Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - Eric Hillis ""

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.

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