Rupert Pupkin Speaks: 2018 ""

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Roger Leatherwood

Roger Leatherwood studied Moving Image Archiving at UCLA and currently works in the UCLA library. He occasionally writes about film culture, like everyone else in the world, on his blog, Mondo Cine (
On twitter @RogerLB.

As more and more lost gems (and not so gems) get released on Blu-ray, I find my viewing time divided between revisiting films I hadn't seen in decades (Miracle Mile, Into The Night) and finally catching up with films I missed the first time. It's a great time to be a fan of non-mainstream cinema. --Roger

Uptight (Jules Dassin, 1968)
Jules Dassin returned to America in the 70s (after a stint as an ex-patriot after being blacklisted) to film this Chicago-set remake of John Ford's 1935 The Informer. Both films follow a man who betrays his own people in the midst of class warfare, but while Ford's original was set around the Irish War of Independence, Dassin tapped into the black power movement. And it's not a celebration of unity.

At age 56, Dassin still had an eye for noir and the dark side of human experience. And late-'60s Cleveland is beautifully captured. A surreal sequence in an arcade with neon lights and fun-house mirrors is astounding.

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)
After the double-whammy in 2016 of Paterson and Gimme Danger, I realized I'd ignored, perhaps intentionally (Coffee and Cigarettes, anyone?), Jim Jarmusch for a while. I'm almost positive I'll love Only Lovers Left Alive (still haven't seen, possibly on next year's discovery list) but was more intrigued by The Limits of Control, a zen crime joint which no one seemed to like or even remember.

Featuring Isaach De Bankolé as a hitman in Madrid laconic to the point of absurdity, the film does everything a good Jarmusch film does, perhaps to excess. He walks, he drinks tea, he choses not to bed Tilda Swinton when offered. Demonstrating more attitude than plot, its zen minimalism spools by in beautiful, sterile images, creating a mysterious and frustrating landscape of crime-movie tropes that Jarmusch seems uninterested in expanding on beyond signifying its own hyper-cool vibe. That "excess" of nothingness seems to be the point. I loved it.
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You're Telling Me (Erle C. Kenton, 1934)
I finally got into the "other" films in the W.C. Comedy Collection Vol. 2 box set. Fields generally had two characters that shaped the films he was featured in: the larcenous carnival barker on the lam from the law (Poppy, You Can't Cheat An Honest Man, The Old-Fashioned Way), and the hen-pecked husband character who loved his family (or at least, his daughter) but suffered endless indignities (It's A Gift, The Bank Dick, The Man on the Flying Trapeze).

You're Telling Me is of the later style, a study of domestic frustration where he plays an inventor of crackpot schemes, his latest being a puncture proof car tire. Though practically unknown to me, this film displays all the Fieldsian charm, verbal wit and loose but hilarious set-pieces of his later, better known films. It also recreates his famous golf routine from vaudeville once again.
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Landmine Goes Click (Levan Bakhia, 2015)
This title was lurking on the best-of-year horror lists a couple years back and its title seemed little more than a one-joke idea. Yes, a character accidentally steps on a landmine that goes "click" early on, but its much more than a simple man-in-the-wilderness survival tale.

Levan Bakhia's Georgian (as in former Soviet Union) thriller puts a handful of clueless American tourists in jeopardy, not just from forgotten war materiel, but from locals who don't have the purest of motives, and from each other. The film builds in tension to end with a surprisingly tense and violent revenge sequence. From little things come the horror of unintended consequences.
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Diary of a Mad Housewife (Frank Perry, 1970)
Shown in 35mm at the New Beverly in Los Angeles this year during a Frank Perry retrospective, I was stunned by how modern and engaging this early feminist film based on Sue Kaufman's best-selling novel still was.

Typical in a wave of housewife-in-quiet-desperation films and books that felt daring at the time to simply suggest upper-middle class domestic life wasn't all it was cracked up to be, Diary transcends with a powerful spot-on performance by Carrie Snodgrass. It also benefits, I'm convinced, mightily from Perry's wife Eleanor's insightful adaptation of the book. He never made a better film once he broke up, personally and professionally, with her.
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Il Bidone (Federico Fellini, 1955)
One of the most enjoyable film projects I mounted this year was revisiting all of Fellini's films in order, finally getting a grasp on his development of themes and style. Also filling in the gaps. While it's no problem watching 8 1/2 again, I almost dreaded seeing the more serious, early neo-realist films.

