Rupert Pupkin Speaks: January 2016 ""

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Mitch Lovell

Mitch Lovell runs the Video Vacuum and is also the author of the new book DOUBLE VISION: HOLLYWOOD VS. HOLLYWOOD which you can find on Amazon here:

His website is here:
Find him on Twitter here:

Basically, it’s a remake of Easy Rider (right down to the downbeat ending), but with nubile young women. If that doesn’t scream “automatic recommendation”, I don’t know what does! Surprisingly enough, the performances by the Cycle Girls (all of whom are unknowns) are strong and their characters are unexpectedly three-dimensional, which helps elevate the film from being merely an exploitation item.

9. TRANCERS (1985)
Everyone was talking about the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future this year, but no one mentioned it was the 30th anniversary of Trancers. I had seen the video box for this (and its countless sequels) on video store shelves for years, but somehow never gave it a go. Shame on me. This movie rocks, mostly due to the awesome performance by Tim Thomerson.

When horror and country music collide, you know you’re in for some (unintentional) hilarity. Speaking of unintentional hilarity, wait till you get a load of Joi Lansing’s song about gowns. Throw in horror greats Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, and Basil Rathbone grinding out a paycheck, and you have yourself one of the best bad movies Ed Wood never directed.

Slowly but surely, I have been making my way through Criterion’s excellent Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman Blu-Ray collection. Of the Zatoichi films I’ve seen this year, this one was the best. It’s one of the most stylishly filmed entries in the entire series and Shintaro Katsu yet again delivers another incredible performance. The brief (but awesome) underwater swordfight is one of the many highlights.

6. VOODOO MAN (1944)
This is one of the few movies Bela Lugosi made at Monogram that I hadn’t seen. Turns out, it’s one of his best. Although it lacks the out-and-out nuttiness of The Devil Bat, there are a few hilarious in-jokes to keep you entertained. Directed at a snappy pace by William “One-Shot” Beaudine, who gives Bela plenty of opportunities to shine, it’s a lot of fun.

Although it’s apparently rated PG, this flick features enough nudity and gore to keep any fan of cinema sleaze entertained. There is a smorgasbord of memorable moments here, but I think my favorite is when the sexy nurse does a striptease in front of a helpless invalid. Her inevitable comeuppance via killer shower head will make your jaw drop (and if it doesn’t drop, it’s probably wired shut).

Of the three underwater monster movies that starred people from Robocop that were released in the wake of The Abyss, this was far and away my favorite. (Leviathan, starring Peter Weller and Deepstar Six, starring Miguel Ferrer were the other two). This one features the always great Ray Wise and was directed by Juan Piquer (Pieces) Simon. It features some of the craziest, goriest death scenes I’ve ever seen, as well as the best aquatic-mutant-breeding-with-a-human sequence since Humaniods from the Deep. If that isn’t a recommendation, I don’t know what is.

3. IT’S A SMALL WORLD (1950)
William Castle’s It’s a Small World would make a great double feature with Tod Browning’s Freaks. Both films are equal parts heartfelt as they are sensational. This one follows a little person struggling to find his place in the world who eventually gets taken advantage of by his sleazy neighbor. If you only know Castle for his gimmicky horror films, you definitely need to seek this one out.

I unabashedly love the work of author Charles (Miami Blues) Willeford. I am also a die-hard Warren Oates fan. Because of that, I was predestined to fall in love with director Monte Hellman’s adaptation of Willeford’s novel starring Oates and boasting a screenplay by Willeford himself (who also appears in a supporting role). This movie won’t be for everybody. (The cockfighting scenes were definitely NOT faked.) However, the performance by Oates (who is mute throughout most of the picture) alone makes it highly recommended.

Of all the films I watched this year, this is the one that got under my skin the most. It’s an atmospheric and unsettling horror flick from director Maurice Tourneur (father of Jacques) that reminded me of the best Universal horror movies and German Expressionism while simultaneously having its own identity. I won’t tell you a thing about the plot (that would be spoiling the fun), as it’s best to watch this one cold. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Arik Devens

Arik Devens is an iOS developer at Fitbit in San Francisco. In his spare time he’s attempting to watch the entire Criterion Collection, which he writes about at Cinema Gadfly ( This year he started a podcast where he trades  watching Criterion films with his friends, for watching anything they want him to see. It’s confusingly also named Cinema Gadfly (
Find him on Twitter here:
The Apu Trilogy - 1955/1956/1959 - Satyajit Ray
I think the greatest praise I can give this landmark trio of films is that I'm writing this while looking at the recent theatrical re-release Janus Films poster, which is hanging over my television. It replaced an Italian poster for The Warriors that I've had for quite a few years. That's how great these films are.

