Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - Lars Nilsen ""

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Lars Nilsen

Lars is a programmer at Austin Film Society and there he curates repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics.

The Austin Film Society can be found here:
http://www.austinfilm.org
and Lars excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/197585777057317/

Also, check out Lars' lists from previous years:
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/01/lars-nilsens-top-films-seen-in-2010.html
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/12/lars-nilsens-favorite-older-films-seen.html
http://rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com/2012/12/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2012-lars.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2013/12/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2013-lars.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2014/12/favorite-film-discoveries-of-2014-lars.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2015/12/film-discoveries-of-2015-lars-nilsen.html
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THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (1941; Josef Von Sternberg)
By 1941, Josef von Sternberg was pretty much out of the club as far as Hollywood was concerned. Earlier, of course, he had made a number of very good, refined kitsch films with Marlene Dietrich. These movies loom large in film history but mostly did not set the box office on fire. Subsequent films, made after the dissolution of the Dietrich partnership, did even more poorly. THE SHANGHAI GESTURE seems to have been made on a much more constrained budget. In it we see Sternberg's peculiar genius boiled down to an elemental level. This is pure pulp, an adaptation of an offensive play about a rich man (Walter Huston, great as always), his dissolute daughter, played by Gene Tierney, who may have been the most beautiful woman in the world, and Mother Gin Sling (original name in the play: Mother Goddamn), whose lavish casino is located on a piece of property that the hard-driving Huston covets. The action of the piece takes place during Chinese New Year festivities. Perverse, over-the-top, black as night, this is the kind of pulp I like best, feverish and suffused with forbidden desires and unspeakable secrets. Victor Mature, believe it or not, is charming, witty and a joy throughout as a rogue with designs on Tierney's body, soul and fortune, not necessarily in that order.
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Chabrol's WISE GUYS (1961; Claude Chabrol)
I love revenge movies that proceed from a tiny slight and balloon into something unmanageable. In Claude Chabrol's early WISE GUYS, a fun-loving youngster (Charles Belmont) steals another young man's (the satanic Jean-Claude Brialy) parking place. It happens that Brialy is the unforgiving sort, and, later, as he fumes about the insult (in his ornate Chinese apartment, with his very fey manservant) he devises a super-villain-style plan to get back. In the tradition of great revenge plots, it is needlessly complicated, but all you really need to know is that it involves enlisting the great Bernadette Lafont, playing a world-class tart, whose life-force could never be constrained by Brialy's sinister plot.
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THE 1,000 EYES OF DR. MABUSE(1960; Fritz Lang)
Fritz Lang's last film is a return to the Mabuse character he had first brought to the screen in 1922., Here, Mabuse is a super-high-tech villain who spies on the guests of a luxury hotel. The film seems to be loaded with subtext about the danger of technology, something I will track more extensively the next time I watch it. But for my first viewing the surface pleasures were more than enough. Lang's mastery of the technical aspects of storytelling seems sharper than ever, which is to say it makes serpents' teeth look like Nerf toys. As a midcentury-modern photo album alone, this is impressive, but it also moves with a crispness and with such (nearly arrogant) assurance, that we might wish Lang had been tapped to make a James Bond movie.
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PANDORA AND THE MAGIC BOX (1965; Joe Sarno)
I don't remember if there was even any nudity in this Joe Sarno sexploitation movie. If there is, it is mild. This seems to be the record of a cheap stage production, sort of a Roman Scandals-style stage revue, in which the lives (particularly the sex lives) of the Greek gods are lampooned in a Mad Magazine style. The gags and skits are very smart, and there are real laughs here. Like a lot of Sarno's films, it is made on an extremely low budget, all the better to admire Sarno's skill at eliciting fine performances from his leads - all of whom are recognizable from his Long Island period.
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THE QUEENS (Italian Anthology) (1966)
I like all four episodes of this Italian anthology film, but I especially LOVE the first, starring Monica Vitti as a young woman, rescued on the road from an ardent pursuer. It's really a nothing plot but Vitti, whom I love without any reservation, is magnificent: awkward one second, seductive the next; she is an artist. In her attention to the microscopic details of human behavior, she gives evidence of the observational power that a great novelist might possess. The second episode, starring Claudia Cardinale and Gastone Moschin (MILANO CALIBRE 9) is quite good, and is directed by the very interesting Mario Monicelli. A segment with Raquel Welch and Jean Sorel is harmless enough, and the last chapter, starring the very funny Alberto Sordi as Capucine's love-struck chauffeur is worth watching too.
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SHEPHERDS OF DISASTER (PATRES DU DESORDRE) (1968; Nico Papatakis)
Richard Linklater presented this Greek film at a cosponsored AFS/Drafthouse screening this year, in anticipation of the release of THE LOBSTER. It is a favorite of both Linklater and LOBSTER director Yorgos Lanthimos. An artifact of the Greek New Wave, this film seems to be a fairly run-of-the-mill family drama about life among hillside sheep herders at first, but as it progresses, it develops cracks, and by the time we're an hour or so in, we realize that it is a nihilistic bomb of a movie, a repudiation of all cultural inertia and conservatism, and a deeply sick, very funny black comedy. I've never seen another movie like this.
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DEATH CAR ON THE FREEWAY (1979; Hal Needham)
Nobody directs car-actors like Hal Needham. This TV-movie is a silly but persuasive example of Needham's special touch, particularly as concerns four wheeled subjects. Shelley Hack is also very good, as a TV reporter on the trail of a van-driver who has been terrorizing drivers on the Los Angeles freeways. One of the best touches in the film is the fact that the killer blasts distorted violin music (think Mahavishnu Orchestra-type fusion) when he kills. But the best part is all the motorized action, some of which is just jaw-dropping.


