the whole concept of the terror evoked by teeming hordes has somewhat resurfaced in a handful of newer horror movies, particularly when it comes to zombie movies, so it's nice to actually be unsettled by a group of otherwise presumably normal kids turned bloodthirsty murderers rather than a massive crowd of more friggin' zombies. Well, not "nice", but you get what I mean.

Sweet Smell of Success d. Alexander Mackendrick (1957)
This one was my introduction to Burt Lancaster's noir roles, and it's a gem. It's absolutely gorgeously shot, the dialogue is appropriately prickly and rapid-fire, and both Curtis and Lancaster are amazing in it. The Criterion release is great, with plenty of info on the production and history. It's very tense and fairly unconventional for the genre - I went into it assuming it was going to be your standard private dick/femme fatale hardboiled yarn and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a different sort of tale altogether, but no less filled with double-crosses and general bad behavior. You owe it to yourself to see this movie.

Poor Pretty Eddie d. David Worth, Richard Robinson (1975)
Having seen the trailer for this one during a stretch of films presented by Patton Oswalt at the New Beverly earlier this year, this was another one that defied expectations. I wasn't sure what to think about it at first, because it seems to be an exploitation movie that's occasionally shot like an arthouse film, and it's just downright nasty at times, especially seeing Michael Christian playing the country boy cock-of-the-walk, Eddie. Eddie's clearly the hottest thing in his backwoods hovel (at least in his mind) but his "aw-shucks" behavior gives way to something more sinister once Liz Wetherly (played by the stunning Leslie Uggams) gets stranded in town. But the person doing most of the heavy lifting in this one is Shelley Winters as Bertha, the alcoholic, broken starlet who carries a torch for Eddie while still shakily clinging to her past glory days. The juxtaposition of young, beautiful, successful Liz Wetherly and washed-up Bertha is nothing short of tragic, and Eddie's own desire to be a star himself is mirrored by his nasty behavior. He's weirdly reminiscent of a lot of people I grew up with who acted like they had free reign to do as they wished because they were the boy-kings of their own little corner of the world - saddled with a lack of perspective and a willful ignorance of everything that exists outside the county lines and, as a result of that, didn't give a fuck about other human beings, only taking what they could get from people and then discarding them when they outlived their usefulness, much like Eddie does with Bertha. The ending is downright horrific. I still feel like I need to take a shower when I think about it. This is another one that was fiddled with by the censors quite a bit, and was released in several different versions. I still want to see the "cleaned-up" version of this where they apparently tried to make it more marketable to larger audiences, because I can't wrap my brain around how you'd edit this to make it palatable to anyone who didn't willingly see it in the first place.

Gun Crazy d. Joseph H. Lewis (1950)
This awesome b-noir comes right out of the gate screaming, which instantly endeared me to it. I love how it just takes the premise of Bart Tare's obsession with guns and runs with it, making it immediately convincing. The way that Tare approaches them is almost pornographic at times, and the scene where he meets the gunslinging Annie Starr is electric, with the interplay between both of them and their eventual union being the impetus for a wild ride. I was surprised that I hadn't heard of it before it was recommended to me, but regardless it's definitely worth the watch.

Born Yesterday d. George Cukor (1950)
a great, brilliantly shot piece starring Judy Holliday (in all her glory) and William Holden. Full admission - my only Holden experience before this had been through THE WILD BUNCH. No idea what homeboy had done beforehand, but this absolutely blew my mind. He was a solid dude, but we really need to talk about Judy Holliday. Judy frigging Holliday. I can't say enough about her in this. At first I wanted to be irritated with her overall. I hated her voice. I found it grating. I slightly hated her presence (mostly due to her voice), etc. It was just some weird inexplicable kneejerk reaction, but I gradually fell in love with her and her voice. And I fell for both of those aspects of her very, very hard. Her constant struggle with her cad of a suitor, her flirtations with Bill H, et al. She just grew on me. The way she flowed across the screen and the way her character learned and blossomed was a gift. Her increasing vocabulary, her increasing knowledge, her assured manner with the assistance of William Holden's character - all of it leads to an incredible denouement and gives her a degree of empowerment that seems as if it would be a bit rare in cinema at that point in time. The writing in this is impeccable and the staccato dialogue and great cinematography only makes it that much more relentlessly charming. Absolutely glad that I ran into this before the end of 2013.

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