Samuel B. Prime is a moving image advocate, curator, and archivist based in Los Angeles. He is a recent contributor to LAist and The Village Voice. In 2015, he served as a producer for Etiquette Pictures' Blu-Ray release of CATCH MY SOUL (1974) and also worked on the special features. Otherwise, he deeply admires Dick Cavett's savoir faire and his favorite Sonny Chiba film is Kazuhiko Yamaguchi's perpetually unavailable WOLFGUY: ENRAGED LYCANTHROPE (1975). Find him online at www.lacinesalon.com for essays, film reviews, and free streaming movies.
The second and final film directed by author and diplomat Romain Gary. His previous, BIRDS IN PERU (1968), is a heady, sensitive picture that grapples (to questionable success) with feminine psychology. By contrast, KILL! is a bombastic, ambitiously artistic action-thriller as much about film structure as it is about secret agents, dope dealers, and smut peddlers. KILL! is so wantonly over-the-top with its kitschy title theme, anti-logic dialogue (Emily Hamilton: "But you'll be killed!"
Brad Killian: "I've already been killed!"), and commitment to its faux-Bond aesthetic that it almost feels like an explosion of post-BIRDS IN PERU masculine frustration. Something to consider: one is the film of a married man and the other is the film of a divorced man. I wonder which is which?
A memorably strange giallo-style film from Kuei Chih-Hung (best known for THE BOXER'S OMEN). Here's what you need to know: when a vampire-ghost optician offers you discount contact lenses, don't be surprised when they turn out to be soul-sucking mind control devices. And that he is a filthy rapist. That undead dirtbag. There are no happy endings to be found here. Relatively simple stuff, but the candy-colored lighting arrangements, frequent pop-zooms, and plentiful visual metaphors are a sincere delight. And, oh my goodness, those English subtitles.
Sultry proto-FIGHT CLUB starring Rob Lowe and James Spader. Spader plays a nebbish Wall Street-type. Lowe is everything he is not. You can probably guess the rest. What's more is that their ill-advised mentor / mentee relationship (especially the early grooming period) fuels a kind of delectable gay subtext that makes it seem like the early rose-tinted stages of an imminently toxic romance. It might as well be titled BAD BREAK-UP. How can you, I, or anyone say no to James Spader in a squeaking bunny mask? You can't. I can't. Nobody can. This movie is irresistible.ON THE BORDER (Bob Misiorowski, 1998)
As far as sleazy, dust-caked nineties TV-movie noirs are concerned, this is the apex. Casper Van Dien is a hunky bank security guard with a set of liquid morals. Failed Alec Baldwin clone, Daniel Baldwin, lumbers around the set chewing scenery like cud. Toss in a pair of femme fatales - one Aryan, one "ethnic" (not my words) - and the grandson of Robert Mitchum (no joke) and you have a film that nearly rivals the supreme weirdness of Norman Mailer's TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE (1987). There's a whole lot to love about a film that begins with a woman's scream, a flashback heist, and a heel in the face of its protagonist. Brutal, brutal, brutal. "Don't bleed on my sheets."
One of those marginal, yet undeniably spectacular, Japanese crime films that boasts refreshing and economical storytelling, employing every element it introduces, down to the seemingly minor character of a frightened department store clerk who - in the first five minutes - loses her job for not evacuating the building during a petty stick-up disguised as a bomb threat. The central story is of competing thieves who, following a bungled safe heist and a lengthy chase, decide to become partners. This is a horrible idea, but it makes for a hell of a movie. I can't stress this enough, but - again - nothing is extraneous. And there are Pink Lady posters all over this movie. Find 'em all!
Long before I ever saw this movie, I fell in love with its mysterious, enigmatic poster: three stern faces brooding over the contorted body of a dead man. It tells you just enough about the overall proceedings to hook you. The French title in bold, white letters adds to the understated appeal. THIEVES AFTER DARK is the urgent and playful Fuller that I strongly prefer. Whores are everywhere in this Parisian tale and the two central characters - a kind of bumbling Bonnie and Clyde - are one missed rent payment away from turning tricks themselves. Unemployed and alone except for each other, their dreams are on hold while they try to make ends meet. When the condescending unemployment agency offers them positions as a dishwasher and an usher in a porno theater, they act out without considering the repercussions. And - before long - the whole thing gets way out of hand. All the Fuller signatures are here: the looming visage of Ludwig van (a Beethoven symphony is the doorbell chime of a character's antique store); the ominous low angle shots that make people look forty-feet tall; poor decisions made as a result of flesh-loneliness; Christa and Samantha (Fuller's wife and daughter) in marginal roles; Fuller himself in an equally marginal, but yet dramatically essential (and patch-eyed!), role, and a score by Ennio Morricone.
SIX BEARS AND A CLOWN (Oldrich Lipsky, 1972)
As improbable a motion picture as I have ever encountered. Also, the first thing I watched this year. Here's the scoop: A certifiably rotund circus ringmaster meets with a sinister, mustachioed charlatan - a veritable swine-dler - who offers to trade his trained pigs for the ringmaster's trained bears. Taken in by the huckster's honeyed words, the ringmaster consents to the trade only to immediately realize that he has been hoodwinked. Also, the bears are actual bears. ACTUAL BEARS. When he also fires his clown, he can no longer reliably entertain his youthful audience. What follows is the aftermath of these pair of harebrained decisions. The ringmaster wants his bears and clown back, the bears miss the clown and effectively break out of prison, the clown takes a job as a lunch lady (in drag), the charlatan searches for his ill-gotten bears, and in the meantime an elementary school is terrorized by all of the above. The bears ride motorcycles, perform acrobatic tricks, and more. There's absolutely nothing else like this movie. I am in love.
HUSTLER WHITE (Bruce LaBruce / Rick Castro, 1996)
The vertical history of a few important miles of West Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard by way of a sleazy art-porn SUNSET BLVD. remake. A tongue-in-ass undoing of Hollywood convention.
My favorite film of the year. A seriously remarkable and gloriously lo-fi video essay from Rosa von Praunheim about the night club queen, esteemed lady of the blues, and sometimes actress Tally Brown who jived and thrived in that coveted, romanticized, Warhol-centric seventies NYC scene.