Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - James Curtiss ""

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - James Curtiss

James Curtiss is one half of the team behind the podcast “At The Cheap Seats,” where he and his partner Matt[REDACTED] review movies once they’ve made it to the second-run, dollar house theaters. He is also an occasional contributor to Blumhouse.com and ran the now defunct IHEARTSEQUELS blog.
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Fury (1936) – A few years ago I got a really great deal on a boxset Warner Bros. put out called the “Controversial Classics Collection”. I picked it up mainly because it housed two of my all-time favorite films: A Face in the Crowd and Bad Day at Black Rock. I was familiar with most of the other films in the set, but it took me a while to finally catch the outlier in the bunch, Fritz Lang’s thrilling lynch mob polemic Fury. Starring a young Spencer Tracy, it outlines the story of Joe Wilson (Tracy), an innocent man almost killed by a lynch mob and the revenge he sets in place against the people who wronged him. An American companion piece to Lang’s superior M, the film’s narrative twists and turns are far unkinder to its protagonist than the guilty lead at the heart of its German predecessor, though the resolution is far more optimistic. In the end, the film is mainly a must-watch because of Tracy’s incredible lead performance.
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Der Schneemann aka The Snowman (1944) – During the holiday season, the Egyptian and Cinematic Void ran the sole 35mm print of the goofy holiday slasher fantasy Jack Frost. Before the show they ran a collection of silly holiday-themed detritus on a loop; a lot of garbage commercials, shorts, music videos, etc. The one that stood out the most was this oddball cartoon about an anthropomorphic snowman trying to outlast the winter so he could get some summertime sun. I’d never seen it before, but was so enraptured by its idiosyncratic art and syrupy charms that I had to look it up and dive deeper into it. Turns out the short was made in Nazi Germany by an animator named Hans Fischerkoesen, who was often nicknamed “Germany’s Walt Disney”. After the initial ick factor wore off I decided I’d take the plunge and get started catching up on his career, which ran from 1919-1964. I’ll have more to report on that somewhere, some time, in the near future.