Il Bidone (The Swindle) was generally considered a failure upon its release, cynical and anti-human coming on the heals of La Strada. But Fellini's fondness for questionable characters, his endless fascination with city values encroaching on some idealized rural "paradise," and his sober sentimentality are in full display as much as in any other film. Broderick Crawford is perfect as the dead-eyed, tragic swindler who can't stand to disappoint his daughter, and the ending achieves the same kind of grace, dirt-smudged as it is, as Zampano finds in La Strada.
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The Hot Nights of Linda (Jess Franco, 1975)
If Jess Franco was such a bad director, why do they keep remastering his films for blu-ray? That doesn't mean I'm going to watch all HIS films. I've seen more than I should probably admit, and have a fondness for his rambling, sexually and aesthetically transgressive (meaning, they're not always coherent) films from the early to mid '70s when he worked for Robert Nesle and Golden Harvest. Also, naked Lina Romay.

The Hot Nights of Linda, released last year by Severin, is the perfect example of the Sadean family dramas Franco's so fond of, with a horny, probably insane woman at the center. But what makes this one a surreal masterpiece is its narrative (il)logic. Linda starts as a tale of an outsider (Alice Arno) visiting a mansion, then drifts, like a half-drunk uncle, into weird investigations of dark sexual secrets of the inhabitants, with occasionally strikingly gorgeous images, an eye for using architecture in his compositions, and an obsessive love of lingering over naked bodies. I'm not sure it's a depiction of a waking dream or a sexual nightmare.
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Friday, March 16, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence has been a DJ over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) for many many many years and I have been a fan of him there for more than a decade. He plays quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check him out!

