Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - John Ary ""

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - John Ary

John Ary watches movies and then produces video reviews and essays about them. You can see his stuff over at and follow him on Twitter at john_ary.

Mr. Freedom (1969)
Way before superhero movies were making billions of dollars worldwide, they were either seen as campy entertainment for kids or cheap tie-ins to already established brand names. But back in 1969, a former fashion photographer for Vogue magazine imagined a comic hero that railed against American politics and painted the U.S. as an empire hellbent on spreading consumerism across the globe. Although William Klein created Mr. Freedom more than 40 years ago, the character still remains just as relevant today.

The character embodies everything wrong with the status quo of American politics at the time. He’s a simplistic, chauvinist, racist meathead, who has trouble thinking for himself. Imagine Captain America without a conscience or a dumber version of the Watchmen’s Comedian. This mixed-up hero is equal parts cowboy and secret agent. Think James Bond, but played by John Wayne.

Doctor Freedom (played with a Texas twang by Donald Pleasance) gives our right-wing hero his orders to go to France, to fight the incursion of communism and to teach their people about the virtues of democracy. It’s in Paris that he comes face to face with his greatest enemies: his rival Moujik Man, a giant inflatable balloon creature named Red China Man and Jesus. Will Mr. Freedom and his band of merry freedom fighters prevail over evil or will their campaign for justice lead to the total destruction France?

It’s obvious from the film’s absurd tone and satirical characters that director William Klein had a deep disdain for the policies of his home country at the time. He worried that big business had too many close ties to our policy makers as evidenced by the Freedom headquarters that just happen to share space with large corporate conglomerates. Then there’s the way he uses the U.S. Embassy as a metaphor for the way those corporations try to spread consumerism to other cultures across the globe. And of course Mr. Freedom’s political speeches seem to go on forever, without ever actually saying anything at all. Amazing how so little has changed since 1969.

You can see my full video review here:

From Beijing with Love (1994)
Stephen Chow is 007… or at minimum, a comedic Cantonese version of the venerable secret agent. The Hong Kong star takes everything that we love about the long-established spy franchise and peppers it with a unique blend of Asian flavors. This version of 007 finds our philandering martini-sipping hero as a retired butcher, brought back to the force after a man with a golden gun steals a priceless dinosaur artifact. All of the Bond tropes are on full display, including an abundance of dumb useless gadgets, a Jaws knock-off, and a opening credit montage that has the secret agent murdering the dancing silhouettes.

Unlike the Bond films it parodies, From Beijing with Love never gets too comfortable in any particular tone. In one scene you may see Chow channel Chaplin as he attempts to evade a prison firing squad. Later he could be romantically singing a ballad while sitting behind a piano. Another scene has him avenging the brutal death of a child’s father in awesome shootout inside a mall with some dastardly jewel thieves. The ebb and flow of the tone keeps you from getting too comfortable with the current genre on display. When Chow abruptly shifts gears, he forces you to eventually forget about your expectations of what’s to come and get swept away with his creative insanity.

Even with several sophomoric gags and cheesy special effects, Chow conveys a surprising sentimentality for his character. By the end, he brings this super agent goofball full circle, revealing him to be slightly more complex than expected. That’s something we never got to see from Sean Connery or Roger Moore.

The Astrologer (1975)
Craig Denney only created one movie during his brief career as a filmmaker, but it served as a testament to his own unique vision as an artist. His story of a two-bit circus psychic who embarks on an epic Kenyan adventure that eventually leads to a lucrative career as a diamond smuggler, media mogul, and military advisor should never have been made. It has a scene where the main character (played by Denney) watches his own film called The Astrologer. How meta. It has a break-up scene in a restaurant shot entirely in slow motion. How dramatic. It has the out-of-shape Denney spending approximately 40 percent of his screentime walking around without a shirt on. How manly. Amateurish in almost every way, I like to imagine that his movie serves as an almost autobiographical journey through the mind of dreamer, too naive to understand why the world will never fully embrace his unique worldview or his devotion to new age mysticism.

Without an ounce of irony, Denney attempts to make the most bold, dramatic and grandiose film ever about the exciting and cruel world of “big time” astrology, but alas few have ever witnessed its cheesy glory. The American Film Genre Archive has recently completed a successful indiegogo campaign to preserve a 2K copy of this diamond in the rough, but don’t hold your breath for a Blu-ray release. The film is stuck in legal limbo due to Denney’s illegal use of Moody Blues songs throughout the entire movie. He even gave the band a film credit for almost all of the movie’s music. Either he had no idea what he was doing as a filmmaker or he simply didn’t give a damn. Whatever the case, he created a remarkable piece of outsider art that could never be duplicated.

