Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - William Bibbiani ""

Monday, January 18, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - William Bibbiani

William Bibbiani (aka "Bibbs) is the Film Channel Editor for Crave Online, but also regularly contributes to, and the What the Flick?!. He is also one of the hosts of The B Movies Podcast, which I am a longtime fan of myself.
Check out a couple of his previous Film Discoveries lists from previous years:

Amer (2009) and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani are filmmakers I had never heard of before this year, but whom I will be watching very closely for the rest of… well, forever, basically. Their two feature films are surreal horror dramas that play like genetic mutation derived from the leftover skin cells of Dario Argento and Jan Svankmajer. 

In Amer, a little girl living with a witch blossoms into a young woman living with a jealous mother, and eventually takes possession of the family estate where… something unpleasant happens. It’s an alluring Eurosleaze concoction that I think I would have appreciated more if I had seen it before The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, a non-stop phantasmagoria about a group of people living in an old apartment complex, which is also a perpetual nightmare state, who endure their greatest fears whilst being stalked by a madman. 

Tucked away inside of The Strange Colour is at least one sequence, but probably more, that will qualify as the best horror short film(s) you are ever likely to see. A strange noise in the ceiling has unspeakable consequences for an elderly couple; that one haunted me, and I suspect it will have the same effect on you.

Exhaustingly stylized, utterly fantastic. See them both.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
As a child I had such vivid nightmares about Jason Voorhees, in particular around the time that Jason Takes Manhattan came out, that I subconsciously avoided this film for many years. When I had to catch up on all of the Friday the 13th movies this year, for a Halloween episode of The B-Movies Podcast, I finally saw this whackadoodle motion picture and it immediately became one of my favorite films from the series.

Some fans complain that it takes Jason forever to get to Manhattan, and yes, it really does. What they sometimes overlook is that getting there is a blast in and of itself. The first two thirds of the film might as well have been called Jason Takes Titanic, and if that doesn’t also sound fun then we just have very little to say to each other. Strange set pieces, energetic pacing and some delightfully odd moments makeFriday the 13th Part VIII a cheesy joy. 

Doctor Mordrid (1992)
The legend goes that Full Moon Pictures had the rights to Doctor Strange, lost them, and then made the movie anyway after making some very minor changes. That story may be apocryphal but it’s a great lens through which you should watchDoctor Mordrid, a low budget but entertaining supernatural adventure featuring Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) at his suavest and sexiest. 

Combs plays the title doctor, an immortal sorcerer living secretly in New York, who is called back into action when his arch-nemesis returns from the dead and unleashes hell. Sometimes the cheapness of the film is hardly noticeable - Mordrid’s home is a fun set, and the climax where the dinosaur skeletons come to life is pretty cool - and sometimes it’s obvious as heck. Either way this film plays like a great matinee feature, a proper b-movie that must be enjoyed flaws and all. And you’ll enjoy it. It’s one of Full Moon’s better films.

The Glass Shield (1994)
One of the best American filmmakers that most audiences have never heard of, Charles Burnett, has been responsible for brilliant art house films like Killer of Sheep and, my personal favorite, To Sleep with Anger. A socially conscious filmmaker, but never quite as in your face as Spike Lee, Burnett also took one serious stab at mainstream cop dramas with the 1994 thriller The Glass Shield, and it’s an incredible film.

Michael Boatman plays a young police officer, the first black man at his precinct, who makes a lot of little personal sacrifices in order to be accepted as part of the team. One such sacrifice leads to the unlawful incarceration of Ice Cube, who was stopped without cause and instantly slapped with a murder charge. Burnett’s film pushes Boatman through the ringer; his redemption comes at great cost to his career, his safety, his family and friends, andThe Glass Shield never lets him off the hook. It’s a harsh and suspenseful film about just how difficult it is to work from within and change the system. It’s conventionally thrilling but more intelligent than most other movies of its ilk.

Houseboat (1958)
Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, on a houseboat. I’m not sure you need any more information than that, but basically Loren is the daughter of a famous Italian conductor, and she runs away to find out what real people live like, and he thinks she’s a homeless person and offers her a job as a nanny for his cherubic children. Hijinks ensue.

Houseboat wasn’t really what I expected. It exists in a nebulous dimension, stuck between the sexy misunderstandings of Roman Holidayand the wholesome family fluff of Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. But it’s a lovely place to find yourself. Cary Grant is perfectly at home in both genres simultaneously, and Sophia Loren is a bombshell as usual, perpetually in mid-explosion, curves and all. 

Molly and Me (1945)
Housekeepers must be a magical class of people, if old movies are to be believed. (Or maybe they were just a really large demographic half a century ago.) In Lewis Seiler’s charming Molly and Me, Gracie Fields plays a vaudeville actress who is forced to take a job working for the great Monte Woolley, who plays an grouchy rich man with a very estranged young son, played by Roddy McDowall.

Will anyone find out about her shameful, actorly past? Oh, how I long for the days when those were life’s biggest problems. The script was based on a novel by Frances Marion, who was the first screenwriter to win two Academy Awards (for The Champ and The Big House). She based the story on actress Marie Dressler (Dinner at Eight), who likewise considered changing careers when times got tough. Marion posited that Dressler, here renamed “Molly,” would have improved everybody’s life and shattered the boundaries between the social classes. It’s a nice thought, and Molly and Me is a very nice movie that explores it.