Blow-Up - 1966 - Michelangelo Antonioni
This is the first, and to date only, Antonioni film I've seen, but if this is any indication I'm going to be a big fan. David Hemmings has an almost Malcolm McDowell presence in what ends up being a really interesting existential murder mystery.

No Regrets For Our Youth - 1946 - Akira Kurosawa
I'm fascinated by films released either during, or just after, World War II. It's a time period I have an endless interest in, and to get to see the Japanese perspective immediately post-war was super interesting. It doesn't hurt at all that this is also an Akira Kurosawa film staring Setsuko Hara.

The Love Parade - 1929 - Ernst Lubitsch
It was surprising to me that this comedy of wit and manners still holds up after 80+ years, but it definitely did. I laughed out loud pretty much throughout the entire film, and found myself singing the songs in my head relentlessly. It's a minor work to be sure, but damn it's a lot of fun.

Fårödokument 1979 - 1979 - Ingmar Bergman
This was a random late night Hulu watch, and I'm really glad I happened to stumble upon it. Made by Ingmar Bergman, about the island in Sweden he lived on, it's an absolutely touching film. It's at times heartbreaking, and at times inspirational. If you have any interest in travel documentary, or in places that are far away, this is great watch.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Eric Hillis

Eric Hillis is a freelance film critic and editor of
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HEALTH (1980; Robert Altman)
A classic but sadly overlooked Altman ensemble piece set over a weekend at a hotel hosting a health food convention. Not in the same league as Nashville, but follows a similar structure. I saw a lot of this in this year's The Lobster. Reagan said it was the worst movie he ever saw. Impossible to find except for a dodgy pan and scan rip on YouTube. Somebody release this on Bu-Ray!!!

BLACK SHAMPOO (1976; Greydon Clark)
Bonkers blaxploitation cash-in on Hal Ashby's Shampoo has nothing in common with that movie save for its hair dressing milieu. Some very queasy statutory rape and an insanely violent climax. The very definition of a grindhouse movie.

A giallo thriller filmed and set in my hometown of Dublin. The plot is all over the place and Luigi Pistolli is the most unconvincing Irishman before Tom Cruise, but it's got a twisted charm all of its own. Despite the Irish weather, every cast member wears sunglasses. Non-Irish viewers will be alarmed at the appearance of Dublin's infamous Swastika launderette.

GAS PUMP GIRLS (1979; Joel Bender)
Before Porkys set the teen comedy on a downwards spiral towards mean spirited bullying of minorities and the overweight, we had charming comedies like this great little pseudo musical. A bunch of teens hook up to save a Mom and Pop gas station from the threat of the corporate behemoth newly opened across the street. The tagline - 'You'll love the service they give...' - sells it as a sleazy piece of sexploitation, but take away the nudity and you have an old-fashioned 'let's put on a show' movie.

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER (1975; Andrea Bianchi)
I haven't laughed so much at any other movie this year. Old school Italian sexism at its most hilarious in a giallo more interested in exposing flesh than penetrating it with a knife. Nino Castelnuovo is great as cinema's sleaziest photographer, Edwige Fenech is stunning as always as the beauty who bizarrely falls for his dubious charms. The closing scene has to be seen to be believed. For better or worse, they sure don't make 'em like any more, and likely never will again.

THE SEVEN-UPS (1973; Philip D'Antoni)
French Connection producer Philip D'Antoni turned director for this gritty cop thriller, and what a great job he did. Roy Scheider, one of American cinema's real treasures, delivers a trademark performance as a vengeful cop. One of the best car chases of the '70s can be found here and I think I may actually prefer this over Friedkin's film.

DESERT FURY (1947; Lewis Allen)
Not all Film Noirs are black and white. Leave Her To Heaven may be the most famous color noir but this one deserves to be in the conversation. Burt Lancaster and John Hodiak fight over Lizabeth Scott, while Wendell Corey seems more interested in Hodiak in a subplot very brazen for its era. Scott, who sadly left us in 2015, is simply fantastic here. Why isn't she better remembered?

