Rupert Pupkin Speaks: January 2017 ""

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Release Roundup - January 31st, 2016

PARENTS on Blu-ray (Vestron Video)
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LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM on Blu-ray (Vestron Video)
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POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)
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POLTERGEIST III on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)
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DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)
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BLOOD MANIA/POINT OF TERROR on Blu-ray (Vinegar Syndrome)
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BELLS ARE RINGING on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)
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PINOCCHIO on Blu-ray (Disney)

QUEEN OF KATWE on Blu-ray (Disney)

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK on Blu-ray (Paramount)
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MASTERMINDS on Blu-ray (Fox)
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Film Discoveries of 2016 - Sean Gilman

Sean's film writing can be found here:
He can be found on Twitter @TheEndofCinema.
His Film Discoveries list from the last couple years can be found here:

1. Duelle/Noroît (Jacques Rivette) & Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, 1946)
2016 was the year we brought The George Sanders Show to an end, after a brief ten episode rechristening as The Frances Farmer Show. The podcast was always a great discovery catalyst for me, forcing me to fill in blind spots and motivating me to watch some of the more difficult titles on my to-watch list. The best two discoveries I had through the final episodes of the show were Jacques Tourneur’s great Western Canyon Passage, a strange and mysterious film that is perhaps the best encapsulation of the contradictions at the heart of America’s Westward expansion, between the warmth of community and the violence and theft upon which said communities are founded; and Jacques Rivette’s 1976 films Duelle and Noroît, the former a detective story, the latter a pirate tale, but both so resolutely idiosyncratic, baffling and fascinating in all the best ways.

