Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Josh Miller ""

Friday, February 21, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Josh Miller

Josh Miller is creator of the Fox animated TV show Golan the Insatiable and programs the midnight-movie series Friday Night Frights at The Cinefamily in Los Angeles. He has also written for and authored several books that are fun to read while on the toilet, like A Zombie's History of the United States
Corruption (1968)
The tale of a doctor who accidentally disfigures his beautiful model bride in a fit of jealousy, and then spirals into murder in order to find fresh skin grafts to fix her face. I won this film as a prize at a monthly horror trivia event I partake in here in LA. It was a welcome win. The brownish-hued charms of this period in British genre cinema are an acquired taste. They have a certain pace and tone that isn't for everyone. But there is something about these films I've always found appealing. Hammer. Amicus. This film was produced by neither company, though it has a similar vibe. It also has Hammer stalwart Peter Cushing, trading his typical hero hat for that of the anti-hero. One of my favorite things about films from this era is the archetype of the nefarious hippie, which we get a nice silly dose of here. 

Poltergeist III (1988)
I kind of couldn't believe I hadn't seen this film already, given my love of 1980s horror and franchises. It isn't a "good" film by any stretch, but it is an exceedingly ridiculous and fun film. I love when sequels cope with casting issues by jumping through awkward story hoops. Heather "they're here" O'Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein are the only franchise players to return in this film, necessitating the clumsy set-up that Carol Anne (O'Rourke) has randomly been sent to stay with her aunt, who just so happens to live in a brand new high-rise soon to be infested with supernatural forces. Beyond the '80s cheese-ball elements that make the movie entertaining to watch, director Gary Sherman does actually execute some interesting on-set movie magic utilizing mirrors -- a re-curring visual motif in the film.

Wait Until Dark (1967)
The film adaption of Frederick Knott's still popular stage play, which concerns a blind lady (Audrey Hepburn) who must contend with a trio of criminals who believe something valuable is located in her apartment. The film is most notable for featuring a bizarre performance by Alan Arkin, but for me the big point of interest was a younger Richard Crenna - who I was mostly familiar with from the Rambo films - playing the suave lead criminal. It isn't a stellar film, but it is a nice, taught B-thriller. Plus I always like seeing character actor Jack Weston. Fun fact: a 1998 Broadway revival of the stage play starred Quentin Tarantino in the Arkin role. 

The Sugarland Express (1974)
The forgotten Spielberg film. Or at least the most rarely discussed (even1941 and Always are oft mentioned as a punchline; though I kind of appreciate both those films). It is definitely lesser Spielberg, but it nonetheless contains the typical magnetism of his '70s work. A fine installment in the couple-on-the-run subgenre, Goldie Hawn talks her convict husband, William Atherton, into escaping prison so they can go on an ill-advised journey to reclaim their son before he's taken away by the government. Spielberg aside, I was mostly curious to see 1980's asshole superstar Atherton playing the lead in a film. He is decent, though it is clear why he found greater success as a prick than a leading man -- it is where his true talents lie.

White of the Eye (1987)
Tracking a charming high-end audio equipment technician (David Keith) who becomes the primary suspect in a series of murders, this film is hard to categorize. Which is generally a sure sign I'll enjoy it.  The film's opening is the best bit of giallo Dario Argento never shot. The rest of the film flip-flops between mystery thriller and gonzo dark comedy. Even once the film was over, after a gleefully demented climax, I wasn't sure exactly what true tone I was supposed to take away. Yet I was never bored for a second.  

Vice Squad (1982)
The LAPD force a businesswoman-turned-prostitute to help them capture her super-villain pimp, played by Wings Hauser. Wings Hauser! This film is a great sleazy time. And as someone who currently lives in Hollywood, I love watching films shot in Hollywood in the late '70s and early '80s, when the area was at its dirtiest and most dangerous -- before Los Angeles tried to clean it up (not that it ever became clean). Plus, Hauser sings the film's opening and closing theme song "Neon Slime". Wings Hauser! Fun fact: Wings Hauser is Cole Hauser's dad.

The Tin Drum (1979)
A profoundly unusual film, and winner of both the Palme d'Or and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The story concerns Oskar (David Bennent, who was also in Legend), a little boy so fed up with the nonsense of adults that he tosses himself down the stairs and stops himself from ever growing. He can also shatter glass with his voice! The film was controversial at the time (banned in a few places) because of scenes in which Oskar (played by 11 year old Bennent) gets his groove on with an adult actress. But the film is very funny and unique. And long -- I saw the uncut 162 minutes director's cut.

Born Innocent (1974) 
Considering this was an NBC TV movie, it is a shockingly unpleasant and raw experience. But that was the '70s I guess. Only one year after the release of The Exorcist, an already notably older looking Linda Blair stars as a troubled teen sent to a girls' juvenile detention center. But this is no Corman women-in-prison T&A flick or Orange is the New Black dramedy. This movie is bleak. There are no sunny affirmations and positive transformations here. This will leave you saying, "Well, fuck."
The Petrified Forest (1936)
The Maltese Falcon is usually sited as the film that made Humphrey Bogart a star. But that was really the film that made him a big star. This is the film that put him on Hollywood's radar. Boggie plays Duke Mantee, a gangster on the run who keeps a group of hostages in a secluded desert diner during a sandstorm. The film was an adaptation of a play by Algonquin Round Table member Robert E. Sherwood, that starred Leslie Howard and Bogart. So the story goes: Warner Bros. wanted Howard (who was already a film star) to reprise his role, but wanted Edward G. Robinson to play Mantee. Howard refused to do the film unless they took Bogart as well. Oddly enough, in 1948 Robinson wound up playing essentially the same character in the very similar Key Largo -- in which Bogart now played the hero, trapped in a secluded hotel with a gangster during a hurricane. 

Homebodies (1974)
The tragic-comic tale of an aging apartment complex occupied by equally aging tenants. When a construction company tries to force the elderly tenants out of the building, they start fighting back with murderous intent. It is a grittier Arsenic & Old Lace. We did 30 midnight shows at The Cinefamily throughout this past October, and there were a handful I wasn't familiar with. This was one of them. I have fellow programmer Tom Fitzgerald is to thank for its selection. I expected very little from it and I walked away with my mind swimming. Our goal at Cinefamily, especially with the 30 midnights, is to turn people on to cool things. And Homebodies was the most frequently stated favorite discovery in October among our regulars. So I'm not alone. 

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