CHOOSE ME (1984; Alan Rudolph)
Alan Rudolph has to be America's most under-appreciated filmmaker, too often reductively labelled as a poor man's Robert Altman. While his '70s films owe a clear debt to his mentor, Rudolph found his own voice in the '80s with modern classics like Trouble in Mind, The Moderns and this gem that, while a hit at the time, has been largely forgotten now. Keith Carradine might be at his career best here as a mysterious and enigmatic drifter who arrives to disrupt the lives of Genevieve Bujold and Lesley Ann Warren. Rudolph and Carradine are as good a director-actor partnership as Scorsese-De Niro or Ford-Wayne. 

I START COUNTING (1970; David Greene)
This grimy British thriller captures the end of the swinging sixties in wonderfully melancholy fashion. A fantastic early performance from Jenny Agutter, who never quite got the roles she deserved, as a smitten schoolgirl who attempts to protect her older step-brother from the police when she comes to believe he's the man responsible for a spate of murders of young women. Mini-skirts, murder and miserabilism make it perfect for a double bill with Sidney Lumet's The Offence.

THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949; Jules Dassin)
2015 was the year I discovered screenwriter AI Bezzerides (see also Desert Fury above), who adapted his own novel for director Jules Dassin. The wholesale fruit trade doesn't sound like the most exciting setting for a thriller, but you'll never look at an apple the same way after this. David Lynch claims this to be his favorite movie and modelled Isabella Rossellini's Blue Velvet look after Valentina Cortese here. Available on a stunning blu-ray from Arrow Video, which I reviewed here:

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Austin Vashaw

Austin is a writer and editor at Cinapse, and loves to talk film onTwitter and Letterboxd!

Here are some of my favorite discoveries of 2015. Not necessarily the "best" or most obscure ones so much as the ones I'm simply the most eager to share with you fine folks.

Medium Cool (1969)
It doesn't get realer than this. Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool isn't a great narrative in the traditional sense, but its blurring of truth and fiction is absolutely riveting. The film has a narrative about an investigative reporter, but the real star is the backdrop - it's filmed against the actual 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and most of what's on the screen is a real, unscripted maelstrom of rage and violence. Daring, experimental, must-see guerrilla filmmaking.

Captain Apache (1971)
This Eurowestern's instigating event seems pulled right from Citizen Kane. A murdered Indian Commissioner’s cryptic dying words are “April morning”, and a Native American Union officer known as Captain Apache is assigned to investigate. Meanwhile, he must contend with various unsavory characters who have also gathered in hopes of discovering what's believed to be a valuable payday. Western legend Lee Van Cleef loses his trademark mustache, kicks ass all over town, and even sings the opening theme song (which is amazing).

Maniac Cop 3: Badge Of Silence(1993)
Far better than the "Alan Smithee" directorial credit and troubled production would suggest. It's a lesser film than the previous two in the series, but still a thoroughly enjoyable sequel. Roberts Z'Dar and Davi both return in their roles and the second film's jaw-droppingly incredible fiery finale is actually one-upped here in an even more insane sequence.

The Beyond (1981)
A super stylish creeper from one of the Italian masters. Fulci delivers intense, nightmarish visions of death and evil that aren’t quickly forgotten. Each scare is crafted with for maximum creepiness, style, and violence, with no attention to reality or rationality. The film’s style is not only creepy but often surrealistic and hallucinatory, creating an unsettling and sinister vibe. Grindhouse Releasing put out an absolutely amazing Blu-ray release that's probably my favorite disc of the year.

The Meteor Man (1993)
This might have been my biggest surprise of the year. I wasn't expecting much more than a 90s comic book parody, but the very funny and star-studded The Meteor Man is a surprisingly conscientious film that steers clear of certain superhero cliches, thanks to the vision of writer-director and star Robert Townsend. Rather than bust heads, this pacifist hero de-escalates violent situations and even plants a community garden. Most films with strong social messages come from a place of rage, but Townsend seems to be coming from a place of love, and delivers this powerful message in a gentle PG-rated superhero parable.

