Rupert Pupkin Speaks: December 2016 ""

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Criterion Collection - THE ASPHALT JUNGLE on Blu-ray

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950; John Huston)
Prior to my exposure to RESERVOIR DOGS, my heist movie expertise was limited to movies like THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER and the then new, but now forgotten Kim Basinger vehicle THE REAL MCCOY. It wasn't until after RESERVOIR DOGS that I started to look into the films that may have preceded and influenced Tarantino. Two that I often heard mentioned in the same breath were Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING (also on Blu-ray from Criterion) and John Huston's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. Both films were seen as some of the early classic examples of the heist genre. Both films also starred Sterling Hayden, who I sadly also wasn't really aware of at the time (and who has since become a personal favorite). Since Tarantino had clearly seen tons of these movies in his video store days and prior, I made it my mission to track down as many as I could. Both THE KILLING and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE were a couple of the first few that I sought out. I wasn't fully connecting with the idea of going through director's filmographies back then and had only done that a little with Scorsese and maybe Billy Wilder. I had seen THE MALTESE FALCON, but I only put the two and two together that John Huston had directed that movie and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE just as I came across the film for the first time. This was all pre-internet mind you, so the best way to see what other films a director had done was by using the huge catalog guide books that Blockbuster Video stores used to have. I'd flip open one of the director pages and start jotting down notes. Then, inevitably, I'd end up having to go to several video stores to scoop up any of the titles that were even available on VHS. So naturally my video store didn't carry THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and I had to rent it elsewhere. I had already seen THE KILLING and liked that one quite a bit so ASPHALT already had a higher bar set for it. When I finally found the VHS and watched it, I liked it, but not as much as THE KILLING. As detached as Kubrick can be with his characters, ASPHALT felt even more distant and cold. At the time that turned me off a little and I had trouble connecting with it, but not I see it more as Huston trying to reflect the sensibilities of the world he was portraying. The story deals with one crook getting funding for a diamond heist and how he goes about putting his gang together. The coldness that I must have interpreted from the characters that first time makes much more sense as being a natural part of the criminal underworld and the characters who inhabit it. Of course they are suspicious of each other and not necessarily jovial - they have to be. Trust and compassion are luxuries that these lawbreakers cannot afford. I'm reminded of Steve Buscemi's line as Mr. Pink in RESERVOIR DOGS when he says, "They get you, they get closer to me and that can't happen". It all makes sense that in a world of nefarious people, the only one you can truly rely on is yourself. I think that all just made the film seem more dry to me and somehow that translated to less engaging. Now, I appreciate it more for it's procedural nature and how it kind of takes us step by step through the process of setting up a big job like this - all the people that need to be involved as well as all the things that can go wrong. Another thing that THE ASPHALT JUNGLE does right is having the characters speak the "language of the streets". The tagline of the movie is, "The City Under the City!", if that gives you a sense of what they were trying to do. All the grifter characters speak in that hard-boiled way that we all love film noirs to do, but it's also done in this case for more authenticity. It's really supposed to feel like we are hearing how underworld gents speak to each other. As you would expect, there is little explanation of what some of the slang means and we are left to infer from the context sometimes as to what these guys are talking about. So it's stylish dialogue, but with a purpose. The object is to make you feel like you've been given a peak into a secret world that you shouldn't be seeing if you're not unlawful yourself. In that way, the movie takes some conventions we've seen before and applies them to a much more docu-drama style context - which makes it all more effective. The whole thing is driven home by an excellent performance by Sterling Hayden, who was basically born to deliver dialogue like this and make it sound conversational. I must't forget to mention that this film also has an early performance from a young lady named Marilyn Monroe. Her part is not too big, but she is more than welcome anytime (she's also featured prominently in some of the promotional artwork for the movie). It also stars Louis Calhern, who I always remember from DUCK SOUP, where he is constantly being insulted by Groucho Marx.
I should add that I love the trend of Criterion licensing Warner Brothers titles that's been going on for a little while now. The WB catalog is so thick with great films that it excites me to even ponder the possibilities of future releases. Here's hoping we see more classic Warner cinema come to Criterion Blu-ray in 2017!

Disc Features:
-New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
-Audio commentary from 2004 by film historian Drew Casper, featuring archival recordings of actor James Whitmore
-Pharos of Chaos, a 1983 documentary about actor Sterling Hayden
-New interviews with film noir historian Eddie Muller and cinematographer John Bailey
-Archival footage of writer-director John Huston discussing the film
-Episode of the television program City Lights from 1979 featuring Huston
-Audio excerpts of archival interviews with Huston
-Trailer
-PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien


Buy THE ASPHALT JUNGLE on Blu-ray here:

https://www.criterion.com/films/28690-the-asphalt-jungle
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Friday, December 30, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Kristina Dijan

Kristina Dijan is a movie addict who blogs at Speakeasy (https://hqofk.wordpress.com/) and shares her viewing on Letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/HQofK/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/HQofK).


