Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Allan Arkush ""

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Allan Arkush

Allan Arkush is one of my favorite directors and also one of my favorite cinephiles. He's the man behind GET CRAZY, ELVIS MEETS NIXON, SHAKE RATTLE AND ROCK, HEARTBEEPS and the incomparable ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. If watching ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL doesn't make you smile (like it does for me every single time I see it) then you have a heart of stone. It's one of my all-time favorite films and I have a framed original one-sheet for it in my office at work.
I first met Allan in person years ago at a video store called Laser Blazer. This was a really big deal to me at the time as he was one of the first directors I ever met in person. It was an even cooler thing for me because of how much I love ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. I worked at that video store for several years when I first got to Los Angeles.  Allan was a pretty regular customer and was always kind enough to allow me to strike up a conversation with him about whatever movies he was browsing or buying. He of course impressed me immediately with his obvious depth of knowledge and pure love of cinema in general. He's the kind of guy I aspire to be. Someone who spreads his love for movies to people all around him. It's a great mission. One way he does this is via Trailers From Hell where he has given lots of insights about lots of his favorite films. Check them out here:

Now, please enjoy his list:
(I am truly honored to have it as part of the series!)

Older Movies That I saw for the first time on 2014

This year’s list is a bit of unusual because so many of what I found memorable were movies that I sought out because they related to work. Or as a result of work, I was away from home watching the DVDs that I brought with me. In December of 2013 I was hired by Fox21 & Lifetime to be the Director/Producer for season 2 of their show “The Witches of East End.’ I felt that I needed to do a little research on Witch movies, I’d seen some of the better-known ones (I Married a Witch. Withches of Eastwick etc.)and I needed to broaden my knowledge, so a visit to Master Movie Guru Joe Dante was in order. From the stack of DVDs that he lent me I was really moved by these 2 new to me classics.

Burn Witch Burn(1962) A very tense and realistic British movie from the early 60’s. Beautifully directed and acted, it makes the supernatural completely plausibleVery Reminiscent of the British Kitchen Sink movies that were in vogue at the time.  The movie works on every level. Claustrophobic and realistic it reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby, but not in any obvious ways, just in how you felt when you watched them. The psychology of both of those movies is grounded in character. I watched at least 3 times.

Mario Bava’s “Kill Baby Kill.”(1966) - This movie is so creepy!!! Bava’s style is right there in your face for the whole movie. It just doesn’t let up. I gave my copy to the Art dept and DP to encourage them to be bold in their plans for the new season.
ened up watching a lot of Bava to study hisatomespherics. Other movies that were a big influences on Witches of East End were “The Innocents” & “Tomb of Ligea” As such they are not official parts of this list because I have seen them many times in the past.If you saw any episodes, that’s who we were paying homage too as unlikely as that may seem to the viewer, we had fun watching them.

I am addicted to the Criterion Collection and since I was going to be away from home for at least 7 months I bought some box sets to explore. It was my cinematheque at The Sutton Place (Vancouver).

I love the work of Ozu, my favorites being “Tokyo Story” & “There Was a Father.” I worked my way thru “The Late Ozu” box set, which was all-new to me. The three movies that really moved me were “Early Spring”(1956), “Tokyo Twilight”(1957) & “Equinox Flower”(1958). All three deal with the effects of westernization on the younger generation in post WW2 Japan. All are great works. I watched sections of them several times. As a father of 2 daughters in their early 20’s they spoke to me in very personal ways. I recently visited Tokyo and in certain neighborhoods I experienced a profound sense of Déjà vu, all those atmospheric still frames that Ozu uses like chapter headings had embedded them selves in my memory. He is a timeless genius. Check out this Eclipse no frills box, definitely a bargain.

