Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Lars Nilsen ""

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Lars Nilsen

Lars is a programmer at Austin Film Society and there he curates repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics. 

The Austin Film Society can be found here:  
http://www.austinfilm.org
and Lars excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/197585777057317/ 


Also, check out Lars' lists from previous years:

http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/01/lars-nilsens-top-films-seen-in-2010.html 
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/12/lars-nilsens-favorite-older-films-seen.html

http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2012/12/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2012-lars.html

http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2013/12/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2013-lars.html
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THE LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD - 1971 D. Kevin Billington
I really was not expecting anything as harsh, unforgiving and magical as this when I started watching this film. Kirk Douglas plays an assistant lighthouse keeper on a rocky Mediterranean cape whose lighthouse is taken over by a band of terrifying ruthless pirates. All are played by familiar spaghetti western villains and their leader is the unbelievably suave, fur-coat wearing Yul Brynner - who will instantly make you go, "oh shit, why have I not seen every single Yul Brynner movie!?" Douglas becomes a hunted fugitive who hides out in the islands many rocky cliffs and fights a one-man guerrilla war against the pirates as they wreck ships attempting to round the horn. It gets rough, and then it gets gory and then it gets doom-y and then it gets even better. Shot by the great Henri DecaĆ« (400 BLOWS, LE SAMURAI, JOY HOUSE, VIVA MARIA). So beautiful. So dark. So rough and tough. So basically perfect.


... ALL THE MARBLES - 1981 - D. Robert Aldrich
After having seen stills and posters of this for years and I guess I thought I knew what the movie would be already before I saw it. I thought it would be a winking T&A movie from the coked-out early '80s and it wouldn't work and it would feel like a waste and I'd just feel sad for poor Robert Aldrich whose Hollywood career had ended on such a sour note. I am happy to say that's not what we have here at all. It's a very appropriate coda to Aldrich's great career. Peter Falk plays the manager of a female tag-team wrestling duo (Laurene Landon and Vicki Frederick). The three tour around the depressing industrial towns of the rust belt, getting matches here and there and fighting the promoters to get paid. Finally the ironically-named "California Dolls" get their chance at the big time. It's a surprisingly three-dimensional character study of the three leads but it also delivers the laughs and thrills. Burt Young plays a sleazy show promoter and nearly steals the show. In its portrait of itinerant jobbers on the bottom rung of show business it amounts to kind of an artistic statement on the part of the hard-working, loyal Aldrich.

INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY - 1937, D. Alfred Santell
For the last two Augusts at Austin Film Society we have done Barbara Stanwyck series. In 2013 it was Pre-Code Stanwyck and this year it was Stanwyck In Her Prime, films from the late '30s and into the '40s. I was scrambling a little to fill out the series because a couple of prints fell through and I decided midway through the process that I really did not want to screen STELLA DALLAS so I started ploughing through some available oddities and found this one. It's the first DOCTOR KILDARE movie and by all rights it should be a fairly predictable program picture. It's much, much better than that. Stanwyck plays a woman arrested along with her bank robber husband, who she refused to implicate. When she returns to her neighborhood she finds that her daughter has disappeared and the only person who can help is her husband's old underworld crony, who demands a high price, payable in money or flesh. The only person she can turn to for help is her doctor, the steady, reliable and honest Dr. Kildare (Joel McCrea, who has great chemistry with Stanwyck). It's handsomely and sensitively staged and very well paced. Above all, it's a showcase for Stanwyck's magnificent dramatic performance. She has been acclaimed far more for films that are worth far less. This is Stanwyck at her best, which is to say it is screen acting at it's best.

S.O.B. - 1981 D. Blake Edwards
Blake Edwards went through a tough career stretch in the '70s. After a run of underperforming movies the only thing that kept him in Hollywood was the popular Pink Panther series. After making three of those in a row he set out to make a satire of modern morals. The movie, 10, was a huge, unexpected success and Edwards, again on top of the world, made his Hollywood movie - the bitter, acerbic, alienating, and, for me, brilliant S.O.B. It's about a director, once the toast of Hollywood, whose latest film flops causing him to go flying off the handle into a suicidal mania. After he fails to kill himself, his friends have a get together at his house to cheer him up. The party turns into an orgy and the director realizes that the way to make his picture a hit is to add sex. His wife and leading lady - a kind of Julie Andrews type (played by Julie Andrews, Edward's own wife in real life) is coerced into doing a topless scene for the film and the film becomes a hit. Then things get weird. Much more venom-filled than was probably prudent, this must have felt pretty good to get out of Edward's system. It's a combination of asocial black humor and the lowest of low humor. I think it's pretty great. Most people will hate it.

SKIN GAME - 1971 D. Paul Bogart
The way Hollywood handles things like slavery is to get all cutesy or - it's a special case with BLAZING SADDLES - to play it as an all-out sick burlesque. This is a fairly realistically mounted film, by low-budget Hollywood standards and it plays the slavery angle head on. It's a little surprising to hear this many matter-of-fact N-words and the horror of slavery is treated as a day-to-day reality that the heroes are consciously straying too close to. Lou Gossett plays a free northern black who teams up with smooth-talker James Garner to play a con game in slave markets throughout the south. Garner poses as a seller, drives up the price for Gossett, pockets the money, and then both move on to the next town. When a terrifying, inhumane slave-driver (Ed Asner!) recognizes them, he makes the trouble. With Susan Clark as a thief who tangles romantically with Garner and Brenda Sykes as a slave who Gossett falls in love with and devises a plan to free. This would appear to have been a pretty major influence on DJANGO UNCHAINED.