The Cinapse gang watched this for our Two Cents column based solely upon Peter Dinklage's starring role, and we weren't disappointed. It's a deliciously quiet and low-key film about a few lonely, misanthropic people who sort of run into each other, learn to trust again, and develop a very understated friendship. It's an incredibly compelling and moving film, even if I'm at a bit of a loss to explain exactly why I loved it so much.

Cooley High (1975)
Black, young, and poor in 1964. Cooley High is so much more than just the "black American Graffiti", exploring themes of friendship, poverty, race, delinquency, and accountability in the context of teenagers growing up in the ghetto. The characters and urban Chicago setting feel authentic and wonderfully captured.

I've also posted a longer version of this list on Letterboxd if you'd like to see some more of my picks.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Marc Edward Heuck

Marc Edward Heuck runs the wonderful blog, The Projector Has Been Drinking which gets a high recommend from me. Marc's been with this series since it started in 2010, so please check out his other lists as he always brings the good stuff and his list are always greatly appreciated:

2015 may very well be an unusual year for me in that it is most likely I saw more older films than newer ones. As I addressed in my recent Top 13 post, my living situation hit a crisis mode that precluded going to first-run movies, but because of my relationships with multiple repertory venues, I was still able to check out older films and warm a theatre seat as I was born to do. And it was a great blessing, because while I had to put my own Cinema Tremens series in mothballs, plenty of other excellent L.A. programmers were putting some amazing things on screen. So, as always, going in ascending order:

NUNZIO (1978)
The original founders of CineFamily have always been keen on periodically screening a forgotten film for no other reason than that it's virtually unseen, their simple curiosity about that fact, and their irresistible desire to see it. And that was all the impetus they needed to haul out this poor-sweet-soul melodrama written by playwright James Andronica and previous counterculture-chronicler director Paul W. Williams (DEALING, THE REVOLUTIONARY). Equal parts ROCKY and GIGOT, David Proval plays the titular character, a developmentally challenged delivery man in your standard NYC neighborhood full of tired salt-of-earth working stiffs and fuhgeddaboudit mean jerks, and for ninety minutes we hang out with him as he makes discoveries about himself and adulthood. Yeah, it's predictable and derivative as any cash-in that an out-of-touch producer could hand off to out-of-work talent, but shucks, the big lug won me over. It certainly helped that there was such a collective of fine character actors in the mix - Joe Spinell, Tovah Felshuh, Theresa Saldana - with everybody giving sincere performances. It was nice, you can watch it with your folks, who's it gonna hurt?

About a year or two ago, my father found and gave to me the loose-leaf pages of a short story I had written in middle school. I was so horrified I wanted to take out a lighter and burn them on the spot. As such, I can understand some of the reluctance that Edgar Wright perhaps felt over the years to widen the availability of his long-unseen debut film. Thankfully, on its 20th anniversary, he allowed it back into circulation, and all of us who have enjoyed his exuberant, smartly crafted comedies got to see the Wright touch in a rougher nascent form. Much of the movie still holds up quite well, with plucky energy and pacing, some great gags that the Zucker Brothers likely wish they'd come up with, and an overall glee that handily smooths over any sour moments in this freshman outing. While you may need to give yourself a crash course on UK game shows and candy adverts before watching this in order to get the full effect, anyone who's game for a laugh will be pleased. I'm still not showing you my short story though; let's just say I did not have Edgar's gifts when I was his age.

THE T.A.M.I. SHOW (1964)
The opportunities to watch older concert films in a movie theatre setting keeps dwindling every year. Certainly a lot of the appeal has been lost since it's hard to motivate people to assemble in one space to see what can now be obtained from home on DVD, cable, or on the web. But revisiting great historical performances with a live audience in real time can be exceptionally rewarding, and getting to see an uncut print of this legendary roster of talent was one of the highlights of my summer. You get the renewed sensation that music really matters when you experience people applauding in a movie theatre to a classic Beach Boys or Lesley Gore performance, or in my case, the bizarre sadness of watching Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas actually getting BOOOED by the New Beverly patrons during their set! And even after fifty years, there is little to compare to the frisson of you and hundreds of other people in the house feeling the artistic tension of the Rolling Stones trying to close the show after James Brown has dropped the mic, the scenery, and the lighting grid, and all but growled, "Top that!"

