Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Sean Wicks ""

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a good friend of mine and he runs the Cinema-Scope blog (http://cinemascope-blog.blogspot.com/) which is very much a sister blog to my own (we often do series in conjunction with each other). An all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (https://twitter.com/wixpix), tumblr (http://seanwicks.tumblr.com/) facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WicksFlicks), and letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/wixpix/). I recommend following him anywhere you can! 

P.S. This is my "Closing Ceremonies" list and the final one in the series for this year. I just want to thank you all for reading and contributing!!


As mentioned below, here are Sean's Discoveries lists from his own blog:
http://cinemascope-blog.blogspot.com/2014/01/my-favorite-film-discoveries-of-2013.html
http://cinemascope-blog.blogspot.com/2014/01/2013filmdiscoveriespart2.html 
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It is always an honor to be asked to provide a list for the Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog, especially a “Discoveries” list which has become a highlight of the year – not only creating one, but reading the many others as well.  In fact this ritual has so become part of the year that I have kind of altered my viewing habits because of it.
I posted two lists to my own blog, and some of those titles are listed here. However, I held a few back knowing that I would be doing this post for this blog, so there are new entries – which I start out with.  So while I have listed some of these movies on previous posts, they are the ones that deserve a second mention.
So without further delay, here are my part Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 – let’s call this a part 2 1/2.

DECOY (1946; Directed by: Jack Bernhard)
The Film Noir that proves that even the death penalty can’t keep the toughest gangster or Femme Fatale from going after what they want. Actually forget the tough guy in this, the Femme Fatale is more deadlier than any of the males.
Robert Armstrong plays Frank Olins. Sent to the Gas Chamber he is revived afterwards – that’s right, brought back to life from death - by his conniving girlfriend (Jean Gillie) who wants to get the location of stolen loot that he was about to take to the grave with him.
Jean Gillie’s Margot Shelby is quite possibly one of the coldest, most ruthless Femme Fatales in Noir history.  Imagine if Richard Widmark was a female, he would have been perfect for this role.  I mean the whole movie hinges on the idea of her bringing back her boyfriend from the dead only to find money because she has no inclination of going back to being poor.  She’s greedy, obsessed and knows how to manipulate men. My kind of woman! (not sure what that says about me…)
This was a Monogram pictures release and is available from Warner Home Video as it was included in one of their Film Noir collection box sets (Volume 4).
YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN (1939; Directed by: George Marshall)
I can’t think of a more fitting title to add to a list being supplied to Rupert’s blog as W.C. Fields is one of his (many) patron saints of the Cinema (and his Twitter Avatar).
Here Fields is a seedy, two-bit Circus owner who is (surprise) cheap, always in debt and avoiding creditors.  His acts give him nothing but trouble especially Edgar Bergen – a ventriloquist – and his “dummy” Charlie (who gets separate billing in the credits…how great is that!). 
Bergen and Charlie are virtually the stars of this picture as they get more screen time than Fields, and even though you can clearly see Bergen’s lips moving as he “throws his voice” as Charlie, it’s hard not to enjoy the banter.
Also great is a moment that Mike Myers CLEARLY paid homage to (or stole?) in the Austin Powers movies that has a naked Fields walking across the Circus grounds with all his naughty bits blocked out by people and/or objects.  Busted Myers….busted!
Available on DVD from Universal Home Entertainment.

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN (1934; Directed by: Alexander Korda)
I went through an Alexander Korda phase this year, devouring all the titles in the Korda Eclipse box set in two days.  Out of that collection, this one caught my attention the most with Douglas Fairbanks playing an aged Don Juan with Fairbanks also visibly aged himself.
Fairbanks’ Don Juan just wants to live out the rest of his life in peace, but the ladies don’t seem to want to let him.  He is so infamous that even the idea that he paid a visit to a lowly actress propels her to instant stardom. He is plagued by affectionate admirers, a persistent ex-wife who holds debts over his head unless he returns to her and threatens him with jail time, as well as a copycat who gets murdered by a jealous husband. Ahh but this death is an opportunity for Don Juan to disappear as he lets the young imposter be buried under his name and retreats to a quiet retirement. Then again, can age really stop the world’s greatest lover?
Even though Fairbanks is slightly wooden in the role of Don Juan, there is something authentic about this aging star trying to recapture his past glory mirrored by the premise of the film itself. You feel there is more going on in the scenes of Don Juan trying to tell a crowd who he really is only to be met with gales of vicious laughter.  I found myself getting worked up during moments like these, wanting the crowd to realize that this man used to be great and worshipped, and now they are just laughing him off as a big joke.
Available on DVD from the Criterion collection as part of the Eclipse Series 16: Alexander Korda’s Private Lives.