Check out her other RPS lists here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/search/label/Kristina%20Dijan
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This year I watched more movies than ever (many suggested here at RPS!) from all genres, explored world cinema, and caught up with many cinephile essentials, so it’s excruciatingly tough to narrow down discoveries to a handful. Here are 5 lesser-known titles that I liked the most:

The Great Garrick (1937) is a delightfully witty comedy directed by James Whale. A troupe of French actors are totally misinformed about, but nonetheless very insulted by, comments made by visiting British stage star Brian Aherne, so they conspire to take over the inn where he’s staying to show him a thing or two about realistic acting. Aherne gets wind of the grand prank and plays along, but mistakes real guest and runaway Countess Olivia de Havilland, for one of the actors and mistreats and misleads her accordingly.
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In Branded (1950), Alan Ladd plays a gunfighter who’s talked into scamming a rich ranching family by pretending to be their long lost son. The loner is so touched by the warmth and love “his” family shows him, that instead of ripping them off he sets out to find their real son, who was kidnapped and raised by a Mexican outlaw. A gorgeous, smart film and a lesson on how to make predictable story elements totally surprising and suspenseful. This was one of 20+ Ladd movies I saw in ’16; other gems of his were Two Years Before the Mast, The Great Gatsby and Whispering Smith.
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In Four Faces West (1948), Joel McCrea is a nice-guy bank robber who only steals what he needs to help his dad, leaves an I.O.U., and starts paying the money back asap. He’s hunted by Marshal Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford), who wants to arrest this decent fellow before the dead-or-alive posse finds him. McCrea has sweet chemistry with real-life wife Frances Dee, who plays the Eastern nurse encouraging him to give himself up. Noble McCrea does many admirable things including saving a family, before Bickford catches up to him, in a western where not one shot is fired nor punch thrown. This movie was part of my big McCrea binge that also included discoveries Saddle Tramp, Stranger on Horseback and Colorado Territory.
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Charley Varrick (1973) has Walter Matthau playing a smart and sardonic, relatively small-time thief who accidentally robs a tiny bank in the middle of nowhere that ’s actually a major mob money drop. Soon the mob’s terrifyingly cool enforcer Joe Don Baker is on Varrick’s trail, which winds through seedy connections toward an unforgettable showdown in the desert. Intelligent, excellent and gritty picture by the great Don Siegel. Along with Varrick I also found the 70’s crime gems Walking Tall, The New Centurions and The Outfit.
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The Underworld Story (1950). The great Dan Duryea is an opportunistic journalist who recovers from a firing and blacklisting by buying into a failing bedroom-community paper, just in time to exploit a sensational murder in the town. A wealthy family try to cover a spoiled son’s crime by framing their black maid, and Duryea is enough of a corrupt heel that he cynically exploits the story to sell his new paper, but he’s also just enough of an idealist that he grows a conscience and does the right thing. More gritty noir discoveries from this year: Canon City, Shack Out on 101.
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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at atalentforidleness.blogspot.com, irabrooker.com and @irabrooker.

Check out the many many lists he has done for RPS over the years:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/search/label/ira%20brooker
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Combat Shock (1986, Directed by Buddy G)
Bleak, bleak, grime-smeared bleakness from a cash-strapped NYC filmmaker who’s clearly soaked up more than a few screenings of Taxi Driver, Eraserhead, and The Deer Hunter, and maybe a couple rounds of The Bicycle Thief too. Traumatized Vietnam vet Ricky Giovinazzo wanders the streets of mid-’80s New York, dodging gangrenous junkies, glad-handing yuppies, child-prostitution rings, and tiger-cage flashbacks as he searches for a job that doesn’t exist. At least the mean streets are more welcoming than his rancid apartment, which he shares with his hateful wife, mutated baby, and at least one carton of badly spoiled milk. Director Buddy G creates a jittery, nauseating experience that’s even grimmer than that description suggests, but laced with enough gallows humor to keep it from sliding into total nihilism. With America seemingly hell-bent on building a working simulation of the 1980s minus any sense of empathy, the time has never been better to expand the cult of Combat Shock.
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The Gamma People (1956, Directed by John Gilling)
This supremely strange early Cold War nugget is a peculiar blend of sci-fi, comedy, and thriller that somehow hits all three marks, to the extent that I wish Paul Douglas and Leslie Phillips had become an Abbott and Costello-style horror-comedy team. Here they play a snide journalist and freewheeling photographer who wind up stranded in an obscure Eastern European village that’s totally cut off from the outside world. Naturally it’s just a matter of time before they stumble upon the exiled scientist who’s using gamma rays to amass dual armies of mindless zombies and super-intelligent children. Future Hammer mainstay John Gilling keeps the humor dry and the horror dreadful. The scene where a junior fascist upbraids a little girl for playing the piano with too much emotion jarred my sensibilities in the best way.