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2. Mahjong (Edward Yang, 1996) & Viva Erotica (Derek Yee & Lo Chi-leung)
For the Underrated 1996 series here at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, I decided to watch a whole lot of Hong Kong movies I hadn’t seen from that year. The two best were Mahjong and Viva Erotica. The former should be Edward Yang’s most popular film, a distillation of the disaffected youth of A Brighter Summer Day, the punishing romanticism of Taipei Story and The Terrorizers and the panoptic warmth of Yi Yi. The final moments are the most romantic images ever to come out of the New Taiwanese Cinema. In the latter, Leslie Cheung plays an artistically ambitious young director who, after a series of box office failures, is convinced to take a gig directing a Category III film, Hong Kong's rating for graphically violent movies and/or soft-core pornography. Shu Qi in one of her earliest roles is the Triad girlfriend tasked to star in the film. It's a remarkable performance, beginning as a shrill ditzy cliché and gradually turning not just into a real person, but a real actress (she gives a monologue late in the film that contains the seeds for all her future work with Hou Hsiao-hsien). The film as well takes such a journey, from goofy meta-comedy to one of Hong Kong cinema’s most moving reflections on cinema.
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3. Love Exposure (Sion Sono)
This summer I wrote about a trio of Sion Sono films, and easily the best of them was Love Exposure, an epic, four-hour romantic comedy about terrible fathers, upskirt photography, Catholicism and the meaning of love. It’s a wholly original pop construct burst forth from a cracked heart. If it has a stylistic precursor, it’s in the freewheeling exuberance of 70s exploitation films, the camera rushing in and out of handheld frames, mass karate fights and arterial sprays likely to spring to life at any moment, a lurid glee taken in the cinema’s simulacra of violence. Resting uneasily alongside the slashed throats and broken members, however, is a fundamentally sweet story of young love among the highly damaged, the story of a generation inventing romance on its own terms after their fathers, with their selfish cruelty, have very nearly drained life of all potential meaning. The film’s off-beat construction mirrors its winding narrative, unexpected rhythms in a story the direction of which is mostly unpredictable. In tone, it resembles something like Hal Hartley’s Henry Foolmovies in creating a world dialed ever so slightly out of step with our own reality, but recognizable nonetheless. It’s a film that brings out the funkiness in Bolero and the Second Movement of Beethoven’s Seventh, letting both tunes linger for eternities in the background, while panty photos are taken with kung fu acrobatics, propelling the narrative for longer than any sane human would think advisable. It’s a film where the Catholic Church is corrupt, ineffective, and cruel, while its rival Zero Church brainwashes its victims into a white-walled fantasy of domestic happiness, but the purest expression of meaning is an angry, anguished recitation of Corinthians 13. In that famous passage is the core of romance our heroes carve out for themselves: after burning down every institution that corrupts and obscures, the clanging cymbals of selfish desire, after exposing all their own deceptions and disguises and imperfections, two hands clasp with faith, hope and love.
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4. Isn’t Life Wonderful (DW Griffith, 1924)
Probably my favorite project of the year was a deep dive into the films of DW Griffith, in anticipation of the 100thanniversary of Intolerance. My biggest discovery there was this 1924 melodrama, starring Carol Dempster and Neil Hamilton, about a young Polish couple trying to survive in post First World War Germany. They struggle and lose and struggle some more, with a heartbreakingly resilient optimism in the face of tragedy. Being a Griffith film, there are two chase sequences: one at the end and one halfway through. The latter one is better: the woman stands in line at the butcher shop, all her family's money in her hands, hoping to get some meat. Due to out of control inflation, the price of meat rises every few minutes. Will she get to the front of the line in time to buy food? Will the food run out? Will she get caught in the middle of a riot? Perfect suspense filmmaking out of the simplest of building blocks.
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5. School on Fire (Ringo Lam,1988)
My last big project before the end of the year season hit was an extensive exploration of Ringo Lam’s career. I’d seen his most famous film, City on Fire, as well as its unrelated follow-up Prison on Fire before, but I was wholly unprepared for the relentless power of School on Fire. It’s the Hong Kong New Wave pulp-exploitation version of A Brighter Summer Day. Unlike Tsui Hark’sDangerous Encounters-First Kind and YimHo’s The Happening, with which it shares a ground-level, ultra-violent aesthetic in examining the lives of doomed HK teens, its anger isn't a generalized generational explosion of angst, but rather an anguished indictment of the specific institutions which, through systemic incompetence, corruption and/or impotence have utterly failed to offer the youth of the city's Walled City-like slums any hope of escape, of a future outside of drug abuse, prostitution, street crime and gang violence. Even the Triads are a failed institution: their norms and rituals of respectability overthrown by Roy Cheung in a career-best performance as the archetype of the new nihilism in gangster ideology.
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Vestron Video - PARENTS and THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM on Blu-ray

PARENTS (1989; Bob Balaban)
This is another one of those movies I discovered via the Cult Movies sections of several video stores from my youth. Along with LIQUID SKY, ERASERHEAD and REPO MAN, this film always seemed to show up in those Cult shelves. Even the cover of the VHS tape (which is the same as this Blu-ray) had this eerie sense of "what's going on here?" in combination with some kind of comedic elements. The cover was deceptive in that way in that I expected the movie to be more of a wacky and humorous farce than it is. It's actually a deeply creepy and haunting. I can only imagine the few times when some mom or dad might have mistakenly brought the movie home for a fun family movie night- only to have the shocking revelation that it's about a kid with cannibal parents. Apparently, PARENTS came out around the same time as Ron Howard's movie PARENTHOOD, so their may have been some folks that saw the latter by accident. I know I first rented it on VHS myself and found it scary, but also kind of funny. One different for me in viewing the movie now is that I have become a parent myself since my last watch, so the comedy didn't stand out for me as much as the psychological horror of it all.
What really sells it all is the kid they cast in the main role. He's quite little and he has this almost natural look of fear emblazoned in his face. He has the look of one of the kids in Woody Allen movies like ANNIE HALL or RADIO DAYS, but instead of being surrounded by funny situations, he is instead engulfed in this frightening and ominous world that makes his features appear much more disturbed. So the kid is great and the rest of the cast is excellent too. Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt play the boy's mother and father and they couldn't be more unsettling. They both bring an incredible air of menacing and foreboding that is quite powerful.
One thing I forgot about the movie is just how stylish it is. It has lots of interestingly framed shots and odd angles as well as a good deal of steady-cam work. There even some split diopter and macro lense business in there too. Balaban additionly employs slow motion and dips to black and white to great effect here in some sequences. He creates a remarkable, waking nightmarish reality wherein the kid sees or imagine he sees some pretty terrifying things.
I am a big fan of Bob Balaban as an actor, but I've always wished that he made more movies as a director. Between PARENTS and MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK, he proved himself to be a truly interesting voice as a filmmaker.
Interestingly, Angelo Badalamenti did the score for this movie and he was of course David Lynch's guy for a long time. Though PARENTS is not nearly as strange as or unclassifable as Lynch's work, I find it fitting that Badalamenti links the two directors