FANNY & ALEXANDER - 1982 d. Ingmar Bergman
So major. If you haven't seen this and you think this is going to be another coming-of-age story, think again. This is like a big, dense, rewarding 1600 page novel. It's funny, mystical, terrifying and, like a big novel, you learn a lot from it. This is kind of a summing up of Bergman's career and his instrument by this time was so finely tuned that it could play immortal rhapsodies on the simplest themes. It's maybe the best cast movie ever, and probably the best written. The bittersweet quality of childhood memories is there in every frame - along with the horror of the unknown cruelty and strangeness of adults. I would almost swear that I could smell this film at times - especially the Christmas dinner and some of the musty, wooden rooms. We know the space that most movies occupy, but FANNY & ALEXANDER takes us to a liminal place where the film creates something like an artificial real world. It's the majesty of Bergman's mind and the payoff of his years of collaboration with these people. This stands with the great masterpieces of any art form.

LE PROFESSIONNEL 1981 D. Georges Lautner
This sort of feels like a Cannon revenge movie but it some very important differences. Chief among these is that Jean-Paul Belmondo is the hero. That's a big deal. By this time in his career, Belmondo's face, never a model of classical symmetry, had become heavily lined. We sometimes say euphemistically that an aged face has character. In this case it is so true. Belmondo (the rest of him looks like a trim 28 year old) had bushels of character even as a young man. As a middle aged man, he is about the most likable hero you could imagine, and he's an excellent actor, stuntman and romantic lead. He plays a commando who, years earlier, was dispatched to central Africa to assassinate a dictator. When the political winds shifted and the dictator, President Njala, became an asset to French foreign policy aims, Belmondo was sold out by the government. He escapes from a brutal African prison camp and makes his way to Paris, where coincidentally (?) President Njala is on a state visit. Belmondo is there to complete his earlier assignment and not surprisingly the French government is freaking out. They put Paris on lockdown but the clever and resourceful Belmondo not only eludes them, he does it with style and panache. Great action. Terrific conflict. Belmondo. Belmondo. Belmondo.

THE WICKED LADY - 1945 D. Leslie Arliss
Full-blooded, unashamed melodrama. Audiences in 1945 bought their ticket to see a wicked lady. They got one. Margaret Lockwood plays a bad lady whose first onscreen act is to steal her best friends husband from the very altar of marriage. She follows this by becoming the mistress of an infamous highwayman (James Mason) with whom she robs and, eventually, kills. Her wickedness seems to now no bounds, but she's also the heroine in a way. The virtuous characters in the film are well-enough drawn, but Lockwood is fascinating and sexy. She may be wicked but no one can call her anything less than fascinating. Well made, fast paced, wicked.

BLOOD CIRCUS - 1985 D. Santo Rigatuso
Don't talk to me about cinematic dementia unless you've seen this. Inadvertent art from a jewelry wholesaler in Baltimore named Santo "Bob" Rigatuso whose product - and lounge singing alter ego - is "Santo Gold". Here he stars as himself, a kind of Capra-esque Mr. Smith who arranges a wrestling match in Baltimore but must cut through red tape to do it. There's also something about alien wrestlers. It's hard to remember it all because the film is an assault on logic in every way. I think this film has more individual edits than any other film I have seen and as it gets to the big wrestling match/simultaneous concert the cuts increase. The average length of each shot is probably about 2 seconds. The stream of consciousness narrative is naive/sophisticated. It is like the Baltimore trash culture "Ulysses". To watch it is to experience multiple tracks of awareness about Bob/Santo, his experience making the film, the hard, hard hustle of his life and his forbears' lives as immigrants, his drive to clear his place in the sun however he can at at whatever cost. The cheapest gags are sometimes the most revealing. You can practically hear him behind the scenes asking for discounts for goods and services in exchange for a favorable mention in the film. I think it's the most demented thing I have ever seen. It makes ALABAMA'S GHOST look like DOWNTON ABBEY.

AFTER THE FOX - 1966 D. Vittorio De Sica
Peter Sellers pretty much established to gold standard for ethnic characterizations with his work as Inspector Clouseau and as Hrundi V. Bakshi in THE PARTY. Here he plays a macho Italian super-criminal, fanatically protective of his little sister who, as played by Britt Ekland, draws a lot of male attention and keeps him on his toes. When news of a gigantic gold shipment comes to his attention Sellers (The Fox) develops a scheme to impersonate a film director and make a sham film in a coastal village. He casts famous American actor Victor Mature and his sister in the lead roles and the fun begins. As is the case with most Sellers films, if you find him funny and can appreciate the virtuosity of his acting, you will enjoy the film. I got a lot of laughs out of it and the theme song moved in to stay permanently, like an Italian Momma's boy in his mother's attic.

2 comments:

SteveQ said...

How did you see Blood Circus?! A bunch of people - including me - are trying to see it. To my knowledge, there's only one print, discovered a few years ago.

Lars Nilsen said...

Yeah, that must have been the one I saw. The best way to see a lot of movies that you've never had a chance to see before is to live in Austin.