Kin-Dza-Dza! (1986, Directed by Georgiy Daneliya)
A middle-aged factory foreman and a young violinist attempt to assist a disoriented vagrant and instantly find themselves whisked to a desert world where people wear bells in their noses, travel around in steampunk flying machines and speak a dialect that consists mainly of the word “Koo.” The duo’s attempts to get back to Earth are complicated by an inscrutable caste system that seems to reward trickery and greed above all else. This strange Soviet sci-fi satire is regarded as a classic in its homeland, but it’s virtually unknown over here in the main target of its capitalist lampoonery. That’s a crying shame, as this is a bitterly hilarious artifact that would be an instant cult favorite, especially among Terry Gilliam fans. (And it’s not as if communism comes off a whole lot better - Kin-Dza-Dza leaves no ethos unscathed.)
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A Gun for Jennifer (1997, Directed by Todd Morris)
Nearly everything about this grimy, no-budget revenge flick screams 1977, which somehow makes its actual 1997 timestamp all the more impressive. That isn’t to say that A Gun for Jennifer is some kind of self-aware retro exercise. This simple story of a gang of bad-ass women using a seedy strip club as a front for castrating and killing rapists and domestic abusers is a genuine grindhouse venture from an era that just didn’t make those kinds of movies. Despite its male director, this is clearly a woman-driven labor of love for screenwriter/star Deborah Twiss, whose righteous, feminist outrage gives the lie to any number of her movie’s rape-revenge precursors. It’s got a kick-ass grunge-punk soundtrack too, including a live performance by queercore legends Tribe 8. If you know anything about Tribe 8, that tells you a lot of what you need to know about A Gun for Jennifer.


Savage Weekend (1979, Directed by David Paulsen)
You can call Savage Weekend a lot of things, many of them unflattering, but you can’t call it predictable. That counts for a lot in my book. While this muddled tale of unpleasant yuppies heading to the country to unwind, bone each other and belittle the locals is nominally a slasher flick, it doesn’t get around to slashing anybody until the final act. By that point we’ve already seen a sardonic gay stereotype beating the hell out of a bar full of rednecks, an overtly and obscenely sexualized close-up cow-milking sequence, a feral William Sanderson raging to his buddy’s tombstone about gentrification, and a lot of vaguely unhealthy-looking ‘70s people getting naked and bickering. For a movie where not much happens until everything happens, this one is abidingly sleazy and endearingly amateurish in just the way I like best.
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An Angel for Satan (1966, Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque)
This year I watched two different 1966 movies where Barbara Steele’s arrival in a European hamlet spurs the resurrection of a malicious witch who was drowned in a lake centuries earlier. I dig them both a lot, but with all due respect to The She-Beast, this is the better entry in that ultra-specific genre. It’s gorgeous black-and-white work from veteran director Camillo Mastrocinque, overbrimming with atmosphere and goth as all heck. Steele owns the show like she always does in a dual-personality role, shifting easily from the naive heiress to the sadistic seductress who relishes making the villagers tear each other apart with lust. Nobody ever did it better.


Rats: Night of Terror (1984, Directed by Bruno Matei and Claudio Fragasso)
A gang of post-apocalyptic punks on a scavenging mission stumbles on a warehouse stocked with ample food and a sustainable indoor gardening facility. But guess who got there first? (Hint: check the title.) This wild Italian cross-breeding of Mad Max knock-offs and nature-in-revolt flicks teems with ludicrous gore, surprisingly graphic nudity and wriggling rats both live and rubber. It’s hugely entertaining and intense throughout, but ask anybody who’s seen it what they think and the first thing you’ll hear is, “Oh god, that ending!” That reaction is 100% justified. It is indeed one hell of an ending.
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Death Car on the Freeway (1979, Directed by Hal Needham)
Now look, if you’re gonna accept Death Car on the Freeway into your life, you’re gonna have to make peace with the concept of a fiddle-jazz-loving serial killer whose M.O. is forcing female drivers off the interstate with his van. Once you’re cool with that logistically baffling scenario, you’re ready to luxuriate in one of the finest hidden gems of the TV-movie era. The appeal here is largely in ex-stuntman and Smokey & The Bandit writer/director Hal Needham’s mastery of automotive action, with plenty of pulse-pumping tension generated from repeated showdowns between a clunky panel van and sensible coupes. More surprisingly, the whole thing works as a feminist metaphor. Shelley Hack is mighty good as the dogged journalist trying her damnedest to get a patriarchal police department to acknowledge that women are being targeted at all. (There’s even one on-the-nose scene where a detective brings up the victims’ spotty driving records to suggest they were “asking for it.”) You also get cameos from Peter Graves, Abe Vigoda, Dinah Shore, Frank Gorshin and George Hamilton, but this one stands on its own regardless of star power.


