Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - Barry P. ""

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - Barry P.

Barry P. runs the eclectic movie blog Cinematic Catharsis, focusing on the little films that slipped through the cracks, with an emphasis on genre titles. Some regular features include: classic spotlights, capsule reviews and overlooked gems.
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See his discoveries from last year here:
Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (aka: Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro) (1968) Director Hajime Satô’s fascinating film takes a dim view of humanity and our propensity for evil. After a hijacked airliner crashes in a remote area, the survivors must struggle to stay alive until help arrives. The passengers and crew represent a microcosm of society, displaying our capacity for altruism, greed, selfishness and lust (I wonder if anyone’s ever done a thesis, comparing the various passengers to the seven deadly sins?). As hope of rescue begins to dissolve, the passengers begin to squabble under the watchful eye of an alien spacecraft, which appears to be orchestrating their actions. The film features some suitably disturbing imagery, as humans are turned into bloodthirsty zombies, and paranoia becomes the survivors’ primary motivation. In spite of the supernatural occurrences, Goke’s main conceit is we don’t require outside intervention to do ourselves in.
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Shock Treatment (1981) This lesser-known semi-sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show brings back some of the cast, along with the two main characters, Brad and Janet (now played by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper). Jim Sharman returned to direct, and co-wrote the script with Richard O’Brien (who also co-wrote the music and stars as Dr. Cosmo McKinley). The overall soundtrack isn’t quite as catchy as its 1975 predecessor, but it does have its moments, such as the title song.

If the previous movie represented the trials newlyweds face as they’re figuring each other out, then the follow-up explores the rut some married couples end up in. Brad is stuck in an emotionally stagnant state, committed to an asylum and heavily sedated for most of the film. Meanwhile, Janet is seduced by fame and a sleazy TV producer (also played by De Young). Not unlike its predecessor, it’s an essentially plotless excuse for one musical number after another. While Shock Treatment isn’t without its share of loyal followers, it never gained the same status as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It didn’t deserve to fade into obscurity, though. The film is worth re-discovering for its commentary on our television-obsessed society, as well as domestic malaise.
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Think Fast Mr. Moto (1937) Okay, forget for a moment that Austro-Hungarian actor Peter Lorre is playing a Japanese character, and focus on his fine performance as the diminutive detective in this first of a series of films. Lorre (thankfully without the embarrassing makeup used in many similar productions of the era) immerses himself in the role, as an amateur detective who uncovers a diamond and drug-smuggling operation based in Shanghai. Moto befriends a playboy businessman (Thomas Beck) from a shipping firm, who becomes the unwitting pawn in the smuggling ring’s illicit activities. Lorre does a nice job with what he has to work with. Given the material, he handles his character with dignity, keeping this from being an artifact from an unfortunate period in Hollywood history. His Moto is clearly the smartest guy in the room wherever he goes, proving Lorre could really carry a film.
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The Champions of Justice (aka: Los Campeones Justicieros) (1971) Blue Demon and his luchador pals form a super group of luchadores to square off against a mad scientist and his super-powerful little people army (their uniforms are tastefully emblazoned with an “M” for midget). The twisted doctor kidnaps contestants of a beauty pageant, and freezes them for his nefarious plans. Why? Don’t ask me why, but it’s up to the wrestlers to get them back. Each successive scene (accompanied by a repetitive jazz score) is simply an excuse for the wrestlers to whoop ass. Will good prevail over evil? If you’ve seen any of these flicks, you already know the answer. One of the joys of this film is its conceit that our heroes keep their masks on at all times, which is why the sight of a luchador in pajamas fills me with glee. If you’re looking for a tightly engineered plot or scientific plausibility, you’ve come to the wrong place. On the other hand, if you just want to watch a bunch of sweaty wrestlers with colorful masks and imaginative names pummel a bunch of bad guys, then you’ve struck pay dirt.
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Salesman (1969) Albert and David Maysles, along with Charlotte Zwerin, chronicle the end of an era, the age of the door-to-door salesman. This fascinating portrait follows a group of salesmen, each with different nicknames (such as “The Rabbit,” “The Gipper,” and “The Bull”) signifying their unique approach. The fact that they sell bibles and not vacuum cleaners or any other product is incidental. The inherent underlying themes are universal. The men in the film create a need for something, and monopolize on it. Salesman paints a bleak existence of life on the road, moving from one town to the next, clinging to the dubious hope of success. There’s a pervasive feeling of desperation in the air, as one salesman consistently fails to meet his quota, and it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before he’s replaced by another, likely younger, individual. It’s a sobering antithesis to the “American Dream.” Big thanks to Psychotronic Daily (you can find him on Twitter under @dmathches) for the suggestion.
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Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971) The pacing of this giallo, directed and co-written by Aldo Lado, is very slow, but don’t let that discourage you. The intriguing premise requires a deliberate build-up, and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Jean Sorel stars as Gregory Moore, an American reporter in Prague. The story is told from his perspective as he’s lying in a morgue, unable to move but cognizant of everything around him. He retraces the events leading up to his unfortunate predicament, including his failed attempt to smuggle his fiancée Mira (Barbara Bach) out of the country. Her disappearance uncovers a larger conspiracy that might just get him killed. According to Lado, the concept for his film came from the idea of someone being buried alive by the establishment, indicative of the political climate in Italy at the time. More than just a simple mystery or whodunit, Short Night of Glass Dolls has much to say about those in power, and the lengths some will go to keep that power.
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