Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - William Bibbiani ""

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - William Bibbiani

William Bibbiani is the Film Channel Editor at CraveOnline, the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast, the co-star of The Trailer Hitch, and sometimes a film commentator for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani
(subscribe to the B-Movies Podcast with co-host Witney Seibold on iTunes)

Here's his discoveries list from last year btw:
I see so many damned new movies that watching old ones is a rare treat. So this year I manufactured reasons to catch up on some classics, or at least genre films of note, by producing web series about the whole live-action Superman franchise, the films of Stephen King and the surprisingly small subgenre of Christmas-themed horror movies. These series -Cinema of SteelThe Kings of Horror and 12 Days of Killmas - are all available on YouTube right now, so you can catch up on many of these films along with me, but I'll list a few of the more unexpected highlights below, along with a selection of the better or more notable older films I was able to catch up with in 2013.

The Gazebo (1959; George Marshall)
I was turned on to this delightful dark comedy by a certain lady who insisted we watch it immediately, and watch it we did, thank goodness. Someone is blackmailing Glenn Ford's wife, Debbie Reynolds, so Ford takes matters into his own hands, kills the guy, and then everything goes wonderfully wrong. At one point during the foul deed Alfred Hitchcock calls to inquire about Ford's latest thriller, only to unintentionally give him some pretty clever advice about how to dispose of the body. Smart, funny,unusual, and a weird spiritual cousin to Hitchcock's own The Trouble with Harry.

The Strangers (2008; Bryan Bertino)
For years I'd been hearing that Bryan Bertino's The Strangers was a modern horror classic, a matter of fact terror of simplicity. Needless to say, it's been built up too much. Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler are alone in the house, assaulted by masked murderers who know exactly when to pop up in the background and then pop back out again, unnoticed by everyone but the audience. It's creepy for a while, but Bertino gets so wrapped up in the buildup that the payoff comes far too late, and the small cache of tricks he has up his sleeve seem smaller every time he uses them. It's a decent little scarer, but I suspect that my fellow critics got so tired of saying "It's better than you think" that they eventually just gave up and started hyperbolizing to make their voices heard.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987; Sydney J.Furie)
It's not nearly as bad as advertised. I'm serious. Yes, Jon Cryer is awful as Lex Luthor's too-80s sidekick, and yes, the smaller budget really shows, but the structure of the modern superhero movie is here, decades early, and I don't think anyone gives Superman IV enough credit for it. Sydney J. Furie's film raises interesting questions about why Superman spends all his time saving people from natural disasters instead of fixing the world's most serious problems, kicking off an organic and dramatic series of events that challenge Superman, Clark Kent and even the ethics of The Daily Planet in a way that no other live-action Superman film ever has. The superficial stuff is twee and unfortunate, but the structure of the film is actually the best Superman's ever had in live-action form.

Riding the Bullet (2004; Mick Garris)
Apart from the TV mini-series "The Stand," MickGarris isn't a very popular director, although I rather liked Critters 2. His feature film Stephen King adaptation Riding the Bullet will probably go down as his best work. Jonathan Jackson stars as a death-obsessed college student who hitchhikes home to visit his sick mother, kicking off a hallucinatory road trip with off-kilter interludes about the 1960s, youthful anxiety and ultimately a rather poignant quandary posed by an undead David ArquetteRiding the Bullet feels like Mick Garris's most personal film, and deserves very much to be discovered.

A Return to Salem's Lot (1987; Larry Cohen)
Larry Cohen's name-only sequel to the TV series "Salem's Lot" is brimming with fascinating ideas, and comes loaded with a scene-stealing performance by Samuel Fuller (!) as an old, opinionated Nazi hunter. It's also kind of inept, which is too bad, because the premise is gangbusters: amoral anthropologist (and Larry Cohen regular) Michael Moriarty inherits a plot of land in 'Salem's Lot, only to discover that the town is full of vampires who want Moriarty to write a non-fiction book from their perspective, defending their murderous culture to a world that doesn't understand them. Fascinating themes are raised, but damn, is the acting bad. (Fun Fact: A Return to Salem's Lot is Tara Reid's first film. Off to a bad start…)

The Night Flier (1997; Mark Pavia)
Perhaps the best of the unsung Stephen King adaptations, Mark Pavia's The Night Flier (still his only feature film), stars Miguel Ferrer as a tabloid "journalist" investigating a string of mysterious murders at small airports along the east coast that may - or may not - be the work of a vampire. Ferrergives a rich, and sometimes even impressively ugly performance as a man who isn't paid to be nice, and the conclusion boasts some of the most interesting and disturbing sequences of any nosferatu movie.Strange, intelligent and definitely worthy of a bigger audience.