The Astrologer gives its audience an inside look into the mind of a crazed individual, daring you to look away. To quote a character from the film, “You’re not an astrologer… YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE!” Indeed you are Mr. Denney, but that’s what makes your film so amazing to watch.

Boardinghouse (1982)
Much like Craig Denney, actor/director/writer/makeup artist/special effects artist John Wintergate used his one shot at the big time to create a uniquely amateurish film featuring his own distinct male fantasies. This romp features a haunted home full of horny babes, with Wintergate as their housedad. For some odd reason the ladies love Wintergate (let’s just refer to him as LL Cool W). Maybe it has something to do with his tantric psychic powers? Perhaps it’s his giant helmet of Aquanetted hair? Or maybe it’s just because he wrote the darn thing? Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter. Just let the man have his fantasy.

Apparently there’s a 2 hour and 38 minute director’s cut of the film. I haven’t seen it for fear that it may explode that part of my brain that generates happiness. Wintergate and his fellow co-star and real life wife Kalassu claim to have shot it as a comedy. Coast Films wasn’t laughing though when they received Wintergate’s completed work, so they chopped it down to 98 minutes and attempted to make it more into a scary movie. The result somehow strikes the perfect alchemy of gore,slapstick humor, sex and nonsense.

His horror/comedy also boasts the reputation of being the first ever film shot on video and upconverted to 35mm film. (You’re welcome Michael Mann.)

WolfCop (2014)
Lou Garou, a small-town police officer with terrible attitude and a drinking problem, has his life dramatically changed after a fateful night in the woods. Now he worries about pulling the night shift when there’s a full moon out. That’s when he transforms into WOLFCOP!

The filmmakers seemed inspired by An American Werewolf in London and the practical effects of the 80’s and early 90’s. Almost all of the beheadings, eye gouges and werewolf transformations use real splatter and makeup appliances to create a nice throwback feel. When Officer Garou goes through one of his early transformations inside a mensroom, you get to see many of the up-close disgusting details, starting with a bulging, hairy, skin-ripping wolf penis. While it’s obvious that the filmmakers aren’t working with a John Landis-budget, they make the most out of these werewolf transformation scenes using scrappy visual tricks and a devilish sense of humor.

These old-school horror movie-making techniques, along with the film’s campy central premise, give it an earnest sincerity. Director and writer Lowell Dean set out to make a genuinely fun movie. He’s not trying to make fun of the genre or insult your intelligence. Instead he delivers an enjoyable 80 minutes of mayhem and kitsch.

You can see my full video review here:

Conquest (1983)
In the early 80’s, sword and sorcery movies enjoyed a low-budget renaissance, thanks in no small part to the success of Conan the Barbarian and the newly expanding home video market for genre films. Italian horror director Lucio Fulci hopped on the bandwagon for his devilish take on the realm of fantasy. Conquest pairs up two of unlikely allies for a dangerous showdown with a topless metal-masked sorceress. This odd couple features Mace the barbarian, who wields a pair of bone nunchuks and Ilias, a young educated gent armed with a bow that shoots laser arrows. Call me crazy, but those weapons put the puny swords of Conan, The Beastmaster and Deathstalker to shame.

Everything shot outside has an eerie golden hour glow, enhanced with a bit of fog to make it even more spooky. All of the other scenes takes place inside of dark caves, lit solely with torches and the spirit of past Frank Franzetta paintings. Fulci punctuates the hazy dreamlike visuals with copious amounts of blood and gore. When one of our heroes gets hit by a poison arrow, you see his skin bubble and burst with puss. Earlier in the film, we get to see an innocent person literally ripped in half. This is typical Fulci gore, but perpetrated by beastmen and barbarians. It’s the closest thing cinematically that kids of the 80’s got to seeing those little comics that came with your Masters of the Universe action figures brought to life.

Future Hunters (1986)
A Mad Max-style future featuring a time-travelling leather-clad Richard Norton armed with a giant gun that shoots exploding arrows. A kung fu showdown between Bruce Le and an archetypal silver-haired martial arts master in an ancient temple. A young Robert Patrick trying to stop crazed Nazis from obtaining a powerful artifact that could destroy the world. Amazonian women engaged in one-on-one death battles surrounded by a ring of fire over a pit of crocodiles. A tribe of little people that must fight for their freedom from a crew of nasty Mongol warriors. All of this you’ll find in one of the most B-est movie in the history of B-movies. It’s like the filmmakers challenged themselves to cram as many different genres into 90 minutes as possible. The only thing missing is perhaps a spaceship, a robot and/or invading aliens.

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