Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - david j. moore ""

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - david j. moore

david j. moore is the author of the books World Gone Wild: A Survivor's Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies and The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: Action Movies and Stars from Schiffer Publishing. His first novel will be published in 2019.
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Alabama Moon - 2009 (Alabama Moon DVD)
An eleven year-old boy named Moon (Jimmy Bennett) has been living off the grid with his Pap since he was a baby. He's learned to live off the land and survive and to be wary of "the law" and the government, and when his Pap dies after an infection, Moon tries to make his way to Alaska, but doesn't get far: He's arrested by Constable Sanders (Clint Howard) who regards him with complete disdain and prejudice. Moon is thrown into a boys' home where he has a bit of culture shock. He makes new friends (and enemies), is given food he's never had before, and he butts heads with the headmaster, who assures him he'll never leave. It doesn't take but a few days for Moon to stage a great escape, though; he rounds up all the boys and they all escape together, stealing a bus and going on the lam, but while most of the kids just wanted to go out for a joyride and return back to the home, Moon and two other boys - Hal (Gabriel Basso) and the sickly Kit (Uriah Shelton) - are serious about living off the grid with Moon deep in the woods. Their exodus prompts a search by the corrupt Constable Sanders, and after months of eluding him, the boys have the woods to themselves. Eventually Hal leaves to find his own father, and Moon and Kit try to make it on their own, but Kit's physical condition worsens so much that Moon takes him back to civilization to be hospitalized. What follows is a true coming of age life lesson for Moon as he's faced with the very real possibility of his friend's dying from his condition and his own fate as a fugitive. With the help of a local attorney (played by John Goodman), Moon comes up in the world as a local celebrity and might very well become an adopted child by a distant relative.

A remarkable little period-set film (it takes place in 1980) based on a novel by Watt Key, Alabama Moon took me completely by surprise. I absolutely love films as sincere, sensitive, and innocent as this, and this movie hits every mark perfectly on the bull's eye. Director Tim McCanlies has worked well in the coming of age genre before: He wrote the surf film North Shore, and directed Secondhand Lions, both worthy films in the genre. The kids in the movie are simply fantastic. It's a film suitable for all ages for all time. Track it down and enjoy it.
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Boys in the Trees - 2016
On Halloween in 1997, a group of rabble-rousing Australian teens hit the streets in their costumes and raise hell. One of them - Corey (Toby Wallace) - still retains a shred of his innocence and over the course of the night, he breaks away from his unlikable and cruel friends to explore what the night offers. He meets a girl who works the night shift at the local convenience store and strikes up a little friendship, and later still he comes in contact with a younger kid named Jonah (Gulliver McGrath) who has an effect on Corey in ways he didn't think possible. Jonah takes Corey on a strange odyssey into the woods and back, and over the course of a few hours, Jonah leads Corey through their own childhoods and inner fears and dreams, culminating in a revelation that has Corey reeling with pain and longing. Somehow, these two kids are connected, and as Corey makes the final steps through his youth, he becomes a man with newfound respect and courage for what lies ahead.

A starkly original coming of age film set in a striking era, Boys in the Trees had me scratching my head for awhile until the real themes of the story began presenting themselves, and by the time it was finished I'd realized how truly special it was. Told in a slow, gothic (but very vivid) style, it really resonates with its sense of time, place, and choice of music. Writer / director Nicholas Verso is someone to watch out for.
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Down Down the Deep River - 2014 (Kino Lorber DVD)
A virtual silent short film (42 minutes long) set in 1987, Down Down the Deep River is about two boys living in a small New Hampshire town. The boys (played by newcomers Dustin Cournoyer and Griffin Gamache) read comic books, go to the movies, play with their action figures, and explore the woods. They go to school, and literally create a monster with their imaginations, but the monster isn't malevolent; it observes them and acts like a sentry over their childhood. Over the course of a year, one of the boys drifts off and stops being the other boy's friend, and eventually the rejected boy must come to terms with losing his friend, who literally disappears one day, never to be seen again.

