Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Jack Criddle ""

Monday, February 3, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Jack Criddle

Jack Criddle is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, editor, and audiovisual jack-of-all-trades. His recent credits include work as a key P.A. on a forthcoming Wilco concert film by Brendan Canty and Christoph Green, and as editor of flower arrangement videos for In the rare moments when he's not working, he enjoys movies, cooking and a good book, and can be reached at, or at @southboundsix on Twitter.

BECKET (1964)
I missed this film during its run in New York's revival houses in 2008, but caught up with it this year on Netflix Streaming. It's based on a stage drama, in which King Henry II appoints his drinking and wenching companion Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury as a quick fix for the growing tension between the Crown and the Catholic Church. Becket, however, develops a renewed sense of faith and takes his job seriously, which drives the two men apart. What could very well have been a talky, stuffy exercise becomes an electrifying bit of cinema-theater, especially since its two leads don't shy away from the story's homoerotic undercurrents. Peter O'Toole, in particular, is magnificent, playing Henry II as a hair-trigger tempered, late-blooming adolescent, devastated to find his significant other growing apart from him.

Vinegar Syndrome deserve an enormous high-five. The small DVD label, which has released a bevy of vintage adult-film curios, put out this minor masterpiece - a missing link between countercultural satire, avant-garde experimental film, and straight-up 42nd Street exploitation - on a gorgeously restored Blu Ray. Shot in NYC by SNL writer Nelson Lyon and produced by movie ad-man Robert Bloch, it concerns a free-love hippie woman who falls in love with, and decides to track down, the world's greatest obscene phone caller. Adorable lead actress Sarah Kennedy resembles a live-action Betty Boop, and the film has hilarious supporting turns from Barry Morse, Roger C. Carmel (STAR TREK's Harry Mudd) and William Hickey. However, the glue that holds the whole thing together is voice-over artist extraordinaire Norman Rose. Rose was the voice of Death in LOVE AND DEATH and narrator of untold hundreds of movies, documentaries and commercials, and to hear things like "Hello there. I'd like to talk to you very seriously for a moment...about your beautiful tits." in his stately, velvet-smooth baritone is nothing short of amazing.

Sound design and editing legend Walter Murch - whose how-to/film theory bible IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE is a volume I consider to be perhaps the best movie book ever written - only had one directorial outing in the form of this dark, weird, wonderfully misjudged children's fantasy. It's not really a sequel to the beloved 1939 film, but a more faithful treatment of the Frank L. Baum books. Dorothy comes back to Oz after narrowly escaping shock treatment (!) cure the "visions" from her previous adventure, only to find the place in ruins. Her companions this time around are gaggle of creepy/cute Jim Henson puppets, and her adversaries include the freakish Wheelers, the witch, Mombi, with interchangeable heads, and the Nome King, who is brought to life by some of the scariest Will Vinton claymation this side of THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN. In summary - I loved it, and I can't wait to have kids so I can use it to terrify them.

L.A. STORY (1991)
I love Steve Martin, but for some reason, this one wasn't really on my radar until just recently - most likely due to its dull, generic title and equally dull, generic video cover. In retrospect, it's easy to understand why - this film must have been a tough sell for Columbia Pictures' promotional department, as it's a slightly different animal to other Martin vehicles like THE JERK and THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS. The film's primary narrative, about Martin's "wacky weatherman"s falling in love with Victoria Beckham's British reporter, despite the two of them being involved with others, has the loose, fly-on-the-wall, getting-to-know-you quality of a Woody Allen or Robert Altman film. However, there are just as many bits of cartoonish, fourth-wall-breaking bits of movie-movie spoof comedy thrown into the mix as well, like a rush hour shootout with a granny on the Santa Monica Freeway, and a fancy restaurant run by a villainous, German-accented Patrick Stewart. Also, Steve's character seeks advice from a sentient road construction sign. The two "flavors" seem like they'd be at odds with each other, but they actually blend beautifully.

I'm not going to pretend that this film is a great work of art. It's not the best film Stanley Tucci has directed - that would be BIG NIGHT. It's only a somewhat-successful attempt at recreating the slapstick comedies of the 30's and 40's, wherein a very loose plot is merely a framework around which an all-star cast performs a sequence of amusing non-sequiterus: in this case, Tucci and Oliver Platt are struggling, poor actors who stow away on a cruise ship full of wacky characters. I will say that this film made me laugh so hard that I thought I might need an ambulance. Tucci and Platt are wonderful together, and the game ensemble cast includes Woody Allen, Campbell Scott, Alfred Molina, Lili Taylor, Tony Shaloub and Isabella Rosellini. Best of all are Steve Buscemi as a depressed nightclub singer named "Happy Franks," and Billy Connolly as a homosexual wrestler who takes a liking to Platt's character. After seeing it earlier this past spring, the missus and I can still crack each other up by quoting lines to each other. It may not be DUCK SOUP, but it's as least as good as a Ritz Brothers or Olsen and Johnson flick. 

No comments: