Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015 (Rupert's List) ""

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015 (Rupert's List)

December and January have been my favorite time of year for this site for years now. It is the time when I call upon my friends and fellow cinephiles to put together their lists of cinematic "discoveries" they have made in the past year. When I put out the call for these lists, I typically request that folks think about the movies they saw for the first time that year that came out prior to 2000. This allows for an emphasis on older movies which is the mission of this site in general. What I love about these lists is that they are basically evergreen and can be returned to again and again forever as a source of recommendations for cinema seekers. My list for last year got pretty epic and ended up needing to be split into two parts. Check out both entries as they each have many films that I give my highest recommendation:
2015 was a complicated year for me and I didn't carve out nearly enough time for film discovering as I would have liked, but I nonetheless saw a lot of movies that stood out. Here are some of them:

THE PROWLER (1951; Joseph Losey)
This film had quite a reputation as being of interest, but I only finally watched it when VCI put it out on Blu-ray this year. It's a twisted little noir and I cannot recommend it enough. Dark, weird stuff. This film is an example of what author James Ellroy calls "Perv Noir". I had never heard that classification before, but it amuses me. I wrote about the film more extensively here:

VCI's Blu-ray can be purchased here:
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ROAR (1981; Noel Marshall)
Some movies really do no great service to themselves by being impossible to quantify in words. I mean, I could try to explain ROAR to you, but I was incredibly surprised by what it feels like to actually watch it versus what I had pictured in my head beforehand. I think it is one of those truly unique cinematic experiences that comes along not so often even for the hardcore film fan. I could tell you that ROAR is about a guy raising lions and other big cats in Africa. When his family comes to visit his compound, he is away and they are besieged by the huge kitties. Prior to that, there are several extended scenes of the guy interacting with his lions and trying to keep them from hurting each other and people visiting his place.
There are no other movies like ROAR for a reason. I can't believe any actors would ever let themselves be surrounded by untrained lions and try to do a scene, let alone make a movie. Granted, these were animals that the cast were familiar with, and many of whom they had raised themselves, but still, lions are gonna do what lions are gonna do and there ain't no stopping them. All of the cast sustained pretty significant injuries during the long production of this movie. The legal nightmare that this kind of thing would present today absolutely boggles the mind. There's a little note the Blu-ray box about how no animals were harmed, but 70 cast and crew members were injured during the production. There's a special credit at the beginning of the movie that basically gives partial writing credit to the animals in the film as they kinda did what they wanted and the actors just worked around them and let them guide what was happening in every scene. There is something uncanny and intensely compelling about watching actors interacting with real live giant cats throughout the movie. You can tell the dialogue is loose and that the actors are doing their best to get out the small bits of exposition needed for this simple story, whilst keeping one eye on the cats to make sure they aren't injured by them. The result is truly captivating.