Last September the New Beverly took the ballsy step of devoting almost an entire month of their calendar to solely presenting some of the best martial arts productions of the Shaw Brothers' studio - Shawtember. As a fellow who, I'm sorry to say, failed to appreciate the pleasures of aesthetic asskicking in my youth, it was a good crash course in learning just how full of emotion, intrigue, and captivating choreography this genre possesses. This early outing, the sequel to COME DRINK WITH ME (which I look forward to catching up with in the future), was my favorite of the batch, presenting a terrific heroine in Cheng Pei-Pei (later to portray villainess Jade Fox in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON), nimble action from co-stars Lo Lieh and Jimmy Wang Yu, and injecting a romantic quandry that was just as compelling as the sword and fist play. If you're ready to move past Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and delve into the somewhat intimidating depths of Asian action films, this is a good entry portal, especially if you're doing so on a date.

This was a most pleasant unexpected discovery I saw last fall, a western written by Rod Serling (with participation from CRISS CROSS screenwriter Daniel Fuchs and later "BONANZA" producer Thomas Thompson) with a striking early performance by John Cassavetes. Some of the story structure is familiar - a reformed gunman (Robert Walker) trying to peacefully administer land for a wealthier baron, forced to confront the erratic and violent behavior of his kid brother (Cassavetes) as he impulsively brings home a jaded "dance-hall girl" (Julie London) as his wife and taunts homesteaders - but those tropes are elevated by the wonderful erudite Serling dialogue, the manic intensity of Cassavetes, and some not-so-predictable story turns along the way. The post Civil War setting, where former enemies live in uneasy armistice but old grudges persist, and the detail of Walker's character being a former secessionist guerilla fighter, give the story an extra hard kick, and were likely an influence on those elements popping up in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. There's even a brief appearance by fellow contributor Ariel Schudson's nana Irene Tedrow!

Alright, people, I need to throw this uncomfortable question out there: when the fuck did we forget about Lina Wertmuller? Here is the first woman to be given a directing nomination by the Academy Awards, who was parodied on "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE", had five Italian-language crossover hits in America, including one remade into a Richard Pryor comedy, and is still alive and probably full of pungent words to offer us, yet if you go to any of the so-called film nuts that bloviate on the web about important filmmakers and mention her name, chances are they'll first say some nasty crack about Lena Dunham before pleading ignorance. For years, SWEPT AWAY and SEVEN BEAUTIES was a perennial double feature in any good repertory cinema the same way LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT played the drive-ins every summer. LOVE AND ANARCHY was her first American hit, for a good reason: it's a direct hit to the heart, head, and groin, depicting the fatalistic quest of a naive but noble peasant (Giancarlo Giannini) as he goes to Rome to assassinate Mussolini, the prostitute (Mariangela Melato) who gives him shelter in her brothel as he prepares his mission, and the eternal question of whether to die for a lost cause or live in the waning hope the dark times will pass. Giannini, normally such a suave and dashing figure that if there were no such thing as cigarettes, we'd have to invent them for him to smoke, disappears into the role of a moax with too much sincerity for a duplicitious time, and Melato, normally the irresistible Queen Bitch of SWEPT AWAY and FLASH GORDON, has a moving arc as she wonders if her hatred for Fascism may be outmatched by her respect for an ordinary man. If we're going to keep lionizing the '70's, we have to put Wertmuller back in the conversation, believe that.

The first of three important restoration jobs performed by the UCLA Film and Television Archive that I ranked high on my list, both for their entertainment value and in recognition of the preservationists' hard work. This film was almost lost to the ages when the last known 35mm print burned in the infamous Universal vault fire of 2008; thankfully, with diligent searching by the Film Noir Foundation, fragile but usuable elements were found to reconstruct and save it. A cracking cocktail of noir mystery and mordant humor, partly written by two-time husband of Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and considering the amount of prickly marital relations depicted, probably inspired by real-life events. Ann Sheridan has to constantly shift gears, go from acerbic to conscienscious to sly to scared, and never breaks a sweat unless that's what's supposed to happen. A lot of movies aspire to be both genuinely thrilling and laugh-out-loud witty, and this is as good a source as any to learn that art.