The Plague of the Zombies (Dir. John Gilling, 1966)
Each year I track down a bunch of Hammer films that I haven’t seen, and this one was the cream of this past year’s crop. One of the best not to feature either Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, this spooky gem is still populated with Hammer favorites such as Andre Morell, Jack Carson and Michael Ripper. Released on the eve of Romero’s “Living Dead” revolution, this film retains the classic voodoo-type zombies, albeit with a somewhat more aggressive attitude.
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The Hit (Dir. Stephen Frears, 1984)
I was drawn to check this film out in the wake of John Hurt’s passing (after re-watching his awesome performance in the legendary UK TV serial, I, Claudius). I was also prepping for an interview I did with Tim Roth, and one never needs any special reason to check out a film with Terence Stamp in it, so watching this was a no-brainer. All three leads are stellar, and Frears keeps this character-driven gangster film moving. Keep a lookout for brief appearances from Jim Broadbent & Fernando Rey!
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Green for Danger (Dir. Sidney Gilliat, 1946)
This cheeky detective story is a quintessential example of the “stiff upper lip” stereotype of British citizens during WWII, as it manages to serve as a variation of the classic “drawing room” kind of English mystery story, while set in a grim, rural, makeshift hospital beset by Nazi bombardment. Alastair Sim plays the detective with his usual eccentric pique, and among the familiar faces of mid-century UK cinema is Trevor Howard (The Third Man) and Megs Jenkins (The Innocents).
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ffolkes (aka North Sea Hijack) (Dir. Andrew V. McLaglen, 1980)
Keeping with a British theme, this is one of those weird one-offs Roger Moore did in-between Bond movies. Directed by the son of John Ford’s pal, Victor McLaglen, action specialist Andrew leads Moore (alongside James Mason, Anthony Perkins, Michael Parks and George Baker) in a Bond-like adventure to take down terrorist on board a North Sea oil drilling platform. Being somewhat more realistic than 007’s escapades (which ultimately means less gadgety & more talky), this actually holds up better than many of Moore’s Bond films!
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The Rocking Horse Winner (Dir. Anthony Pelissier, 1949)
An oft-overlooked example of pre-Hammer British horror films, this dark fable is a quite faithful adaptation of a D.H. Lawrence short story about a boy who discovers he can predict horse racing winners while in a trance riding his toy horse. Ultimately it becomes a terrifying, existential look at obsessive/compulsive behavior with a healthy dose of tough social commentary to boot. John Mills (who also produced) & Valerie Hobson (both from David Lean’s Great Expectations) impress, as does child actor John Howard Davies, who later became a top BBC producer & worked on Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, among other hits.
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The Wild One (Dir. Laszlo Benedek, 1953)
I wouldn’t say I’m well versed in the “biker gang” genre, but this one is the granddaddy of them all, so I was curious to check it out. That said, also being a fan of Marlon Brando’s other 50s films made it an essential watch, and it is worth it! The presence of Lee Marvin doesn’t hurt either. Surely the lowest budget film Brando ever did, although it really transcends being just an exploitation film – it cemented his iconic image with the leather jacket & motorcycle cap just as much as the grimy, rolled-up t-shirt in Streetcar did. No love from the Oscars (unlike most of his films from that era), but a timeless performance.
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They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (Dir. Gordon Douglas, 1970)
The first sequel to the award-winning Sidney Poitier classic, In the Heat of the Night, is quite a different animal, but it sure doesn’t want you to notice, going so far as to take its name from the famous line from the original, despite not being uttered in this one. Nonetheless, fans of gritty, urban ‘70s crime films should have no complaints, as the sweaty, racist Mississippi town is left behind for vice-ridden, Bullett/Dirty Harry-era San Francisco. Joining Poitier is a nifty cast including Martin Landau, Anthony Zerbe, Jeff Corey & a hirsute Ed Asner, and was ably directed by the eclectic & prolific Gordon Douglas (The Great Gildersleeve, Them!, Robin & the Seven Hoods, Tony Rome, In Like Flint, etc.)
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Demon Seed (Dir. Donald Cammell, 1977)
More of a WTF than a genuinely great film, this sci-fi/horror hybrid is based on a Dean Koontz novel about a sentient computer that seeks to impregnate its creator’s wife. This alone should qualify it as whacko, but throw Performance director Donald Cammell in the mix and Fritz Weaver and Julie Christie as a pretty unconvincing married couple (plus Robert Vaughn as the voice of the computer), and you’ve got a genuinely disturbing mind-blower! Further consider that, given its era (the mid ‘70s), the depiction of the computer, both in its physical and virtual forms, is quaint and decidedly unpretty. Props to Ms. Christie for committing to her role, which she surely does, despite the ridiculousness of the situation.
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The Late Show (Dir. Robert Benton, 1977)
I will admit I never considered either Art Carney or Lily Tomlin as particularly noteworthy actors, but The Late Show proved me wrong. A clever, not-so-gentle satire that mixes The Odd Couple with The Big Sleep, this charming buddy pic also works as a time-capsule of mid ‘70s LA, as the two leads follow the breadcrumbs of a murder case throughout the city. Surprisingly violent at times, it still takes full advantage of its leads (along with TV’s Maude’s husband, Bill Macy) as comedic legends to keep things fairly light and fun. Still, like Bubba Ho-Tep or even Twin Peaks: The Return, it also extols the heroism of older folks.
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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Hal Horn

Veteran RPS contributor Hal Horn runs the irreplaceable Horn Section Blog ('reviewing the obscure, overlooked and sometimes the very old').

Also read his previous Discoveries lists for Rupert Pupkin Speaks:

On Twitter @halhorn86

MONTANA (1950) 
Errol Flynn made his final two westerns in 1950, and while MONTANA isn't quite the tense character study that ROCKY MOUNTAIN is, it's entertaining. Errol is an Australian sheep man who runs afoul of cattle barons. Finally got to see it thanks to Warner Archive. With Flynn's frequent co-star Alexis Smith. Directed by Ray Enright (CORONER CREEK).
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Another entertaining old school western making the rounds at Retroplex. Confederate spies Van Johnson and Milburn Stone (yes, Doc!) steal a prototype Gatling gun hoping to turn the Civil War's tide. They con Union nurse Joanne Dru into coming along, with Union intelligence officer Jeff Morrow hot on their trail. Baddie Richard Boone also wants the Gatling for his own nefarious purposes. Directed by Rudolph Mate, the same year that the legendary cinematographer helmed the infamous BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH.
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Randolph Scott leads a hunt for gold treasure in the titular sand dunes, with Edgar Buchanan, Arthur Kennedy, William Bishop and Ella Raines among those along for the ride. Lots of intrigue follows; no points for guessing we'll get a fierce sandstorm eventually. Solid western noir from director John Sturges.
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Sturges appears twice on my list this year. Eurasian shutterbug Laurence Harvey is trying to emigrate to the U.S. from Tokyo, trying to use his charm to speed the process. It works on American Martha Hyer and Japanese aristocrat France Nuyen. More interesting than good, but the former qualifies it as a discovery. Filmed on location in Japan.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Bernardo Villela

For more on my views on film you can check my blog ( and for more about my other doings you can see the About pages on the same site (

Savage Beasts (aka Wild Beasts 1984; Dir. Franco Prosperi)
Part of why I will go to the occasional horror convention does have a lot to do with finding random movies I may not have heard of otherwise. My first two selections are those kinds of finds. Savage Beasts tells a tale so simple that to say it has a tight plot would stretch the definitions of both the words tight and plot, despite that it’s not entirely plotless. Its story: PCP gets into the Frankfurt water supply making animals go berserk. Yes, there are characters and there is a bit of unraveling done about what happened and how to deal with it, some setpieces are brutal, some awkward but what makes this movie memorable and enjoyable is the chaos, the animal kingdom taking its revenge, and its immersive atmosphere.
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The Survivor (1981; Dir. David Hemmings)
David Hemmings perhaps best known for his roles in Blow-Up and Deep Red also directed a dozen films, this adaptation of James Herbert’s novel. It concerns a 747 crash wherein the pilot is the sole survivor and is virtually unscathed. As he and the investigators try and understand the cause of this crash, things get progressively stranger and people start to die.
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The Smiling Madame Beudet (1934; Dir. Germaine Dulac)
Germaine Dulac said “It isn’t enough to simply capture reality in order to express it in its totality; something else is necessary in order to respect it entirely, to surround it its atmosphere, and to make its moral meaning perceptible…” that quote applies to all her works I’m fairly confident, however, it proves especially true with regard to the two films of hers I saw that ended up among my favorite discoveries of 2017. I could have picked at least one more of her films, as I discovered her as a historical figure of note for a blogathon entry ( and found both her and her work endlessly fascinating. In this film she directs the adaptation of a tale by Guy de Maupassant about a wife pushed past her limit by her insufferable husband. It has also been cited as the first feminist film (
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The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928; Dir. Germaine Dulac)
About the Seashell and the Clergyman Maryanne DeJulio wrote “After more than seventy years, Germaine Dulac’s film The Seashell and the Clergyman surely merits that we take another look, as we reclaim Dulac’s rightful place among pioneering filmmakers of the early avant-garde.” ( It is quite the surrealistic film, again a milestone as Dulac was the first woman to create such a film and had many experiments in the form worth checking out. Yet even in its surrealism tells a very clear story of a priest struggling with guilt and against the sin of lust. Both the films cited here can be found fairly readily online.
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The Secret of the Nutcracker (2007; Dir. Eric Till)
This is another film I watched for blogathon last year (

“If you’ve seen my Battle of the Nutcrackers post (, you know I don’t tire of new versions of The Nutcracker. Learning that he’d been in a unique film version that the Alberta Ballet and Alberta Symphony Orchestra were involved in and got Brian Cox to be in, it’d have to be one of my first viewings.

It is definitely more film than ballet, however, as opposed to the ballet where Frank’s analogue (Fritz) drops out after the first act, he has to carry much of the action as part of a brother-sister team and does so effectively.”

What I didn’t mention above because the blogathon entry was a three-parter mostly about acting was that the transplantation of the story goes not just from Germany to Canada but from the 19th century to World War II, which adds some emotional depth to story in addition to the normal Christmastime fuzziness.
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