Another Criterion Box that went on location with me was “Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project.” Every movie in this box is worthy of being on this list BUT “The Housemaid”(1960) Directed by Kim Ki –Young was a revelation. It’s a very creepy horror film that is not really a horror film at all!! Indescribable and deeply disturbing I can’t wait to show it to a room full of unsuspecting friends. Sexual obsession, revenge & betrayal are all found here in big portions. It really stretches the rules of cinema reality to the edge of the absurd.
The whole box is memorable but my other favorite was a Greek movie Dry Summer.”(1964) A simple tale of the fight for water rights in a small village. You felt part of these people’s life. 30 years ago this movie would have been playing at the Thalia. Greed and power are explored on a very elemental level. Dry Summer’s simplicity is also its eloquence.
My third  Criterion box set was “Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy.” I knew these movies well except for “Germany In The Year Zero.”(1948) My daughter had seen it in a college course and had been surprised that I had never seen it. So was I. I put it on one Saturday afternoon and was devastated. It is the equal of “Paisan” & “Open City.” Yes it’s relentlessly grim and I ended up in tears. Rossellini has a profound ability to portray how awful we humans can be towards each other in a way that makes it all understandable & unavoidable. Powerful stuff, guaranteed to ruin the rest of your day, and I mean that in a good way.

Aside from Criterion the other company that benefits from my cinema curiosity is Warner Archives. My favorite new /old one from them in 2014  was “Don’t Gamble with Strangers.”(1946) It’s directed by the dependable William Beaudine (The Old Fashioned Way) who’s grandson Skip Beaudine is a Production Manager & AD that I have been working with since “Moonlighting.” This is a real Monogram B picture that is as entertaining as hell. The card playing and gambling sequences are very well done and the whole tawdry atomsphere is a lot of fun. Short & snappy. You can’t go wrong. I didn’t recognize anyone in the cast!?!

I’m a Frank Borzage completist. My favorites are “Seventh Heaven”, “The Mortal Storm,” “Moonrise” “History Is Made At Night,” & “Lucky Star” This year I caught up with “I’ve Always Loved You.”(1946) Yes it’s way too sentimental and over the top. . It’s not on the same level as his masterworks, but I enjoyed it just the same. It’s set in the world of classical pianists and orchestras behind the scenes and in their rarified private lives. There is a lot of music being played and Artur Rubinstein performed all the pieces. AND Yes it’s overwrought but thrilling too. Especially the performance of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto. There is a bit of that plays like the Red Shoes but not nearly as artfully & good (What is for that matter) but the mentor/student relationship is what makes the picture work. I also admired the production design and use of color.

“Passion” (2012) Brian DePalmaI have gone to see every DePalma movie since Greetings in a theatre. Opening night of Scarface on Hollywood Blvd was truly awesome!! Somehow I missed this one on its release so I streamed it thru Amazon. It has so much of what I like about his work, stylish camera moves, creepy voyeurism (in a good way),intrigue amongst beautiful women, overwrought music and a story/plot that loses me. I’ve seen Love Crimes the French original twice, which helped me follow this one.(This all sounds like I am making excuses for why I liked it)( I am) It is not as good as Femme Fatale (a more recentfave), and certainly not up there with Carrie and many of his earlier movies BUT all I can say is DePalma is pure cinema, and a guilty pleasure. I will be there for the next one too. Just as a bit of an explanation of my personal fandom, when I like an artist (cinema or music) I like them for life, good, great & bad.

The passing of Mike Nichols was a good reason to go back into his incredible Filmography for another look at “CarnelKnowledge” & “The Bird Cage” Both are still great and I am going to rewatch “Working Girl.” I also realized that I had never seen all of  “Angels In America.”(2003) So I binge watched all 6 hours. It is in many ways his crowning achievement. A great piece of cinema that just happened to be made for TV. As a Director he is way out on a limb here,with performances that push his actors to their very limits. And what actors!!!! PacinoStreep, Emma Thompson, James Cromwell, Jefferey Wright, Justin Kirk, Patrick Wilson, Ben Shenkman, Mary Louise Parker, all working on the highest levels. The camera work is expressive and often daring. The issues of power, responsibility to those we love, compassion, fear and most of all the inevitability of death are treated with both profundity & humor. It may be the best movie that I saw all year.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Really enjoyed this list and put DON'T GAMBLE WITH STRANGERS and the Borzage film on my wish list. :)

My first Ozu film, EQUINOX FLOWER, made my Favorite Discoveries list last year. I've since seen 3 more Ozu films but have more of the Late Ozu set to watch. Now I feel anxious to get back to it!

Best wishes,