My favorite surprise in last year's Festival of Preservation at UCLA was this completely-unknown-to-me rural drama shot in my home state of Ohio, lovingly restored by preservationist and academic Ross Lipman. First time director Joseph L. Anderson and his writers Franklin Miller and Doug Rapp immersed themselves in the long undepicted environment of Appalachians in the south-east to come up with their story of the multiple hungers of an aimless life in a small town - for better opportunies in the big city, for a night's diversion from the poverty and the boredom, or for intimacy from someone you shouldn't be looking for it from. Anderson directs confidently, with beautiful B&W photography and contemplative, lived-in sequences that predate the style of Terence Malick. Initially acquired for release by exploitation distributor Joseph Brenner, when he wanted to spice it up with sexier scenes, no less than Martin Scorsese (who himself had shot extra nude material for his debut WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR at Brenner's request) said the film was perfect as is; ultimately, Anderson agreed to shoot those scenes for an alternate cut called MISS JESSICA IS PREGNANT, hoping to cash in on the trashy Southern Gothic appeal of then-hits like GOD'S LITTLE ACRE and POOR WHITE TRASH. My mind reels at what elevation could have come for Anderson if Brenner had paired his debut with Scorsese's in select engagements back then; maybe soon someone else could pair them up and compare notes. While Anderson would move into more academic pursuits by co-authoring THE JAPANESE FILM: ART AND INDUSTRY with Donald Richie in 1982, it's stirring to see how he could create art himself as well as critique it.

The last of the three UCLA recoveries that I want to showcase would definitely be an iconoclastic and challenging film in any year past or present. Stanton Kaye's semifictionalized journal of his highly charged professional and personal relationship with writer Michaux French constantly keeps the viewer trying to sort details - Kaye and French use staged names, but the family pictures and histories are real, as are the people they are shown interacting with. Most importantly, midway through the movie Kaye claims to be stepping aside and allowing French to tell her version of events - is this another artistic conceit, or a genuine concession amidst a peak of turbulence between them. There have been plenty of films in the wake of this that want to tell truth through semi-fiction, but when many play as mere navelgazing and indulgence, this carries the viewer through a range of reactions. Also, by virtue of its period of production, it captures a time when this spirit of experimentation and honesty was not yet a trope or a trick, taking us back to that period of excitement and discovery. It was selected in 2013 for the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, which surely helped spur this full restoration, and the work done, which included mixing B&W and color stocks in some instances, is extra-commendable. The career turns of both leads is very interesting - Kaye left filmmaking for science, patenting multiple innovations in chip and other technologies through his firm Infratab, and French, who now professionallly uses her film character's name, moved into psychoanalysis. When you watch this collaboration between them, you may just get a whiff as to how they ended up in those directions.

I had missed my opportunity to see Philip Ridley's debut film when it first opened, and as the decades passed without so much as a widescreen laser or DVD release available or any repertory playdates, I wondered if I would ever get to watch it in a proper presentation. Thankfully, Phil Blankenship and his Heavy Midnites series finally obtained a 35mm print to screen, and the film had the same wallop on me as it had for the small audiences it played to at the end of the '80's. One of the few films to understand how children can behave cruelly yet still be innocent at the same time, as well as demonstrate how wild leaps of logic can seem perfectly logical to those with a lack of experience or detail about other events. The story doesn't flinch from the damage and horror a misguided soul can cause; indeed, its true horror is in contemplating what will happen to these characters after the screen goes black and we leave them. Ridley has only directed two other films after this, though thankfully he's been extremely prolific with stage productions, literature, songwriting, photography, and other arts, so we are certainly not lacking in platforms to behold his singular visions. But I've now seen two of his three films, and they've always caused me to want him to make more.

And my choice for the most significant and impactful first-time viewing has to go to Luchino Visconti's vigorous, heartbreaking family epic, made available this year to view in its most complete and best-looking condition ever thanks to the work of Milestone Film & Video, along with Scorsese's The Film Foundation, and apparently even Gucci kicked in funds (amusingly odd since this is a film about characters who could never afford their products in their lifetime, directed by a self-demoted Count turned Communist). Taking neorealism and literary epic, two storytelling styles that seemingly were at odds, Visconti tells of the heartbreaking disintegration of a closely-knit peasant family who move to the metropolis of Milan to escape the bleakness of farm life in southern Italy, but find a different kind of struggle in the city. The limited-minded grow violent, the kind-hearted get used, the smart-minded grow calculating, and perhaps the naive learn nothing. Many have mentioned this film's influence on the later great works of our beloved '70's movie brats, but don't seek out this movie just to play spot-the-reference; let the tension and the tears overcome you and then marvel at the cinematic feast you've devoured. And most importantly, pass it on to a friend.