Special Features:
Hats off to Lionsgate for another nice special edition. The cornerstone of the supplemental material here is a good commentary track from director Bob Balaban and his producer on the movie. They have a delightful and breezy often screen specific conversation about the overall production as the recall it. Bob Balaban has always struck me as a jovial and intelligent fellow and he comes off that way on this track. For me, it always legitimizes a release when you can get the director on there talking about his work. 
Other features include:
• Isolated score selections/audio interview with composer Jonathan Elias
• Featurettes:
-“Leftovers to Be” with screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne
-“Mother’s Day” with actress Mary Beth Hurt
-“Inside Out” with director of photography Robin Vidgeon
-“Vintage Tastes” with decorative consultant Yolando Cuomo
• Theatrical trailer
• Radio spots

You can buy PARENTS on Blu-ray Here:
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THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988; Ken Russell)
As was the case with PARENTS, this film could almost always be found in the Cult sections of video stores. Director Ken Russell's film ALTERED STATES could often be found there too. In fact, Russell may have been one of the earliest associations I have with cult cinema. He just seemed to make movies that were strange and transgressive enough (see THE DEVILS), that they often ended up at the cult end of the spectrum. Russell is certainly a visionary and not a one note guy. His films were quite varied and regularly bizarre. He defined had a thing religion and seemed to take pleasure in dismantling it. There's often a lot of Christ imagery in his movies and LAIR is no exception. There are some very trippy dream sequences involving sex, snakes, sacrifice, nuns and Jesus Christ himself. The whole thing centers around ancient pagan cult that worships a giant serpent. One thing that I never realized about THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM was that Ken Russell adapted it from a novel by Bram Stoker. The resulting movie is an extremely unusual tale featuring people basically being turned into snake vampires. Of course it makes sense that vampirism would be a part of a Stoker story, but Ken Russell really seems to take it and make it his own. By that I mean he's added tons of phallic images and symbolism to his film. You see, Russell is basically obsessed with the sexuality and the penis in general. Take a look at the poster for his film LISZTOMANIA and you'll see evidence of what I mean. So WHITE WORM is filled with this kind of allusion throughout and it feels very much like a "Ken Russell movie". It is also an early-ish role for Hugh Grant, which makes it feel even stranger as we have now become so accustomed to seeing him in Hollywood fluff and this is definitely not that. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM is fascinating and strange watch all told.

Special Features:
• Audio commentary by director Ken Russell
• Audio commentary by Lisi Russell, in conversation with film historian Matthew Melia
• “Worm Food: The Effects of THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM” featurette
• “Cutting For Ken”: an interview with editor Peter Davies
• “Mary, Mary”: an interview with actress Sammi Davis
• TRAILERS FROM HELL featuring an introduction and commentary with producer Dan Ireland

You can buy THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM on Blu-ray Here:
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Monday, January 30, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Eric Hillis