The Man Without a Body (1957, Directed by W. Lee Wilder and Charles Saunders)
I’ve made it one of my life’s missions to seek out weird artistic artifacts, and this movie ranks right up among the weirdest goddamn things I’ve ever stumbled across. It’s a tale as old as time, really: a miserly old bastard tries to cheat death by decapitating Nostradamus’s corpse and stealing his head in hopes of a brain transplant, with a backup plan of pumping the head for stock tips if that Swiss watch of a scheme proves unfeasible. Not one element of William Grote’s screenplay comes across like the product of a remotely healthy mind, but Billy Wilder’s oddball brother directs all of this insanity with a cheap, straight-faced approach that makes this a uniquely disturbing cinematic experience.


Hot-Blooded (1996, Directed by David Blyth)
OK, this one’s a bad movie, and not the good kind of bad. This story of a young sex worker enlisting a squeaky-clean college boy to escape her rapist trucker father (Burt Young!) is sloppy, ludicrous, morally reprehensible stuff, dragged down even further by lurid direction and a gormless dishrag of a leading man. I’m including it on this list for one reason only: Kari Wuhrer. Kari Wuhrer goes for it in this movie. No one involved with this production could have had any reason to believe it would be anything but the multi-titled* scrap of direct-to-video sleaze that it is, but Kari Wuhrer tackles her lead role as though she’s vying for the red carpet. I love that kind of dedication to a lost cause. The woman is a genuine trash film treasure who ought to get far more love from the kind of weirdos who read and make these lists. Some day she’s going to have the cult she deserves.
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*I saw it as Hit and Run, but the default title seems to be Hot-Blooded, and it also goes by Red-Blooded American Girl II despite the original Red-Blooded American Girl apparently being a vampire flick. It’s that kind of movie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Bryan Connolly

Bryan Connolly is one of the co-authors of one of the greatest film books ever - DESTROY ALL MOVIES. He also writes soon-to-be-award-winning screenplays with Zack Carlson under the banner King Originals.
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Hider In the House (1989)
Dir: Matthew Patrick
A lonely man (Gary Busey) builds a secret room in a family's attic. He sneaks around the kitchen, drinking milk from the carton. Bad Busey gets obsessed with the wife, gets weirder, gets violent. He is one of the greatest actors of our time. Written by Lem Dobbs (The Limey)!
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The Young, Erotic Fanny Hill (1971)
Dir: Joe Sarno
Paul Morrisey clone with actual female masturbation. Classic Sarno! Women sit/stand/lay in rooms talking about their sexuality. Fanny Hill gets them all laid. All movies should be like this. 
https://www.somethingweird.com/product_info.php?products_id=22519

Dir: Wong Jing
The real Street Fighter II movie! Ryu and pals fight each other, befriend a nerd and get caught up in some truly zany hijinx. In '93 Jing is obsessed with this damn game, also featuring it's characters in his Jackie Chan masterpiece City Hunter. 

Penetration Angst aka Angst (2003)
Dir: Wolfgang Büld
The best of all the killer vagina movies, but it's also so much more than that. No budget. Shot on video. Genuinely strange. Scumbags sucked into a vaginal vortex. Siamese twins violently separated. Another version of this film exists where Büld plays a lot of the characters. A quick thing he does to see how the shots will look. Every human is different.
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Rhythm Thief (1993)
Dir: Matthew Harrison
A few days in the life of a cassette bootlegger. What Indie films should be: no big stars, different and full of energy. Better than most any low budget picture. Clearly shot in a few days for a few bucks. I get true inspiration from this movie. Filmmakers need to stop making their low budget films as resumes for a Star War and instead make it because they have something unique inside them that can't be emulated by a hundred million stinker.
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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New Release Roundup - December 27th, 2016

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE on Blu-ray (Universal)
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AMERICAN HONEY on Blu-ray (Lionsgate)
http://amzn.to/2i23hQT
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SNOWDEN on Blu-ray (Universal)
http://amzn.to/2i29XOU
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DOG EAT DOG on Blu-ray (Image Entertainment)
http://amzn.to/2h3sfgT
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THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)
http://amzn.to/2h3gtTU
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WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS on Blu-ray (Sony)
http://amzn.to/2h3akah
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NATURE: THE STORY OF CATS on Blu-ray (PBS)
http://amzn.to/2hNezbk
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