An unusual experiment enmeshed within an '80s aesthetic full of nostalgia and love for the era, Down Down the Deep River might have worked a little better for me as a feature and with dialogue, but with the way it is - always slightly off-center and lost in thought and reverie - it's more of an abstract think piece than a narrative effort. It's very nice to look at and listen to: Writer/director Will Sheff, from the band Okkervil River, also provides the songs and score for the film. There aren't too many films like this one, so it definitely stands out, and I always want to appreciate coming of age films set in the 1980's, so this is definitely a rare treat, but it would have worked much better if Sheff had made it into a feature.
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Enemy Empire (a.k.a. Furious Road) - 2013 (Three Wolves Ltd. DVD R2)
A man with a bionic arm roams the wastelands in search of a woman. He must get to an oracle that will tell him where to find the Nomad King, who might have his woman. The man is Sol (Tristan James Butler), and when he gets caught in a trap he can't escape, an Amazon warrior named Cleo (Elisabeth Meurer) saves him, and for the heck of it, they team up to help each other out. Cleo tells Sol that he has "sun disease," which occurs in wastelanders that don't protect their eyes, and the disease is a sort of madness that makes you see all sorts of familiar faces (including your own) in the place of the actual face you're seeing, and this takes Sol by surprise. It's true, of course: Sol is clearly affected by sun disease, and we as the audience get confused and disoriented when he sees people who have interchangeable faces. Sol and Cleo encounter more wastelanders, including a Witch Warrior, the oracle, and the Nomad King himself, but who those people actually are in relation to the characters we've already been introduced to might surprise you.

A quirky, out-of-nowhere post-apocalyptic indie film, Enemy Empire will most likely be unfairly written off as amateur garbage, but I found it engaging and surprising for something that looks like it was made by some buddies over a few weekends. It looks really good for a no-budget movie. They shot on widescreen digital, and the locations they used are sometimes stunningly beautiful. The sound quality is good, the music isn't terrible, and while the acting and dialogue are the weakest aspects to the film, I'd still recommend it. It reminded me of much better indie apocalyptic films like Six String Samurai, Bleak Future, and Black Pearl, but this one is simpler. Watching it gave me hope that there's still room for earnest filmmakers to go out and chase their dreams, even if it's on a very small scale. Written and directed by Michael Ryan Hahn.
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Grow Up, Tony Phillips - 2013 (Anderson Digital DVD)
Enamored with all things Halloween, high school senior Tony Phillips (Tony Vespe) is a likable, lovable nerd with a heart of gold. His few friends and family tiptoe around the fact that he hasn't grown up and moved past his childhood obsessions, and only a few close to him really know how to deal with him directly without hurting his feelings. With Halloween coming up, he obsesses about his trick or treating costume (at his age, everyone tells him he's too old for such things), and when his older cousin (played by A.J. Bowen) comes to live with him and his mother after going on the run from gambling debts, Tony begins a coming of age period where he starts to realize those he trusted most are actually playing against him. One of his best friends hurts him deeply in a bungled bully prank, and the girl he calls his best friend (played by Katie Folger) tries to warn him that his cousin is stealing money from him and his mother, but he takes it the wrong way and shuns her. Add to the mix a ten-year old boy he mentors and a miscommunication with the boy's parents and Tony finds himself alone with his conflicted feelings.

From writer / directed Emily Hagins, whose previous film My Sucky Teen Romance showed that she had an eye for good casting and sweet, genteel scripts, Grow Up, Tony Phillips is a diamond in the rough. It has a nicely understated plot with good actors and a more or less relatable story. The October / Fall atmosphere feels right in the movie, and it should play well to young people and old alike, particularly if you're a fan of Halloween.
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How to Save Us - 2015 (Parade Deck Films DVD)
A man named Brian (Jason Trost, who also wrote and directed) travels to an apocalyptic quarantined area in Australia to find his brother, who is searching for a gateway to another dimension. Brian smuggles himself into desolated Tasmania, and follows clues that his brother left for him to follow, as they each go on their own bizarre sojourn into territory that is now occupied by ghosts intent on dragging them into the realm of the dead. As Brian gets closer and closer to catching up to his brother, he begins to have an existential crisis that pits him against his haunted memories.

