Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Eric J. Lawrence ""

Friday, February 27, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence is the Music Librarian over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) and I have been a fan of his radio show there for more than 12 years now. It is truly my favorite radio program out there. Quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check it out!

Eric is also an adventurous cinephile whose tastes I respect very much. In fact, it was he who first turned me onto THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS which turned out to be one of my very favorite discoveries of 2013.
Check out his discoveries lists for 2011, 2012 & 2013 below:


The First of the Few (Leslie Howard, 1942) Were it not for the eternal affection for “Gone with the Wind,” Leslie Howard might be a bigger footnote in most movie fans’ notebook than he is, despite being a true powerhouse, writing, acting & directing on Broadway and in both US and British films, with Oscar noms & American Theatre Hall of Fame inductions to boot.  His premature death (shot down while flying over the Bay of Biscay by German planes in 1943) makes this self-produced biopic of R.J. Mitchell, the father of British wartime aviation, all the more poignant.  Howard & David Niven (playing his friend & test pilot) make the story of designing the Spitfire both dramatic and entertaining.  I was turned onto this film through the band Public Service Broadcasting, who sample from it judiciously on their song, “Spitfire.”

Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945) Often regarded as the only major noir film made in color, this feverish melodrama blew my mind with its dazzling Technicolor.  Yes, Gene Tierney plays one of the most textbook examples of the femme fatale in all of cinema.  And yes, Cornel Wilde is well suited as the man caught in her trap.  And I wouldn’t want to miss mentioning the pleasures of seeing folks like Darryl Hickman, Chill Wills and especially Vincent Price (in a juicy, non-horror role).  But the gorgeous, rainbow vistas portrayed in the film, from New Mexico to Maine (and properly recognized for an Academy Award for Leon Shamroy’s cinematography), make me wonder why this is not domestically available on Blu-ray.  I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Scream of Fear (Seth Holt, 1961) We all know the virtues of the British studio Hammer’s horror output of the 50s & 60s (with diminishing returns in the 70s), but their films outside of that genre are less well known.  “Scream of Fear” (or “Taste of Fear,” as it is known outside the US) is a great example of their ability to mount an exceptional production minus the supernatural trappings.  A thriller in an obvious Hitchcock mode, it still features many key figures from the horror branch, including screenwriter Jimmy Sangster (who wrote Hammer’s breakthrough Frankenstein & Dracula pictures), actor Christopher Lee (who claims it the best Hammer film he was in) and director Seth Holt, whose premature death at the age of 47 surely kept him from wider acclaim.  A fetching Susan Strasberg plays a paralysed girl haunted by the disappearing & reappearing corpse of her father.  Top notch acting and some brutal twists make this a thriller to remember.

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968) 2014 was the year I was introduced to the unpredictable world of Frank Perry.  I also saw, and loved, “Man on a Swing,” but it is his cult favorite, “The Swimmer,” that impressed me most.  I remember hearing about this film for years & not understanding the concept of a guy swimming his way home via his neighbor’s swimming pools.  It’s the kind of crazy concept that could only be mounted today by David Lynch, but Perry makes it all seem perfectly imaginable, bringing John Cheever’s New Yorker story to life in the embodiment of a middle-aged Burt Lancaster.  A cameo from a vibrantly young Joan Rivers was a pleasant Easter Egg to discover in the year of her passing as well.  More Perry will certainly be consumed by me this year!

Model Shop (Jacques Demy, 1969) French director Jacques Demy’s debut English-language film is a sequel of sorts to his 1961 film “Lola,” as Anouk Aimee reprises her role as the object of every man’s affection.  But the film serves as much as a Frenchman’s love for late-60s Los Angeles as it does for the love of any woman, as stoic Gary Lockwood (Demy’s second-choice, after Harrison Ford!) roams Sunset Boulevard in search for meaning.  He splits from his beachfront cottage, hangs out with his buddies in the band Spirit, contemplates what to do with his draft notice & eventually rents a camera to take cheesecake photos with the lovely Lola. Demy sets his own pace to match Lockwood & Aimee’s laconic acting styles, so it is no powerhouse of a drama. But it has some of the same sort of magic as many of the late Nouvelle Vague films.  And fans of old LA, when you could drive around Hollywood aimlessly without traffic, will get a special kick out of it.

The King of Marvin Gardens (Bob Rafelson, 1972) Bob Rafelson & Jack Nicholson’s follow up to their collaboration on “Five Easy Pieces,” this film gets bonus points for Jack playing a late-night radio host (a profession dear to my own heart).  But it stands on its own as one of those quintessential early 70s films where the viewer is given no easy answers.  The opening scene is a great example of the slow reveal – we don’t know who Jack is talking to or why or even where exactly he is, but we’re caught up in the story he tells.  Great acting abounds, with the always watchable Bruce Dern as his huckster brother, Ellen Burstyn as an aging beauty queen, and Scatman Crothers as a charismatic crime boss. And the chilly, rundown Atlantic City setting almost serves as a character as well (with the promise of a Pacific island resort serving as the off-screen heavy). Fun to see Jack play the straight man for a change.

Stunt Rock (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1980) One of my favorite trailers of all time.  A rock band featuring a wizard throwing fireballs!  A guy doing pull-ups off the Hollywood sign!  People falling or rappelling off cliffs & tall buildings!  A watermelon being chopped on some guy’s head with a samurai sword!  Cars blowing up!  People blowing up!  A guy fighting a cheetah!  A GUY FIGHTING A CHEETAH!!!  When I finally caught up with the actual movie, I realized it doesn’t consist of much more than this, with the thinnest of plots strung together about an Australian stuntman (Grant Page) coming to LA to hang with his rocker cousin (in the band Sorcery).  And tragically, there is no further expansion of the brief clip of the guy fighting the cheetah.  But there is something absolutely refreshing about a pre-CGI/pre-Jackass exploration of cinematic thrill seekers.  Pure cinema!

1 comment:

Ned Merrill said...

With regards to THE SWIMMER, welcome to the club. As for more Perry, have a look at LAST SUMMER, which Perry described to the young actors playing the leads, as a story about Ned Merrill's wayward children. MAN ON A SWING is great.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN was released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time. Not sold out yet. DAVID AND LISA is newly available on Blu-ray.