BLACK SUNDAY (1977; Directed by: John Frankenheimer)
I’m not sure how it took me so long to see this movie.  I remember seeing the VHS box several times during my high school days as a part-time Video Store employee and kept thinking it was something I should check out.  That was during the early 1990s when, thanks to Die Hard, action movies involving terrorist plots where all the rage - although this movie predates that by 11 years.  I can thank a Twitter user by the handle of Film Samurai for announcing that Netflix had acquired this title for their streaming service and posted it on Thanksgiving week.  I was NOT disappointed.  In fact I was blown away.  I couldn't stop raving about it.
Bruce Dern plays a disgruntled Vietnam vet who after spending years as a POW is recruited by a Middle East terrorist group to help with a massive attack planned for the Super Bowl in Miami utilizing the Goodyear blimp.  Robert Shaw plays a bad-ass Israeli anti-terrorist agent who is trying to stop it before it happens.
Dern’s character is much like Damian Lewis’ Brody character from the Showtime series Homeland, a veteran held as a POW for several years who suddenly finds himself hating everything he fought and gave up his freedom for.  Dern is very likable in this role, even as messed up and as dangerous as he is.  It is easier to sympathize with him than it is Robert Shaw who is so tough and no-nonsense that when he and his partner arrive in the U.S. to investigate the plot, they come off as complete jerks.  I found I had this problem during the first season ofHomeland, completely loving Lewis’ Brody who was so obviously about to do something bad compared to Claire Danes’ overzealous and manic Carrie character that I almost couldn’t stand. 
It’s hard to imagine in 2013 Goodyear allowing their product name and blimp being used in a proposed terrorist plot, not to mention the NFL allowing actual teams (the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers) and personalities to be used not to mention filming a feature motion picture during an actual Super Bowl game (that would be Super Bowl X) which according to IMDb was accomplished by disguising the film cameras as CBS television cameras.  Let's face it, it just won't happen again!
It’s an extremely well-paced and thrilling edge-of-your-seat action movie that is enhanced by a John Williams score that I immediately declared as an “emergency score purchase” which thankfully was still available from a limited numbered edition release from Film Score Monthly.  In fact, I liked the movie so much I have even had it running a couple of times in the background as I’ve worked.

THE SPLIT (1968; Directed by: Gordon Flemyng)
 What can I say about the Warner Archive DVD-on-demand service (and now an Instant streaming service as well) except for thank God they exist!  If it wasn’t for them, I would have probably never seen this wonderful heist movie that features an all-star cast that includes Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman, Warren Oates, Diahann Carroll, Julie Harris, Jack Klugman, James Whitmore and Donald Sutherland.
The set-up is pretty much the only thing run-of-the-mill about this picture as Jim Brown has the perfect heist plan involving hitting the Los Angeles Coliseum during a Rams football game (again, Football being the target with actual NFL teams - the Rams and Falcons - at the center of it) and assembling a crack crew of criminals to pull it off.  The heist goes off without a hitch, but afterwards a bizarre, unforeseen (and incredibly original) complication takes place that results in Brown losing the money and the criminals thinking that he’s pulling a fast one on them.  He has to find it fast even going so far as to team up with the cop (Hackman) who is trying to arrest him.
Heist movies like this tend to be a dime a dozen, but this one differentiates itself enough to be wildly entertaining in terms of original twists and characters.  It has some great imagery which also manages to make it much more than you would expect.
According to IMDb, the first theatrical release to receive an R rating from the MPAA.