On Blu-ray from Olive Films & Drafthouse:
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A western written by Steve Fisher, directed by Allan Dwan and starring AUDREY Totter?! How had I not seen this already? I'm kicking myself now for not running down more Allan Dwan films after hearing Scorsese praise him years ago in his PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH AMERICAN CINEMA. Audrey Totter is as evil here as she ever was and in the best possible way. She has a scene in this movie where she sings a song to a crowded saloon of low life's and it's one of the cruelest things I've seen. Throughout the movie she's catty and sexy and hot tempered as all hell. I can't believe that I wasn't really aware of Totter until last year (when I saw her in the dynamite noir TENSION for the first time). The big lady "discovery" for me in this movie though is Joan Leslie. She's a gal I realize they I've come across in other movies prior to this one (HIGH SIERRA, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY), but she never stood out to me as much as she does here. Lovely and determined, she carries the movie pretty well. She reminds me slightly of Colleen Camp in her prime, but a better actress (no offense to miss Camp). Between she and Totter this movie has quite a pair of powerful women to draw to. There's almost a Joan Crawford/Mercedes McCambridge JOHNNY GUITAR vibe to the film in parts. Brian Donlevy brings his standard grumpy charm to his part as one of the heavies and it's a quite sharply written little flick overall. I was totally caught by surprise in terms of how much I enjoyed it.
On Blu-ray from Olive Films:
I, MADMAN (1989; Tibor Takacs)
From the director of THE GATE (which I also revisited this year), comes this pulp-y noirish slasher movie about a killer that comes to life from a very evil book. I have had a huge crush on Jenny Wright since NEAR DARK and THE WILD LIFE, so I was a lock for enjoying her performance here. She's great and I couldn't have been more pleased to see Clayton Rohner playing opposite her. He's an actor I enjoy a lot in things like APRIL FOOL'S DAY, MODERN GIRLS and JUST ONE OF THE GUYS. Anyway, it's a clever and suspenseful slasher with a good disfigured killer dude on the hunt for Wright. Sort of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS-esque. Underseen but a new horror favorite for me. Check out Scream Factory's new Blu-ray, it's great. I covered it here:
WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR DADDY? (1966; Blake Edwards)
I had been wanting to see this film ever since screenwriter extraordinaire Larry Karaszewski made me aware of it via one of his informative Trailers From Hell commentaries.
There were a bunch of things about the movie that caught my interest. First, the cast. James Coburn, Aldo Ray, Carroll O'Connor, Harry Morgan, and Dick Shawn. Good group and especially around 1966, James Coburn was firing on all the cylinders of his Coburn-ness. Aldo Ray is also awesome and sadly underrated by many it seems. This movie also has a screenplay by William Peter Blatty (yes THAT one) and is produced and directed by Blake Edwards, who was also running through a strong period in his career around this time. Most Blake Edwards movies are pretty well known, especially among cinephiles, but this one gets talked about the least of most of them. I'll let Mr. Karaszewski explain the film further:

On Blu-ray from Olive Films:
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WHAT IF? (2013; Michael Dowse)
Though there were a few other post-2000 films that I discovered and enjoyed this year (THE RAVEN and BEAUTIFUL CREATURES being two of them), this was one that I just had to include despite it being so recent a release. It came out in 2013 to little fanfare and has since been more or less forgotten. It has been called "WHEN HARRY POTTER MET SALLY" because of the prominent casting of Daniel Radcliffe and that is a decent summation although I have come to kind of detest that Rob Reiner film over the years. This one was delightful, moving and consistently very funny. Both Radcliffe and Zoey Kazan are adorable and Adam Driver makes for an excellent best friend. The poster and the trailer might lead you to believe otherwise, but WHAT IF? is well worth tracking down. I kid of prefer the alternate title, THE F-WORD.
On Blu-ray:
SHANKS (1974; William Castle)
Mesmerizingly bizarre, even for William Castle (who can get a little weird sometimes). Meant to only be viewed late at night when you might fall asleep and wake up the next morning thinking you dreamed the whole thing. Not ERASERHEAD level trippy, but in a nearby zip code.
On Blu-ray from Olive Films.
HOMBRE (1967; Martin Ritt)
There are several things you should know about this movie from the outset. First, the cast includes Paul Newman, Fredric March, Cameron Mitchell, Richard Boone, Martin Balsam, and Barbara Rush. Second, it was directed by the great Martin Ritt and was shot by the equally great James Wong Howe. Third, it's based on an Elmore Leonard novel. That's a whole lot this movie has going for it right up front right? It was certainly enough to sell me on checking it out.
On Blu-ray from Twilight Time:

BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962; Sidney Hayers)
This films opens perfectly on total blackness and with the immortal voice of Paul Frees (you'll recognize it instantly as the voice from the Haunted Mansion at Disney) speaking warningly about witches and casting a protective spell over the audience. It's all very William Castle-esque and it's great. It's even better than Castle. This is actually one of the best AIP movies I think I've ever seen. Not surprisingly, the script was written by two of my favorites in Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Both men were responsible for some of the greatest Twilight Zone episodes ever made and this movie has the slight feel of a solid, longer episode of the show. Peter Wyngarde plays a skeptic college professor who must confront his belief or non-belief in witchcraft head on when things start to go very wrong for him. The movie is right up there with things like CURSE OF THE DEMON in terms of the tension and creepy atmosphere that it maintains throughout.
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BRAIN DAMAGE (1988; Frank Henenlotter)
Director Frank Henenlotter was one part of my introduction to what Cult movies were. I read about BASKET CASE in Danny Peary's Cult Movies book and had to track it down. When I finally saw it, it was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. That movie and ERASERHEAD helped me understand the appeal and flavor of cult cinema. They got me hooked on the potential for discovery of special stuff in fringe movies. BRAIN DAMAGE has a VHS cover that I had seen on the horror shelves of my local videos stores forever. I never picked it up and I honestly can't recall why. I am glad though to have finally given it a shot as it gives another remarkable and bonkers vision of insanity from the unique voice of low-budget auteur Henenlotter. Needs a Blu-ray!
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Another from a director I am very familiar with. I missed it mostly due to limited availability (I think it was on VHS only in the U.S. until recently). Finally watched it via Code Red's recent Blu-ray release. Enjoyable "slow burn" (sorry) about a man (Brad Dourif) who was born from two parents in a nuclear experiment. The result is that he can start people on fire (even over the phone). As he starts to realize his power and the conspiracy surrounding it, he starts to get hot (sorry again) and begins lighting people up. This one is really all about Brad Dourif. I love that guy.
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A HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959; Frank Capra)
Underseen Capra flick. The gist of the story is that Sinatra's character runs a hotel in Miami and it's a bit of a fleatrap. Not only that, but he's about to be evicted for being months behind on his payments. Enter his brother (played in a somewhat DOUBLE INDEMNITY kinda way by Edward G. Robinson). The brother has made a more successful entrepreneur of himself and When he refuses to loan Sinatra the money he be needs, he's then guilted into coming out to help by his wife (played by the wonderful Thelma Ritter). From there, Sinatra's character ends up doing a good deal of soul searching about the fact that he might be a bum and a poor example for his kid. It's touching stuff and I liked it.
And personally, I'd stay at any hotel that had Dub Taylor working the front desk. 
On Blu-ray from Olive Films:
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COVER UP (1949; Alfred E. Green)
COVER UP joins CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY as part of the very niche genre of "Christmas Noir". There's something quite fitting about noirs that take place over the holidays. I think that a lot of us may associate that time of year with some darker stuff anyway so it's easy to see why the two things go well together.
Dennis O'Keefe stars an insurance investigator (a very film noir profession) in a small tone checking into a man's mysterious suicide. He meets a gal on the train on the way in and they hit it off a bit. William Bendix plays the sheriff of this little burg and I have to give the movie some credit as it helped me get over my Bendix problem. I first saw Bendix in THE BLUE DAHLIA with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Something about the character he played in that film bugged me so much that it put me off not only the movie, but Bendix himself for a little while. It wasn't until I finally saw MACAO and Bendix in that one, that I started to turn a corner with him. Dennis O'Keefe is an actor that I hadn't given much creedence to before this. I found him a little bland. He's good here though and reminds me a bit if a young Dana Andrews in his manner and speech. All in all, this is a neat little second tier noir flick that fans of the genre will certainly appreciate. Transfer looks good and the disc is worth a pickup.
On Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics:
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DANGEROUSLY CLOSE (1986; Albert Pyun)