Santa's Slay (2005; David Steinman)
Full disclosure: I worked as an intern at Media 8, the company that produced Santa's Slay, but I never received a dime, hardly heard a word about this movie while I worked there, and don't have a credit on the film. In fact, I never even saw Santa's Slay until this year, when I produced a web series about holiday horror movies. So I was very pleasantly surprised to discover what a funny, unusual flick it is. WWE wrestler Bill Goldberg plays Santa Claus, a magical figure who is actually the Antichrist, tricked into bringing about Christmas cheer for centuries. Now, his curse has been lifted, and he goes on a yuletide killing spree, making terrible jokes wherever he goes. The puns come fast and furious, half of them are actually funny, and the pacing is nicely energetic until the final act, when the film kind of just stops instead of ending properly. Still, it's a fun horror comedy, and I think more people should see it.

Elves (1989; Jeffrey Mandel)
Elves, on the other hand, is crap. But what incredible crap it is! Julie Austin plays a put upon teenager who accidentally summons Nazi elves for the holidays, and Dan "Grizzly Adams" Haggerty is the only one who can save her. Weird subplots involving incest and sexy parties, terrible performances and production values, embarrassing special effects and one of the worst on-screen mothers in movie history combine to make a hypnotically awful film in the same caliber as Troll 2… or at least the first Troll. It's hard to find, but I'm really glad I looked.

Safety Last! (1923; Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor)
One of those movies everyone assumes you've seen but never actually bothers to show you, Safety Last! isthe most famous film of silent comedian Harold Lloyd, and contains that famous scene of the bespectacled funnyman hanging from a skyscraping clock. Now available on Criterion, I finally got to catch up to Safety Last! and was surprised to find it was entirely structured around that one famous sequence. Harold Lloyd plays a department store clerk lying to his fiancĂ©e back home that he's a big wheel instead of a little cog, and ultimately engineers a publicity stunt involving the human fly, Bill Strother, climbing the building without the aid of a rope or net. Naturally, Lloyd ends up having to do it himself, and the sheer number of death defying gags Safety Last! cooks up for him on the ascent are worth the very, very protracted buildup beforehand. The finale is breathless, the first two-acts are merely pleasing filler, and I’m happy to say that finally saw the film everyone's been talking about for decades.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944; Frank Capra)
Speaking of which, I'd never seen Arsenic and Old Lace before 2013, and for that I am ashamed. This wonderfully kooky comedy stars Cary Grant as a delightful young man who learns his beloved aunts are serial killers, and watching him unravel over the course of an entire film - and watching the plot veer into unexpectedly bizarre directions, like a villainous brother who's been surgically altered by Peter Lorre to look exactly like Boris Karloff - is a comic delight if ever I've seen one. It's a classic for a reason, and destined to be a Halloween mainstay at the Bibbiani homestead from here on out.

A Carol for Another Christmas (1964; Joseph L.Mankiewicz)
I really do owe fellow film critic Alonso Duralde for turning me on to A Carol for Another Christmas, an all-star retelling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol that was only aired once in 1964 before being recently rediscovered and re-aired by the folks at TCM. Sterling Hayden plays a wealthy isolationist who's visited by three ghosts on Christmas, warning him of the dangers that arise from ignoring the world's problems just because America has it pretty good. The politics are complicated, and maybe even a little "iffy," but nobody spun drama out of moral conflict like Rod Serling, who wrote the screenplay. Robert Shaw, Ben Gazzara, Eva Marie Saint, Pat Hingle and a blink-and-you'll-miss-him Peter Fonda all appear, and Hingle in particular is very good, but Peter Sellers steals the show as a post-apocalyptic warlord with maddening notions of politics.

The Last of Sheila (1973; Herbert Ross)
Co-written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, of all people, this all-star "whodunnit" stars James Coburn as a millionaire who invites a group of unusual guests, each hiding a terrible secret, to his yacht for a little game. Soon, someone ends up dead for real and everyone - including Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Raquel Welch and a young Ian McShane - has to admit to the skeletons in their various closets. Fun, unusual, and I can honestly say that I never saw the last twist coming.

Librarians (2011; Joanna Angel)
This year I got a great excuse to catch up with the cinema of pornographic superstar Joanna Angel, who writes and directs many of her own movies and instills them with the same iconoclastic sense of social satire and naive humor as all the best Troma movies, when I did a lengthy series of in-depth interviews with her for CraveOnline. Her best film may be Librarians, which could have coasted by on the usual "nerd chic" sex scenes, but instead spirals into a crazy hostage thriller in which James Deen kidnaps the employees and patrons of a local library, because Joanna Angel won't overlook his enormous late fees. It's about ethics, damn it, and Joanna Angel makes the whole premise fun, silly and quite a bit more self-aware than you'd probably expect… unless you've seen her films before.

1 comment:

SteveQ said...

It's always fun to see someone enjoying for the first time some film I've loved on dozens of viewings, like Safety Last and Arsenic and Old Lace.

It's worth noting that in the original stage version of Arsenic the Raymond Massey role was played by Boris Karloff, so the surgery that makes him look "like Boris Karloff" had an extra dimension then! Karloff couldn't do the movie (schedule conflict, I think).