Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015 - Part Two ""

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015 - Part Two

If you haven't already checked out the part one of my Film Discoveries for 2015, please do so now:
After dwelling on that list though, I not only realized that I missed a few things, I also had a chance to watch a quite a few more films before the close of 2015. Here are more of my highlights:

LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE (1991; Leos Carax)
More than two decades before Carax made HOLY MOTORS, he made one of his true masterpieces with this film. I saw this as part of Brian Udovich's annual "Reel Grit Six Shooter" and it was chosen and presented by Affonso Goncalves (editor of WINTER'S BONE, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, LOVE IS STRANGE and this year's CAROL). It was definitely a highlight of my movie watching in 2015. It's just one of those films that you get absolutely lost in. You find yourself so caught up in the simple world and interactions of the characters, that even the tiniest gesture can hit you like a punch in the stomach. This movie is so captivating and so emotional as a journey that to even try to summarize it would be silly. There's just no way to express the power of it without seeing it. You should really do that.
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FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (1970; Joseph Losey)
From the very beginning of this film, it feels of another time. I mean this in a complimentary sense in that the opening sequence is certainly intriguing in that it consists of a long take of two men in a helicopter as they scan the landscape below for something. What they are looking for we don't know, but the frantic and dissonant filmscore leads is to believe there is some kind of urgency. After a few minutes of this helicopter shot, we finally cut to two men (Malcolm McDowell & Robert Shaw) as they dash through the woods with their hands bound behind their backs. This image brings things a bit more into focus. Two men on the run. We don't know why they are running but we can assume they are escaped prisoners of some kind. As we follow them, it is not made clear why they are being chased or what they are running away from. As a lover of an obtuse storyline, I am immediately engaged by stories like this. The dialogue between the characters is quite sparse, so it really makes you lean in and pay attention. Will there be some utterance that will give a clue to the details behind the situation with these two desperate men? I kept watching and waiting. And doing so with two actors I love like this is a pleasure for sure. The movie itself borders on the very edge of Twilight Zone territory, though it seems hesitant to cross over into the fantastic areas that that show inhabited. Even the title of the film conjures thoughts of something like, "Five Characters In Search of An Exit" - the famous TWZ episode.
You can get FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE on Blu-ray here:
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Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat as I first saw this back in 2010, but somehow I overlooked it on my discoveries list back then. Thanks To Kino Lorber Studio Classic's new Blu-ray, I was afforded the opportunity to give it another look and now I truly see it for the genre good time that it is. It's a DEATH WISH-y kinda thing sure, but a good one and Jan Michael-Vincent is operating during his prime years here and he does well. Worth seeking out, especially on the Blu-ray.
You can get DEFIANCE on Blu-ray here:
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PEDICAB DRIVER (1989; Sammo Hung)
Though it descends into some incredible sappy-ness towards the third act, the action in this movie is absolutely breathtaking and a joy to watch. Sammo rules. Sammo rules as a performer and as a director. He is like the Buster Keaton of of martial arts movies. The things he pulls off in his movies are not only hugely entertaining but also unbelievable and inspiring. It's gorgeous stuff. Seek it out.
On DVD from Warner Archive here:
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The first of Tony Anthony's "STRANGER" films, this one is a solid introduction to the character and an enjoyable spaghetti western overall. Lots of clever moments. This came out on DVD for the first time in 2015 via Warner Archive's excellent "Stranger Collection" and it's a nice little set that hasn't been getting enough attention for how cool it is. It has three of Tony Anthony's STRANGER films and they are all worthwhile. 
You can get this set here:
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HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932; Rowland Brown)
Lean and mean little pre-code chain gang movie starring the great Richard Dix. This one is another discovery I made via Warner Archive as part of their Forbidden Hollywood Volume 9 set. This is a great series if you haven't been collecting them, I must suggest that you look into the sets. Volume 9 is available here:
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I love Burt Kennedy and especially the work he did with Budd Boetticher for all those amazing Randolph Scott westerns. Those are truly some of my favorite movies. This film, while not quite on par with those, has a similar spirit and an excellent cast. The story is of an aging marshall (Robert Mitchum), who is getting ready to retire, gets wind that one of his old criminal nemesis-types (George Kennedy) is nearby and planning a robbery. The marshall makes efforts to cut this plan off at the knees, but he makes an interesting discovery and a new friend in the process. The rest of cast includes Martin Balsam, David Carradine, Tina Louise, John Carradine, Marie Windsor and Kathleen Freeman. It's a good western tale well told by Kennedy. I saw this as part of a Burt Kennedy marathon on TCM when I was laid up in the hospital for a few days last year and it was just the ticket.
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STORMY WEATHER (1943; Andrew L. Stone)
This one was an unexpected delight, especially from thriller/action director Andrew L. Stone. It features a black cast of amazing performers like Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Dooley Wilson, and the remarkable Nicholas brothers. The film crams 20 (!) musical numbers into its scant 78-minute running time and it is an absolute delight. Twilight Time put out a superior Blu-ray of the film this year and it's a no brainer pickup for musical fans. If I haven't sold you, I'll let the Nicholas brothers give it a shot, followed by Gregory Hines giving his take on how awesome they are:

Get the Twilight Time Blu-ray here:

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS (1989; Jeremy Kagan).
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME 80s style. By that I mean HUNCHBACK by way of SHORT CIRCUIT and Animal the Muppet. Also features a nebbishy Woody Allen type wisecracking dude. And Tom Skerritt and Jessica Harper. Complete with "getting in shape" montage. The kind of silliness that could have only happened in the 1980s (despite it coming out in '91)and that's part of why I liked it. I also love that this move comes from the director of THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN and THE BIG FIX - two films I adore.

DRIVE ME CRAZY (1999; Jon Schultz)
File this one in the "thought I saw it, but did not remember it" because it really charmed me this go round. My wife and I chose this as our New Year's Eve movie, so it was the last film we watched in 2015 and it was a rather nice way to go out. This high school romance flick is a nice little twist on CAN'T BUY ME LOVE and has some heart to it despite succumbing to some obvious tropes. On top of that it was produced by Amy Robinson who also had a hand in a few of my favorites like AFTER HOURS, BABY IT'S YOU and CHILKY SCENES OF WINTER. While DRIVE ME CRAZY isn't on par with those gems, it is still a very pleasant diversion into well trodden genre territory. Would make a nice double with this year's sleeper gem THE DUFF. 
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THE MURDER MAN (1935; Tim Whelan)
One more Warner Archive related discovery . This one has Spencer Tracy as a hotshot reporter who thinks he's got it all figured out, until he comes across a murder case that may not be as cut and dried as it appears. Supporting cast includes James Stewart, Virginia Bruce, Lionel Atwill and Bill Demarest.
Grab the DVD here:
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ADAM AT 6 A.M. (1970; Robert Scheerer)
Early Michael Douglas role (his second starring turn) sees him as a college professor in California who drives across the country to attend the funeral of a relative in Missouri. Whilst there, he decides to get a job locally and hang out there for the summer. He falls for a local gal (the always adorable Lee Purcell) and troubles ensue soon after. Feels like a 1970s movie for sure, but I've always loved the idea of a character pulling up stakes on his old life and giving a try somewhere else. The colorful supporting ensemble includes Joe Don Baker, Dana Elcar and a host of familiar faces. Looks like it had DVD release at some point, but that disc has become unavailable. I saw this on Youtube.

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