As far as in concerned, Cannon Films didn't make enough high school movies. Maybe there just wasn't enough profit in it for them, but I do think the world would have been better served if they had brought their special brand of exploitative action to the genre. Cannon always had a knack for making their films a bit more mean-spirited and more in the grindhouse universe than their mainstream contemporaries. In this case the story is about a student organization on a ritzy high school campus call "The Sentinels". They start as a kind of neighborhood watch for the school, but become horrific bullies who terrorize and intimidate the other students. When some kids try to stand up to them, things start to turn ugly.
On Blu-ray from Olive Films:
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MAIL ORDER BRIDE (1964; Burt Kennedy)
This one feels a bit like Sam Peckinpah, but more like the BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE-style Peckinpah. I'm sure the fact that Warren Oates is in it helps increase that vibe. Buddy Ebsen plays Will Lane, a man who finds himself in the predicament of caring for the son of an old friend who has passed away. The son (played by Keir Dullea) is a wild and carousing fella and needs to tamed so Will decides to get him a wife to settle him down. Naturally this is not an ida that is immediately met with positivity so things need to be worked out over time. It's a touching story, but not without its moments of danger and suspense. Scripted and directed by the great Burt Kennedy, who wrote things like THE TALL T, RIDE LONESOME, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW and COMANCHE STATION for Budd Boetticher.
On DVD from Warner Archive:
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AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976; Kevin Connor)
As a film, AT THE EARTH'S CORE is basically JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH by way of PLANET OF THE APES and the LAND OF THE LOST TV series. The sets and costumes are often rather cheap looking, but they hold together just enough (for the most part) to make this film fun to watch. I can see it having been a really solid night at the drive-in in 1976 if you were in the right frame of mind. It's kind of an odd movie. I mean look at that cover. You've got dinosaurs, savages, a giant drill vehicle and a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek tone plus Peter Cushing and Doug McClure so what's not to love? Oh AND Caroline Munro!!
On Blu-ray from Kino Lorber:
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ALICE'S RESTAURANT (1969; Arthur Penn)
A cult favorite of sorts that I had known about but never seen. I usually can't get on board for hippie movies like this, but sometimes I can really drop into a groove with a movie that has a freewheelin' narrative structure. It's nice in occasion to see something that's not so hung up on three acts and whatnot. ALICE'S RESTAURANT is really that kind of thing. It really feels like one of those films that captures a time, place and mindset in a very memorable way. And it's a mindset that some part of me really admires and wishes would manifest itself again some day on a larger scale. So the fact that a film that is ostensibly a lighthearted comedy can accomplish that is kind of impressive.
On Blu-ray from Olive Films:
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WINNER TAKE ALL (1975; Paul Bogart)
Great gambling TV-movie with an excellent performance by Shirley Jones at the center. Would make a solid (if emotionally draining) double bill with CALIFORNIA SPLIT. Supporting players include Joan Blondell, Sylvia Sidney and Sam Groom (who I am a big fan of from DEADLY EYES).
The Film can be found on YouTube if you are interested:

NINJA BUSTERS (1984; Paul Kyriazi)
Are you a MIAMI CONNECTION or RAW FORCE fan looking for a new fix? NINJA BUSTERS is your new thing. It's a movie that is very much in the same universe as those two but with a nice twist in that it's heroes have no clue how to fight at the beginning of the movie. Thus, they must take classes and learn martial arts. What's fun is that the leads (Sid Campbell and Eric Lee) are actually expert martial artists so by the half way point in the movie we are starting to see what they can actually do. This movie is not particularly well acted, but it is fun and is imbued with a spirit of friendship that would make the Dragon Sound gang proud. Lost for nearly thirty years, this one has just come out on Blu-ray via GarageHouse Pictures and I highly recommend it. It can be bought over at Diabolik DVD:
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1 comment:

Franco Macabro said...

Spontanious Combustion is a fun movie, if only they had filmed a better ending. As it is, it feels like the movie falls apart in the last segments. A pity because the rest of the film kicks ass and has an amazing concept.

I Madman, an atmospheric underrated gem. Sadly, after this one and The Gate Tibor Takacs never made a good movie again.

I keep showing Brain Damage to friends that I want to amuse. Always works!