Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - Elijah Drenner ""

Monday, December 26, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Elijah Drenner

Elijah Drenner is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and one of the leading independent producers of Blu-ray/DVD content. In 2016, he produced such releases as High Noon, Blue Sunshine, The American Horror Project Vol. 1, Johnny Guitar, The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast, Macbeth, Dolemite, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and many more.
DISTANT DRUMS (1951; Raoul Walsh)
My favorite film discovery this year was this one-of-a-kind, Florida-set, swamp western. Set in 1840, Gary Cooper stars as an army scout who is chased across the Everglades by Seminole Indians. I think I counted the Wilhelm scream about 3 times in this colorful, violent and surprisingly bloody Technicolor action film directed by Raoul Walsh.
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DEADLOCK (1970; Roland Klick)
Try this on for size; an English-language gangster film shot in the Israeli desert by a director from West Germany. The movie, about two men fighting over a briefcase full of money, is just about perfect. Director Roland Klick uses the sparsity of the deserted mining town to startling effect, evoking a style and mood comparable to Antonioni. Mario Adorf and Anthony Dawson star as the two adversaries. The soundtrack is by CAN.
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THE BRUTES (1970; Roger Fritz)
Mike and Werner are friends. Neither one can have sex with a woman, without the other. Their mission to conquer every woman they meet leads them to Alice. They pick her up in a bar and drive her to a gravel pit in the middle of the night. Mike, the sly and more aggressive alpha male, tries to convince Alice to make it with Werner. Once he's done, then Mike can have his way with her too. Alice does not consent, challenges Mike's masculinity, and pays the price. Werner comes to his senses and tries to stop Mike from sexually assaulting her, but chickens out. They spend the night in the gravel pit. When they wake up, Mike makes the convincing argument to Alice to not report the crime. And we, as the audience, actually believe him too. And that's just the first 30 minutes in this is an incredibly well made thriller that shifts the balance of power between the three characters with sophisticated precision right up to the last scene. Far better than the exploitation title and ad campaign implies (it was released in America as CRY RAPE), I would put this on par with the best of Polanski, Ozo or Fassbinder.

LIZZIE (1957; Hugo Haas)
You had me at Eleanor Parker-multiple-personality-psycho-thriller-melodrama. Its based on a novel by Shirley Jackson and co-starring Joan Blondell, in case you need more excuses to watch it.
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DANGEROUS MEN (2005; Jahangir Salehi aka John S. Rad)
I don't know how to describe this movie. It is, essentially, a rape revenge action-thriller from the mid-80s and appears to have been abandoned, then picked up again, re-written and filmed again from time to time, leading up to its release in 2005. The end result is a skull-scratching cocktail of mixed narratives, lost characters, new characters and a naked man wandering in the desert. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I know there's some making-of documentary about it on the disc, but I prefer the mystery of this one.
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THE SEVEN MINUTES (1971; Russ Meyer)
I've been waiting literally decades to see this movie and it didn't disappoint. Made for Fox directly after the massive success of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, Meyer chose to do this film, based on the novel by Irving Wallace about freedom of the press and the purported negative and hostile effects that pornography has on its literary audience. The title refers to the thoughts in a woman's mind during the first seven minutes of sex. If anyone can make me sit through a courtroom drama, its Russ Meyer. It tanked and Meyer went back to making independent movies his own way.

PLUNDER OF THE SUN (1953; John Farrow)
Glenn Ford stars in this briskly paced south-of-the-border noir with a dash of INDIANA JONES. Directed by industry stalwart John Farrow and photographed by Jack Draper, this will satiate fans of noir looking for something a little left of center.
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A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON (1974; Les Blank)
Another movie that I'd been waiting years to see. Les Blank's idiosyncratic documentary follows the late Leon Russell over the course of three years in the early 70s at his home recording studio in rural Oklahoma. Along the way, Blank also turns his lens onto Russell's neighbors, bandmates, concert security guards, a gospel church, building demolitions, a glass-eating skydiver and more. The finished film drifts through a series of unrelated events, capturing a slice of life that bewildered the rocker when he saw the final film; so much so that he kept the film from circulation for over 40 years. The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray is one of the best releases of the year.
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CRY OF THE HUNTED (1953; Joseph H. Lewis)
When Jory (Vittrorio Gassman), a psychotic prisoner escapes, Lt. Turner (Barry Sullivan) tracks his man down in this slick little Cajun noir from director Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY). The swamp water fever dream sequence is worth the price of admission alone.
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CLOUD ATLAS (2012; The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer)
I know I'm late to the party, but I loved this fable about past and future lives, and how a series of seemingly separate stories are all connected. Based on the novel by David Mitchell, it's a sci-fi movie that actually challenges it's audience, asks them to gamble with their expectations and surrender themselves over to the experience. I avoided seeing it in the theater (along with a lot of other moviegoers) and I'm sorely disappointed in myself for not catching it on the big screen. In a world where the multiplex is besieged with endless franchise spectacles, the days of seeing a singular movie that has the ability to cast its spell on you in one sitting feels like a distant dream.
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