Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Monday, December 21, 2015

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies from Keene State College and Film Preservation from the L Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and presents work as an independent scholar at regional and national conferences, with his most recent paper being Scratch Scratch Fever: Fauxsploitation and the Fetish of Emulated Deterioration. When not writing, he spends his days working as a projectionist at a non-profit film center in New York's Hudson Valley and haunting NYC rep houses showing anything remotely esoteric and/or offensive. He really misses video stores.

The American Dreamer (1971; L.M. Kit Carson/ Lawrence Schiller)
Ever since reading Tom Folsom’s thorough, engaging overview of the working life of Dennis Hopper (Hopper: A Savage American Journey), I have been longing to see this doc which takes place in the time following Hopper’s production of THE LAST MOVIE. It’s an erratic, elegiac and near terrifying examination of both the creative process and fringe American culture at a very specific time and place. The new restoration courtesy of The Walker Art Museum and Vinegar Syndrome offshoot Etiquette Pictures is revelatory. Essential viewing.

Bulletproof (1988; Steve Carver)
Steve Carver is a genre cinema filmmaker that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his rather varied filmography. He’s given us two of the best Chuck Norris flicks (AN EYE FOR AN EYE and LONE WOLF MCQUADE), a solid Pam Grier gladiator picture (THE ARENA), a pretty ridiculous sex comedy that happens to feature Richard Roundtree and Christopher Lee (JOCKS) and is responsible for what may be the most serious film of Michael Dudikoff’s career in the form of RIVER OF DEATH. But none of that can prepare you for the absolute insanity (and inanity) of BULLETPROOF. Not to be confused with that under-cooked, mean spirited Adam Sandler flick from the 90s, Carver’s film features Gary Busey as a man who is “bulletproof”, plays the saxophone and has terrible international relations with Mexico and Russia. He also fights Henry Silva (who really has an affinity for tanks), shoots a machine gun out of an ice cream truck and legitimately uses the term “butthorn” as an insult. And the story here is supplied by Fred Olen Rey. I’m so happy to finally have this in my life.

Coming Apart (1969; Milton Moses Ginsberg)
This is the more potent of the counter-culture Rip Torn flicks I was exposed to this year, the other being Norman Mailer’s rather unclassifiable MAIDSTONE. This one is decidedly bleak, psycho-sexual character cinema that seems like it couldn’t have been made at any other time than the very late 60s. It feels sort of like BAD TIMING by way of MEDIUM COOL, only in 1.33 black and white, with an inspired, manic performance by Torn that has to be seen to be believed. It may be his most unhinged work outside of FREDDY GOT FINGERED.

Electric Dreams (1984; Steve Barron)
Goddamn, this is everything that I want out of a romantic comedy. And it’s from Steve Barron, the director of CONEHEADS and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 1990. It’s a surprisingly relevant, almost eerily prescient, tech comedy that feels like a very 80s version of HER. Complete with a Giorgio Moroder score and some post-TRON computer animation. It’s a shame that this doesn’t have a legitimate disc release in the US.  

Garlic Is As Good as Ten Mothers (1980; Les Blank)
This is technically a short film, but it left too strong of an impression to ignore it for the purposes of this list. I’ve long been an admirer of Les Blank but have primarily stuck to his music related pieces. And this is as good, if not better, than any one of those. It runs a lean 51 minutes, features Werner Herzog on screen talking about how sympathetic vampires are and features a man who wears a giant garlic hat. This movie gave me bad breath.

Hideous! (1997; Charles Band)
Charles Band was a huge staple of my adolescence, for better or worse, both through Full Moon and Moonbeam. And everything had to do with pint sized creatures causing some sort of havoc. I’ve since grown apart from his brand of tiny schlock and then HIDEOUS appeared on my radar. It’s still the same Band sensibilities we know and (maybe) love, but in soap opera form! And it’s a soap opera about, and containing, mutants. And it features a topless woman in a gorilla mask spouting dialogue like “I am proud! I am woman!”. It’s alternately the most progressive and tasteless work that Band has made in a career of nearly fifty features directed. Pure spectacle.

Je t’aime, Je t’aime (1968; Alain Resnais)
I had been looking for a means of seeing Alain Resnais’ time travel sci-fi flick for quite a while now to no (at least legitimate) avail. And then it was announced for a new restoration by Éclair with US distribution by Kino. And it doesn’t disappoint one bit. Playing out like a very French, very romantic version of GROUNDHOG DAY, Resnais film is sci-fi at its most elegant and playful with the more esoteric flairs of the French New Wave peeking through the seams and Resnais penchant for ignoring the trappings of a linear narrative remaining paramount. The result is a bit confounding, a bit surreal and a bit pretentious but it is never boring and is 100% Resnais. The 4K restoration is also stunning to look at.  

Messiah of Evil (1973; Willard Huyck/Gloria Katz)
This is another one that I had read a lot about from various sources and just never got around to. And then Code Red put a blu-ray out this year and I figured I’d bite. I mean, it’s a horror flick co-directed by the dude who gave us HOWARD THE DUCK, how bad could it be? Turns out, not bad at all. Actually, this is pretty beautiful and legitimately unnerving at times. Everything here is pure atmosphere and it’s ultimately just flat out forboding. People cry blood, eat rats and are – as the title spells out for us – EVIL. It may not be quite as nightmare inducing as HOWARD THE DUCK is, but this is some of the finest American horror cinema of the 1970s. Bar none.

Ninja Busters (1984; Paul Kyriazi)
And this is one that I didn’t know anything about. The fine folks at Exhumed Film unearthed a 35mm print of this piece of positivity cinema (really, there’s no genre for it), featuring a couple dudes with good intentions who just want to do the right thing. And find love. It feels like a kids movie that happens to be about adults. And nobody has learned right from wrong yet. Genuinely funny with some spots of legitimate action work (this isn’t ENTER THE NINJA) and an air of positivity that feels in line with something like THE LAST DRAGON. This made me want to be a better person.

Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things (1971; Thomas Casey)
Vinegar Syndrome had an absolutely incredible 2015, which also saw their partnership with AGFA and the disc releases of titles like SUPERSOUL BROTHER and NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER. But the best of that bunch – and perhaps my favorite thing that VS put out in 2015 – is this ultra weird piece of regional filmmaking from Florida. I’m still not quite sure how to describe this one, even though the title does a good job of it, but it’s a decidedly offbeat slice of melodrama exploitation that feels like someone wanted to remake DePalma’s DRESSED TO KILL via the aesthetics of George Kuchar and Andy Milligan.Absolutely whacked out trash that has to be viewed with an open mind and without any barometer of quality/morals in place.That wig starts more fights than The Warriors do.

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