Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Josh Olson ""

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014 - Josh Olson

Josh Olson is the Academy Award Nominated screenwriter of A History of Violence (2005), and a remarkable cinephile to boot. His commentaries over at Trailers From Hell are always among my favorites. Spend an hour and go through all of the films he's covered and I guarantee you'll come away with additions to your watchlist:
Josh was the first person I ever interviewed for my long running series at The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema, (back in 2010):
Also, he was kind enough to let me interview him for my Danny Peary documentary as well!
Here's a previous Film Discoveries list he did a few years back - good stuff!

I’ve had a print of the poster for years. It’s a stunning graphic, but I never knew much about the actual movie. Managed to track down a DVD last year, and it was a genuine revelation. It tells the story of a fallen woman on death row, whose only hope of salvation lies in naming the names of men she doesn’t want to destroy.

It’s the style of the film that makes it so compelling, though. Years before Kane (And reportedly an influence on Welles), its structure is experimental and wild. Flashbacks within flashbacks, characters walk into their own memories... if you love movies that play with structure and form, you’ll love this early and extremely successful experiment.

SPIONE (1928)
Is it possible to overpraise Fritz Lang? I don’t think so. I’ve never seen a Lang film that disappointed. Spione is a silent spy movie, made right after Metropolis, and it just rocks. The first five minutes will knock you for a loop - the pace is so frenetic, you’d think it was a Michael Bay film... in a good way.

It’s also fascinating for how many spy movie tropes show up in 1928. A villain in a wheelchair (Missing only the white cat), uniformed henchmen... all groovy stuff. I have to wonder how many of these were the concoction of Lang and his screenwriter (and wife) Thea Von Harbou). Is this Ground Zero for James Bond?

Some terrific actions scenes, tons of laughs, all marred only by a stretch in the beginning where the hero falls in love that seems to go on forever. Ah, mush!

I came to this through Los Angeles Plays Itself, which is the Must Have Blu-ray of 2014. I’d never heard of it before - a docudrama released in 1961, about a night in the life of some Native American residents of the long gone Bunker Hill neighborhood in LA. Plotless, the film tracks a group of twenty-somethings as they wander the streets, bars, alleys and landscapes of downtown LA on a Saturday, looking for kicks. It’s an astonishing slice of life that transports you to a time and place that is radically different - and yet, very much the same - from the world we live in now. Movies like this are as rare as rare can be, and truly precious.

How have I missed Kommissar X? This German series was part of the huge explosion of goofy spy movies that splooged out into the world in the post-James Bond 60s. Indescribably hilarious, the first in the series introduces us to Joe Walker, played by Italian star “Tony Kendall.” His best friend is American cop Tom Rowland, played by Brad Harris, who actually WAS American. All the obligatory Bondian stuff is here, and it’s all done with what is - I’m reasonably certain - is a wink and a nod. That said, part of what makes it so fun is the possibility that no one involved with the film quite understands how ludicrous it all is.

The second film - Three Yellow Cats aka Death is Nimble, Death is Quick - is just as entertaining.

An absolutely baffling piece of work from Rocky Horror director Jim Sharman and Nobel Prize winning author Patrick White. The two men lived in the same Australian suburb, and the film is meant to be a savage satire on... I guess.... the Australian bourgeoise, circa 1978. Watching it 40 years later and several continents away takes the sting out of it, I suspect.

Things kick off when the single, adult Felicity - who lives with her parents - is attacked by a prowler in her bedroom. The nature of the attack is unclear at first. Her father states that she was “interfered with,” and Felicity tells the police the prowler took her downstairs and made her sit with him while he smoked a cigar and drank a Scotch.

Eventually, the truth comes out - the prowler was more victim than perpetrator - and Felicity shucks the vestiges of her middle class existence, starts dressing in serious leather, and becomes a prowler herself. It is only when Felicity meets a naked homeless man in an abandoned house that she senses any purpose in life. And if any of that makes sense to you, then I’ve done a terrible job of explaining it.

It’s a mess, but a fascinating one. Sharman’s direction is riveting, from his rhythmic blocking, fascinating use of mirrors, and curious insistence on using nothing but actors with enormous noses. I’m not kidding. The shnozzes in this flick are epic. The strangely flanged effect he uses whenever anyone’s on the phone is truly unique. I can’t promise you’ll enjoy the experience, but it IS an experience.

This isn’t a new discovery for me at all. I’ve loved this film for years. An astonishingly gritty, tough and sad movie. The hard boiled script is from one of my all time faves, Walter Hill, and the flinty direction is by Robert Culp, one of the most solid, talented, and decent human beings to ever make a living in this squalid business of ours.

I’m bringing it up here because after years of being unavailable, followed by a crappy pan and scan DVD, it’s finally out on Blu-ray, just in time to get lost forever in the dust of the truly despicable revelations about one of its stars, Bill Cosby. This isn’t the place for the Art VS. Artist discussion, but if you fall anywhere on the Art side of that one, don’t let this one disappear between the cracks.

It’s as pure a hard boiled detective movie as you’ll ever come across, and makes fantastic use of some of the grittier and seedier sides of LA. The characters are all fully lived in, and Cosby and Culp take full advantage of their years together on I Spy, and the familiarity that bred. You really feel the time these men have spent together. Extra points to Culp for having the balls to play a gay character in a time where that was not exactly good for the career.

1 comment:

Stan said...

Wait a minute, Culp portrays a homosexual in Hickey & Boggs?

I did not pick up on that...