Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Sean Wicks ""

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Sean Wicks

Sean is a good friend of mine and he runs the Cinema-Scope blog (http://cinemascope-blog.blogspot.com/) which is very much a sister blog to my own (we often do series in conjunction with each other). An all-around social media lover, he's very active on twitter (https://twitter.com/wixpix), tumblr (http://seanwicks.tumblr.com/) facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WicksFlicks), and letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/wixpix/). I recommend following him anywhere you can!

Check out Sean's Discoveries from last year here:

http://cinemascope-blog.blogspot.com/2015/01/2014-film-discoveries-part-2.html
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This was a strange movie year for me.  Get out your tiny violins because I’m about to complain about how a relocation for a job that for several months made it so I rarely saw the inside of my apartment – let alone a movie theater, my Blu-ray Disc player or Netflix device – limited my usual 300-movie-a-year minimum to barely over 200 titles watched this year (the struggle is real my friends).  Needless to say, with all that life getting in the way of my movie habit, I still managed to put together a solid discoveries list for 2015.

This discoveries list put together by the always outstanding Rupert Pupkin has become one of my favorite annual traditions, and I now find myself arranging my viewing so as to make sure I have a full and exciting list come year’s end.  So without further ado, here is part one of two of my 2015 Film Discoveries.

BORN FREE (1966; Directed by James Hill)
I started building my discoveries list early this year – January 1st – with BORN FREE, a classic film with a song that right now is again stuck in my head just for merely thinking of this film.

BORN FREE is about a couple in Africa who “adopt” a trio of orphaned, wild, lion cubs.  While two of the lions are sent off to a zoo, one of them stays behind and quickly becomes part of the family. Finding it difficult to part with the lion, the couple try to find a way for this tame beast to re-integrate into the wild.  Will the beast survive, or will her new tame nature make this legendary predator prey?

This is a touching story that will bring tears to your eyes. If not, well then I’m not sure if you’re really a human being.  Elsa the lion easily steals the picture and the audience’s hearts, and the movie easily avoids becoming an over-dramatic, emotionally manipulative endeavor but instead is a timeless film the entire family can enjoy – no matter how jaded your teenagers may be.

What really helps this picture stand apart are John Barry’s memorable Oscar-winning score along with the Oscar-winning song “Born Free”.  

BORN FREE is available on Blu-ray Disc from Twilight Time.

THE THREE CABALLEROS (1944; Directed by Norman Ferguson, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts and Harold Young)
Ok Disney, this (and SALUDOS AMIGOS) needs to be on Blu-ray Disc. Just saying.

A product of Walt Disney’s ambassadorial trip through South America, THE THREE CABALLEROS is a colorful and fun filled romp through Brazil and Mexico with tour guides Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and Panchito. Mixing live action with animation, the movie presents a truthful and unfiltered look at South American culture, never watering it down or fully “Disneyfying” it for American audiences.

Some parts of the picture are downright racy, in particular a dance sequence featuring Aurora Miranda (my favorite part of the picture) and a sequence that sees a seemingly horny Donald Duck let loose on a beach filled with bikini and bathing suit clad beauties. It’s a sight to behold indeed and can you blame him?

What really sets THE THREE CABALLEROS apart is the colorful approach to the material.  It’s part travelogue, part history lesson, part cultural exchange, part entertainment. The Walt Disney animators really outdid themselves with this vastly underrated classic from the Disney vault, a film that screams to be made available on some format in glorious 1080p.

THE STEEL HELMET (1951; Directed by Samuel Fuller)
Gene Evans plays Sgt. Zack, a soldier in the Korean war who somehow survived while the rest of his platoon was massacred.  We never see the massacre, they’re all dead by the opening credits. He teams up with an orphaned boy who he calls Short Round (something tells me Steven Spielberg saw this picture once upon a time) and joins with another platoon that holds up in a seemingly empty Buddhist Temple while just trying to stay alive while surrounded by an extremely hostile enemy force.

This is a raw and gritty picture that doesn’t pull any punches.  Gene Evans’ Sgt. Zack is tough, but has an emotional streak that makes him relatable to the audience without compromising his character. His interactions with Short Round come off as incredibly authentic, more so than any other picture featuring an American G.I. interacting with a foreign child.  

THE STEEL HELMET is a tense and captivating film that will leave you thinking about it long after you’ve finished watching. In fact, I watched it twice back-to-back I was so taken by it.

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958; Directed by Louis Malle)
Talk about Film Noir, this picture is a dark and fascinating thriller that has a clever string of coincidences that make for a compelling film.

Maurice Ronet is a business man who murders his mistress’ husband (also his boss) and makes it look like a suicide. Everything goes off without a hitch EXCEPT that he leaves the rope behind and while headed back to the scene to tie up this one loose end, ends up stuck in the office elevator with nobody around to free him.  Meanwhile outside the elevator, a series of unique coincidences transpire that will determine this man’s fate.

There is so much that happens in this movie, and you see none of it coming.  It’s a masterfully made picture of coincidences that keeps you on the edge of your seat even while you’re admiring the mastery of the direction and scripting.  This is a true film for cinephiles who not only enjoy the entertainment of film, but the artistry behind it.  This is one that I plan to study further.

BREAKIN’ (1984; Directed by Joel Silberg)
I grew up in the 1980s, and one of the coolest kids from my middle school experience would break dance to an enthralled crowd during recess.  BREAKIN’ took me back to those days and made me wonder what ever happened to that dude (well ok, so I know he became an author and is pretty successful at it – thank you Facebook).

Break Dancing was a quintessential 80s phenomenon and BREAKIN’ as well as the sequel BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO from Cannon Films are fantastic time capsules that capture the full cultural impact. I could outline the plot of the picture, but here’s the deal – who cares.  You don’t watch BREAKIN’ for the plot, the plot is laughable and cookie-cutter. You watch it for the dancing and the outfits (oh there is plenty of spandex and leg warmers in this).
 
When Shout Factory released a Blu-ray double feature of this and the sequel, this was one of the true highlights of my 2015 Disc buying. The prints are great as are the special features, way better than I’m sure the original filmmakers ever imagined these films to look like 30 years after the fact. 


THE GUILTY (1947; Directed by John Reinhardt)
One of the highlights of the cinematic year for me is the Film Noir festival at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood run by the American Cinematheque and sponsored by the Film Noir Foundation (I also happen to be a volunteer social media consultant for the Cinemathque and run their Tumblr page among other things). 

This year’s closing night film was THE GUILTY, a low budget Noir that as Eddie Muller (Founder and President of the Film Noir Foundation) put it “you will need to take a shower after viewing it’s so grimy” and indeed, he wasn’t kidding.

Two dudes share an apartment and meet twins (both played by Bonita Granville). One you would happily take home to meet Mom, the other is a Femme Fatale.  A murder occurs, the wrong man is accused and Film Noir takes over. 

It is a rough picture to sit through, but well worth it for its gritty tone and down-and-dirty story and direction. This may be one that is hard to find, but lovers of good Noir should try to locate it as it is worth checking out.

That’s it for Discoveries part 1.  Look for part 2 on my personal blog soon and I’m looking forward to another year of fantastic film discoveries in 2016.

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