GIRLS NITE OUT (1982; Robert Deubel)
If I call this slasher movie genial, don't let that dissuade you from watching it. It's a goofy movie that seems to have been made by a bunch of theater kids. The long party scene at the center of the film is loaded with seemingly improvised gags on the level of Nixon impressions and W.C. Fields-type asides. But it's so pleasantly dorky that it laps itself after a while and becomes actually funny. A lot of laughs, a lot of not-exactly harrowing murders, and a totally unexpected performance from Hal Holbrook as the University security guard. He is amazing, of course. His son also appears in the film, and is not very good.
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DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946; Harold Clurman)
A sailor has until dawn to prove himself innocent of a murder has been suspected of but did not commit. I'm a sucker for this kind of plot. Depending on whose hands are on the tiller, this can be very good film material, or a very bad. In this case, the director is the innovative theater pro Harold Clurman and the writer is Clifford Odets, who adapts a novel by Cornell Woolrich. Odets (who was the inspiration for BARTON FINK) can sometimes blow a little too hot, but here it is somehow, miraculously just right. Bill Williams is passable as the baby-faced sailor. Paul Lukas goes a little overboard, but not fatally so, as the cabdriver who helps. Susan Hayward, on the other hand, brings a lot to the role of the disillusioned B-girl who tags along, and becomes the film's moral compass. She makes this movie GO.
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TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (1990; Charles Burnett)
Charles Burnett's 1990 family drama seems almost as labyrinthine in its mysteries as FANNY AND ALEXANDER. Into the lives of a stable but challenged family in South Central Los Angeles, comes a figure from the patriarch's southern past, played by Danny Glover. Glover, who carries a knife and shoots dice, is at first a charming presence in the family home, but as he stays on, it becomes apparent that he is an agent of chaos and is a danger to the family order, something that the matriarch recognizes before anyone else. There's a mythological quality here, and the film might have seemed schematic without Glover's UNBELIEVABLE performance. With an ending that is, to say the very least, awfully bold. I love this movie.
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3 comments:

Ira Brooker said...

I sure didn't think anybody else's list was gonna include "Death Car on the Freeway," but that's what's great about the RPS clan.

Lars Nilsen said...

Like.

beamish13 said...

My father-in-law produced To Sleep with Anger and Burnett's follow-up, The Glass Shield. It's been extremely gratifying to see it get rediscovered and receive critical accolades over a quarter of a century after its anemic original theatrical release. We don't know when a Blu-Ray will be on the horizon, but Sony made a beautiful new 35mm answer print, and a DCP