Eric Hillis is a freelance film critic and editor of
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Hired to Kill (1990, Dir: Nico Mastorakis)
It may have been released in 1990 but Hired to Kill is as '80s an action movie as you could imagine. Wooden Brian Thompson poses as a gay fashion designer to lead a group of female mercenaries, disguised of course as models, on a mission to overthrow dictator Oliver Reed (who is clearly drunk throughout). It's the sort of movie that opens with its hero shooting his alarm clock. They sure don't make them like this anymore.
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The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972, Dir: Emilio Miraglia)
Practically a remake of Miraglia's earlier The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, this one adds considerable more style, making it a great entry point to those wishing to begin an exploration of the giallo genre. It's got everything you want from a '70s Italo thriller - beautiful starlets in eye-catching outfits, elaborate murders, an earworm lounge score and stunning cinematography. Arrow put both films out in a must-have blu-ray double.
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A Kind of Loving (1962, Dir: John Schlesinger)
Schlesinger's film has somehow gotten lost in the mix when it comes to the British new wave of the '60s, but it holds up better than some of its more revered contemporaries. Alan Bates is a classic 'angry young man' who grows resentful of the woman he married after an unwanted pregnancy. Relationship dramas don't get much more cynical than this.
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Death Valley (1982, Dir: Dick Richards)
As a huge fan of director Dick Richards (why isn't this guy more well known?), I had been looking for this for a while and finally got to check it out this year. It didn't disappoint. It's basically a slasher
movie led by a kid who thinks the carnage happening around him is just a game of Cowboys and Indians. Canadian legend Stephen McHattie is great in a double role as twin killers.
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Flashpoint (1984, Dir: William Tannen)
Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams are Texas Rangers who stumble upon a jeep buried in the desert, complete with a skeleton and close to a million dollars in cash. Needless to say, things don't go smoothly from there. This one has a leisurely pace that really lets us get to know its characters, and fans of Cormac McCarthy style neo-westerns should definitely check it out.
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Pool of London (1951, Dir: Basil Dearden)
The British Film Institute's 'Black Star' retrospective was a season of movies showcasing the work of black actors, and one of the highlights was a restoration of Dearden's forgotten heist thriller. It's considerably ahead of its time both in its inter-racial romance subplot and its thrilling action set-pieces, which in Dearden's hands play more like the product of '70s New American Cinema than post-war Ealing.
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Johnny Eager (1941, Dir: Mervyn LeRoy)
I watched a lot of movies starring the great Van Heflin in 2016, and this first time watch blew me away. The Hef is oustanding as the drunken, philosophical sidekick and moral compass of narcissistic
mobster Robert Taylor. Brian de Palma's Carlito's Way owes quite a bit to this - it features a nautical themed nightclub, and Sean Penn's coke-addicted lawyer seems to be modelled on Van Heflin's 'fro-haired drunk.
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East Side, West Side (1949, Dir: Mervyn LeRoy)
LeRoy and Heflin reteamed for this Sirkian melodrama of upper middle class angst. Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason are the high society couple whose marriage is threatened by the lure of nice guy Heflin and seductive socialite Ava Gardner. It's a quiet tragedy with a heart-breaking performance by Stanwyck, and a masterclass in subtle direction from LeRoy.
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The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963, Dir: Ken Hughes)
Another '60s British gem that slipped through the cracks, this was reissued on blu by Studiocanal and left me baffled as to how I hadn't heard of it before. Anthony Newleyis the titular cockney wideboy
given a few hours to come up with a considerable sum of money if he wants to avoid having his face sliced open by debt collectors. This would make a great double bill with Karel Reisz's 1974 James Caan vehicle The Gambler.
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Countdown to Looking Glass (1984, Dir: Fred Barzyk)
The mid-80s was known for event TV movies dealing with the threat of nuclear annihilation. The US gave us The Day After, the UK gave us Threads, and Canada gave us this docudrama set in the days leading up to a nuclear war beteeen the US and the USSR. It's rough around the edges at times, but it does a mostly effective job of immersing us in its fake news reports, and it's become worryingly timely in recent weeks.