Mexican Hayride (1948) – One of my pet projects has been to turn my girlfriend on to more of the classic comedy stuff that she’d never been exposed to as a kid; Jerry Lewis, The Marx Brothers, Stooges, etc. Surprisingly the one she took to the most was Abbott and Costello. I started her off with Meet Frankenstein, knowing the blend of comedy and classic horror was right up her alley. (Ryan Goslin’s riff on Abbott’s classic stammer in The Nice Guys got the biggest laugh out of her when we saw the Shane Black flick.) After that I caught her up on a couple more of the meet the monster adventures before venturing into other A&C flicks. While scoping one of the sets we rented from a local library, we finally caught Mexican Hayride, one of the few I’d never seen. The movie moves like lightning and is ridiculously funny, so it’s gonna be in regular rotation whenever I pull off an A&C marathon in the future.
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The Horror of Party Beach (1964) – Every October the New Beverly here in L.A. runs an all-night horror movie marathon, consisting of 6 mystery movies that no one in the audience knows in advance. This year their second feature was this Del Tenney trash classic which I’d never seen without the MST3K episode wrapped all over it. It is a sight to behold and you really don’t need Mike and the bots to laugh at the mania of it all as it unfolds. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I don’t believe in things being so bad they’re good. But I do believe that you can still enjoy a film that you know is just not very good because of the alchemy of all these audacious elements you can only find in films that are just “going for it”.
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Amuck! (1972) – Speaking of the New Bev, I admire Tarantino’s dedication to showing things on 35mm and 16mm, despite the fact many of the prints are, as QT puts it, “well loved”. As I’m sure some of you are familiar, some of these well-loved prints are so worn and washed out that they all become a lovely shade of pink throughout the entirety of the feature. Such was the case when I was finally able to catch this sleazy piece of giallo goodness on the big screen at the New Bev. In the end, Farley Granger’s low-budget retread of the kinds of performances he gave in Hitchcock classics, and the film’s non-stop roll out of psychosexual set-pieces and the gorgeous women at the heart of it all, kept me enraptured enough to go check out a beautiful hi-res transfer of it online.
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Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) and ALL MADEA MOVIES – I love Halloween. Most years I will take the day off of work to actually enjoy the entirety of the holiday. This year, my girlfriend and I went to the LACMA to check out the absolutely beautiful exhibit that Guillermo del Toro put together for the museum. On the way back, we both decided we wanted to catch something Halloween-y on the big screen. Trouble was, the only thing playing remotely in that ballpark was Boo: A Madea Halloween. Now…I had never seen ANY Tyler Perry movie before, though I was always curious based on so much of what I’d seen written about the guy. Suffice it to say, Boo was a fascinating disaster of a movie. I didn’t really like it, but I was so transfixed by what Perry was doing, particularly in his performance as Madea. She is such a weird yet dynamic character and my girlfriend and I just could not stop laughing at this wonderful contradiction of a creature. Sacred and profane all in one fell swoop, I have now watched almost half of a dozen Madea movies, as well as some Madea-less Perry entries, and I plan on continuing this odd sojourn into the multi-hyphenate’s one-of-a-kind, truly personal oeuvre. I will say that Boo is the worst of the bunch so far, that Diary of a Mad Black Woman or A Madea Christmas would be a better place to start, and that once I am done with the entirety of his filmography I MIGHT have a clearer definition of what I think of Perry’s work. MIGHT!
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The Silence (2010) – Sadly, one of my cinematic blind-spots of late is with regards to foreign films of the last decade. I do see quite a few within any given year, but there are so many more that I have to play catch up on. This German thriller was one of the best movies I caught in 2016 and if it had been a first-run release this past year it would have been in my top 10 without a doubt. It is a wonderfully composed and austere film about a horrible crime that reminds me a lot of two of my favorite films from the aughts: Zodiac and Memories of Murder. Like those films it is a tale of obsession surrounding a seemingly senseless crime and the ripple effect it has on everyone involved. However, unlike those two films, this movie is told from the perspective of not just the victims and the investigators but from the perpetrators as well. It begins with the rape and murder of a young girl in 1986 before moving forward exactly 23 years in the future when a copycat crime is committed in the exact same spot. I won’t say more. Seriously, do not sleep on this. Despite the subject matter, everyone needs to stop what they’re doing right now and go watch it.
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Romantics Anonymous (2010) – When it comes to the aforementioned cinematic blind spot, sometimes this happens for good reason. Case in point…light-hearted French comedies. Boy, when they’re bad, they’re bad. It’s not that I’ve made a concerted effort to avoid them. It’s just so damn easy to walk past them. (I’m more of a Catherine Breillat kind of guy.) Thank goodness my girlfriend will watch anything if it strikes her fancy. She picked this one up from our local library, thinking the synopsis sounded cute. It is cute. It’s a trifle. And it is a damn well-made trifle at that. But that’s not all that won me over. What really won me over was the male lead in this romantic comedy, played by Benoit Poelvoorde. For those of you who aren’t sure where you may have heard that name before, I have three words for you…MAN BITES DOG. That’s right fucking Ben the psycho plays the lead in this film and it’s the same level of sweet, sincere charm that he brought to that sociopath that makes him such a winning romantic lead in this. In fact, I never really knew what the hell Poelvoorde had done after Dog (other than a voice in the lunatic stop-motion film A Town Called Panic) and this film made me aware of a handful of other delightful films he’s made in the past decade, including another recommendation I will give you called My Worst Nightmare, co-starring Isabelle Huppert!
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English Vinglish (2012) – One area of current foreign films (and trifles, for that matter) where I have not been lacking of late is the gargantuan output that Bollywood cranks out every year. Again, because of my girlfriend, and our relative proximity to a lot of Indian neighborhoods, I see a lot of Bollywood movies. Now, I love Bollywood, but I can see why they’re not for everybody. The heightened reality, the melodrama, the MUSIC NUMBERS!!! It can all be too much for some. That’s why, having finally caught this amazing little Bollywood movie, I can say that it is a wonderfully low-key intro to Bollywood for anybody who may have been a hold-out so far. In fact, of the 8 or so songs in the movie, only 1 of them is a diegetic musical number. While the humor and moral outlook in the film is very in keeping with traditional mainstream Bollywood, it is a far subtler and simpler character piece about an old-fashioned, conservative housewife who begins taking English courses on the sly, so she can avoid the mockery of her family, all while gaining a rather sizable sense of self-respect in the process. The performances are uniformly great, but the ones who really shine are Sridevi, coming out of a 15-year hiatus to play the lead, and Mehdi Nebbou, a French actor of Algerian descent, who plays a fellow student that develops feelings for Sridevi’s character. Honestly, after this movie, I have a total man-crush on the guy and I would cast him in an American romantic comedy a.s.a.f.p.!
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