Mystery Street (1950)
Decades before films like Manhunterand TV shows like CSI fetishized hardcore police procedure, John Sturges directed Mystery Street, a gripping murder mystery that strives to accurately detail every technical aspect of sleuthing in 1950. Ricardo Montalban plays the lead detective and the film deftly sidesteps racial stereotypes; it is, especially for the time, pretty blasé about a Mexican-American in a position of authority. The crime’s the thing.

And the crime is a corker: a skeletonized woman has been found, and the forensic science needed to piece together the complex events that led to her demise is only just being invented. The technology and research on display must have been high-tech when Mystery Street was originally released, but nowadays it adds a new level of suspense: how will Montalban catch the killer when he only has that little to work with?

Oh, and Elsa Lanchester steals the film as a busybody who selfishly sabotages the investigation. But of course she steals the film. She always does.

Nightmare Alley (1947)
Tyrone Power stars in this film noir that plays more like an E.C. horror comic. He’s plays a con man who schemes a carnival gypsy (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband out of their complex fortune telling secrets, and his rise to fame as a professional psychic hits one pot hole after another: tragic deaths, bitter blackmail, and possibly even a descent into insanity.

There’s a mean streak to Nightmare Alley; of course the antihero gets his comeuppance, it was a Production Code film after all, but director Edmund Goulding (Dark Victory) seems to delight in Power’s downfall. A semi-happy ending has been tacked on here, but if Nightmare Alley had concluded just a minute or two earlier, it would have one of the most vicious finales in film noir history. I like it better that way, but even with the last-second cheer, you won’t be able to get over how close it came to being an honest-to-goodness nightmare.

Over the Garden Wall (2014)
Originally released as a mini-series, but short enough that it sometimes plays as an episodic film, Over the Garden Wall is one of my new favorite things. Not just movies or mini-series, but things in general. It’s a brand new fable about two young brothers who can’t find their way home, and wander in and out of different stories that are not unlike Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and yet not quite like anything else either.

It’s a funny experience, and a frightening experience, but more to the point it’s a serious emotional journey. The older brother (voiced by Elijah Wood) is on the brink of maturity but repeatedly falls off the wrong side, sabotaging their chances of getting home out of laziness or spite, and by the time he realizes the consequences of his actions… yikes. 

Unusual imagery, potent ideas and heart-wrenching revelations await you. Climb over the garden wall, and discover the horrible wonders for yourself. 

Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer (1985)
I was completely unfamiliar with the mythology of Rainbow Brite before I watched her first movie, and while it’s hardly a forgotten animated classic, it’s certainly no worse than other quick cash-in movies of its ilk. Heck, I’d rather watch Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealers than the abrasive and confusing animatedTransformers movie any day.

Rainbow Brite is apparently the God of Earth, but she’s sidelined by a space princess (who treats a giant gem like a dog, which surprisingly funny) who wants to steal a planet made entirely out of diamond. Which would probably be fine if all the light in the universe didn’t pass through that planet, and if moving said planet wouldn’t kill everything that ever lived. 

Rainbow Brite teams up with a Megaman-like dude named Krys (who thinks girls are icky) and an AWESOME robot horse named ON-X, who solves every problem by head butting it at rocket speed. ON-X (pronounced “onyx”) is kinda dumb, apparently. He apparently needs specific voice commands to try to do things, leading to repeated screams of, “ON-X… TRY!”

I wasn’t high when I watchedRainbow Brite and the Star Stealer. If the film has any particularly positive quality, it’s that I didn’t need to be. At its best, Rainbow Brite is what drugs are like at their best.

The Incredible Hulk Returns (1998) and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)
I was only slightly too young to watch the original Incredible Hulk TV series when it was originally on television, and I missed practically every re-run. But I was pleasantly surprised by the first two TV movie sequels, The Incredible Hulk Returns and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, which also acted as backdoor pilots for Thor and Daredevil live-action television series that, sadly, never got the green light.

Maybe it’s not so sad that Thor didn’t get picked up: in The Incredible Hulk Returns, the thunder god shows up as a kind of blowhard frat boy roommate to Donald Blake, drinks everyone under the table and wears smelly furs. It plays more like the pilot to an ill-conceived sitcom than anything even remotely resembling Thor.

But Daredevil would have been pretty great: Bill Bixby takes a backseat in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (in part because he was also directing), as David Banner gets arrested for murder and Matt Murdock (Rex Smith) must save the day as his alter ego, Daredevil. John Rhys-Davies plays an extremely 1980s version of Kingpin, and even Turk from the old Frank Miller comics turns in an appearance. Smith is a decent actor, the action sequences are mostly clever and well choreographed, and overall The Trial of the Incredible Hulk comes across pretty well. It’s certainly far, far, far from the worst movie ever based on a Marvel comic. Ten years ago, it probably would have even ranked as one of the best.


beamish13 said...

Thank you for the kind words about The Glass Shield-my father-in-law produced it and Burnett's incredible To Sleep With Anger

George said...

I've only seen two on this list. One is Glass Shield and the other is Nightmare Alley both are well crafted films. Glass Shield gives some valuable insight on the ongoing debate on Police corruption is it a couple of bad cops or bad police culture.