THE LITTLEST HOBO (1958; Charles R. Rondeau)
I'm kind of a sucker for dog movies and I love discovering new ones. Warner Archive helped me find a couple of my favorites in GOOD-BYE, MY LADY and IT'S A DOG'S LIFE. THE LITTLEST HOBO basically plays like a wonderful little silent movie, with a bits of human dialogue here and there. This pooch tale centers around a meandering German Shepherd who arrives in Los Angeles by train and gets into various adventures. He ends up saving a little lamb from a slaughterhouse, rescuing other dogs from the dogcatcher, and even helping a blind man across the street. This film is highlighted by an amazing canine performance. I cannot imagine how you train a dog to not only drag a lamb on a rope leash but to also swim with the lamb. It's really remarkable stuff. The movie isn't all cuteness or anything either, there is a good deal of peril that the dog must deal with. From angry police officers to hungry hobos, he's got his work cut out for him as far as keeping on the move is concerned.
Another neat thing about the movie is its old Los Angeles locations. There are many interesting spots, but one of my favorites featured a place near the Los Angeles shipyard (I believe) that had gigantic stacks of old trolley train cars. It's one of those things in a movie that is not only a sight to behold and a unique backdrop, but also something that made me go and look up when the public transit in Los Angeles changed as to put all these cars out of service.
One way that I know that I'm really syncing with a film is when I start to fantasize about programming it at some repertory theater somewhere. THE LITTLEST HOBO absolutely had that kind of effect on me. It's just the kind of movie that you watch and immediately want to share with other people. I wanted to show it to my daughter right away and I also started to think about what film (or films) I'd program with it as a double bill if I ever had the chance. The first thing that came to mind was another old favorite of mine, THE LITTLE FUGITIVE. That film features a little boy lost in the Coney Island section of New York for a day and I feel like it would line up well with THE LITTLEST HOBO. Anyway, this movie is delightful and will certainly be among my favorite discoveries of 2016.
You can buy this DVD here:
Warner Archive posted a short clip of the film here:

GENERAL SPANKY(1936; Gordon Douglas/Fred C. Newmeyer)
The only "Our Gang" feature film ever made, GENERAL SPANKY see's its DVD debut with this Warner Archive disc. While I certainly saw my fair share of Hal Roach's many "Our Gang" shorts when I was a kid, I was not necessarily a crazy big fan I must admit. That said, I do find George "Spanky" McFarland to be one heck of a talented little comedic performer. GENERAL SPANKY is period piece and not at all a feature-length version of one of the short subjects.The Civil War era backdrop is an interesting one although it makes for some kind of uncomfortable scenarios dealing with slaves. Buckwheat is actually a slave in the film and though his "owner" is jovially ornery with him, I still found it a bit off putting. There's even a sequence where he gets lost on a riverboat and walks around asking white men, "Will you be my master?". He even asks Spanky. Though Spanky turns him down, it does lead to them joining up and eventually fleeing the riverboat together. The movie does certainly have some fun "Our Gang"-style moments of mischief and those I enjoyed of course.
Here's a quick clip from the movie:
GENERAL SPANKY can be purchased on DVD here:

TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE (1946; David Butler)

A Balkan prince (Dennis Morgan) ditches out on his handlers whilst in New York City to try to find a more "authentic" experience. He quickly befriends a local cabbie (Jack Carson) who gets him authentically drunk on boilermakers whilst enjoying the local cuisine (hamburgers). The prince stays at the cabbie's place and things blow-up a bit as he is declared missing/kidnapped in the city and he finds himself falling for the cabbie's girl. I.A.L. ("Izzy) Diamond helps with the script on this lovely little twist on a "Prince and the Pauper" kinda tale. The movie has the feel of a 2nd tier (but still quite enjoyable) Billy Wilder farce and certainly Diamond (who worked with Billy Wilder a lot) had something to do with that. It also features a moment which oddly plays into the idea of "going viral" and fame brought about by YouTube and so forth. Of course this moment deals with radio as that was the broadcast medium of the time, but I found it an interesting commentary on the here and now. Warner Archive also released the follow-up film TWO GUYS FROM TEXAS as well.