THE GOOD FAIRY (1935; Directed by: William Wyler)
I have the great pleasure of volunteering my time to the American Cinematheque, managing their Tumblr page.  This past year, they ran a series of Preston Sturges comedies which introduced me to this film which he wrote but did not direct.
The movie stars Margaret Sullivan as a na├»ve young woman who has just left the sheltered life at an orphanage to work at a movie theater as an usherette.  There she discovers the good and bad of humanity as she is taken in and protected by a kindly (yet very prickly) waiter, but then preyed upon by a lecherous millionaire.  Using the situation to her advantage, she decides to become a “good fairy” bestowing some poor stranger – a doctor played by Herbert Marshall - with a wealth of riches by making up a story that she is married to the guy but in reality she has never met him.  In an attempt to make this stranger’s life better, she complicates things in a comical way. 
It’s a delightful little under-known comedy that is enhanced by that trademark Preston Sturges dialogue and a solid cast.  It is definitely worth tracking down when you get a chance, especially if you like Sturges and/or comedies from the 30s.  Actually just watch it, you'll thank me either way.

THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966; Directed by: Frank Tashlin)
Frank Tashlin has become a director that I greatly admire and have been trying to watch and collect his entire filmography.
While I had seen many Tashlin films in the past, I first became aware of him as a directorial voice from several commentaries gushing about his work on Warner Bros. Looney TunesDVD/Blu-ray sets.  
Tashlin got his start in animation, working for Leon Schlesinger on theLooney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series.  Fired when he was outed for writing a comic strip for the Los Angeles Times and refusing to share his profits with Schlesinger, Tashlin moved into the live action feature realm in the 1950s.  Even in features his cartoon sensibilities were clearly visible, especially in his work with Jerry Lewis who almost comes across as a living, breathing cartoon creation.  Tashlin's The Girl Can't Help It from 1956 with Jayne Mansfield and Tom Ewell is a personal favorite of mine.  I first discovered it during Elwy Yost's Saturday Night at the Movies onTVOntario (kind of like a CanadianPBS) and have re-visited it many times since.  
The Glass Bottom Boat is one of his later films and it stars Doris Day (with a ill-advised hairdo) as a clumsy assistant at a research lab who meets Rod Taylor, a scientist working on a top-secret project destined to secure America's lead in the space race against the Russians.
The movie starts out really slow, and features a few superfluous comic set pieces (for instance one where Day does battle with a robot vacuum and another involving an out-of-control boat).  There is also a moment where the movie practically comes to a halt so Ms. Day can sing.  I could almost imagine the studio note of "Frank you can have Doris, but make sure she sings in it".  Once the movie settles into the main plot however, that's when it really shines and is filled with plenty of comic mayhem, great slapstick as well as clever sight and mistaken identity gags.  Paul Lynde and Dom DeLuise in particular really go into overdrive.
In the opening scene, Day and Taylor butt heads and I don't think it's a spoiler to reveal that the two are destined to fall in love very quickly.  Of course Day figures out that Taylor is her boss.  He in turn is instantly attracted to her and in order to get closer to her, she is promoted to be his personal assistant.  This is during the cold war and when an over-paranoid security guard (played by Paul Lynde) overhears her making a "secret call" to a Vladimir, she is instantly suspected as being a "commie" spy.  The thing is Vladimir is her dog that she rings the phone for daily so he can run around and get some exercise while she's not home.  What follows is a zany cartoon-like story where everyone thinks that Day is a communist spy and will go to whatever length necessary to catch her in the act, [SPOILER ALERT]while she on the other hand figures out their suspicions and concocts a revenge plot to turn the tables and make them all look stupid.
Watch out for some great Man From U.N.C.L.E. Easter eggs including a cameo by Robert Vaughn and some score cues.
On DVD from Warner home Video.

THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943; Directed by: Elliot Nugent)
This delightful 1940s comedy has a broke Paulette Godard posing as a fortune teller to help worm her way into Ray Milland's life.  He is courting another woman so Godard uses her "powers" to drive them apart.
It’s a very simple premise in a movie that has all the elements that make 40s romantic comedies so great.  The excellent cast makes it appear as though they had a lot of fun making this - almost as much fun as I did watching it.
Available via Netflix streaming.

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