Vastly unique, but teetering on the cusp of irrelevance to the apocalyptic genre, How to Save Us earns big points for trying something different on a miniscule budget, but I wish it were set during a global apocalypse rather than a small corner of the world. It would give the movie a stronger anchor, but as it is, it should give aspiring filmmakers some much needed inspiration on how to make an apocalyptic movie with big themes and a big canvas, but with very little money. It's not as flashy or garish as Trost's previous film The FP (which I hated), so it's nice to see him maturing here. If you like the Pulse movies, check this one out. They're similar.
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Lightning Bug - 2004 (Anchor Bay DVD)
When he was just a boy, Green Graves and his younger brother Jay relocated to Alabama with their mother (Ashley Laurence), who is struggling to stay afloat after her divorce. Years later, Green (played by Bret Harrison) has quite a talent in creating latex monsters and imagining up interesting looking creatures inspired by all the VHS horror movies and horror movie magazines he consumes. At school, his mind is always in the clouds with his dreams of making it big in Hollywood, but with his mother living at close to poverty level and remarrying a violence-prone alcoholic named Earl (Kevin Gage), Green only has the prospect of taking his talent out of town and straight to Los Angeles. Surrounded by losers (some who actually support Green in his talents), Green's life takes an interesting turn when he meets a slightly older, but very beautiful young woman named Angevin (Laura Prepon), who works at the video store. They begin going on dates, and as Angevin is much more experienced with relationships and sex than he is, their relationship goes to the next level fairly quickly, but her mother - a fanatical Christian who condemns Green for worshipping the devil (an overblown plot point that starts with her seeing his monster masks and thinking they're satanic: typical ignorant Hollywood mumbo jumbo) - complicates everything and almost ruins Green's life by blaming him for a crime he didn't commit. Green must rise above the garbage life has stacked up against him, and move past a devastating tragedy in order to go after his dream and never look back.

A change of pace for a coming of age drama, Lightning Bug is from well-established make-up and monster designer Robert Hall, who apparently wrote and directed this film based on some experiences he had when he was younger. The performances are all spot-on terrific (especially Prepon who should have become a star), and the characters are interesting, which is a plus. The downtrodden circumstances of Green and his family are relatable, particularly with his given talent constantly being shot down and discouraged by his spiteful stepfather. It's a unique little film that works on almost every level. Hall went on to direct hardcore horror films such as Laid to Rest and Fear Clinic.
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OSS 117: Five Film Collection (1963-1968) (Kino Lorber Blu-ray)
Made and released concurrently with the early 007 movies with Sean Connery and George Lazenby, France's similar secret agent action film franchise OSS 117 has remained in relative obscurity in the USA until now. Over the course of eight original films and two reboot movies in the mid 2000's with Jean Dujardin (who turned the franchise into spoofs with two films), Special Agent Hubert Bonisseur was played by several different actors, most notably by Kerwin Matthews in OSS 117 is Unleashed (1963) and Oss 117: Panic in Bangkok (1964), by Fredrick Strafford in Oss 117: Mission for a Killer (1965) and OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo (1966), and by John Gavin in OSS 117: Double Agent (1968). There were other films in the franchise before it petered out with a made for TV movie in the early 1970's, but these five are the core films and they've all been released together in a superb five-film collection by Kino Lorber.

The two Kerwin Matthews films really set the stage for the films to come: Globe-trotting Bonisseur (who's supposed to be an American agent, but all of the films were made by French filmmakers and were dubbed into French) travels to the Mediterranean and to Bangkok to avert global disasters, all while romancing impossibly beautiful women and getting into car chases and nasty fisticuffs with evil henchmen. Strafford upped the ante with his two entries, and for my money he was the best of the actors to play the hero. He seemed to fully inhabit the suave secret agent and had the best and most convincing physical elements to give the character a true James Bond-type iconic flare. Gavin's solo one-shot is a solid entry as well (his appearance is explained by plastic surgery, so as to give the films some continuity), and Curt Jurgens from The Spy Who Loved Me plays the lead villain, and Luciana Paluzzi (from Thunderball) plays one of the leading ladies, so fans of the 007 movies should take note.

I had an absolute blast watching these five films. I'd seen the newer Dujardin films, but didn't realize that these movies weren't going to be comedies, so I was more than pleasantly surprised to find out that these movies played the genre straight. The foreign locales and music scores (there's even a theme song in one of them) all highlight the 1960s spy genre, and if you're looking for entirely entertaining escapism, then grab this gem of a set ASAP!
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Scream For Help - 1984 (Warner VHS)
A teenage girl named Christie (Rachael Kelly) believes right from the start that her new stepdad intends to murder her mother for her money. She makes no bones about it, telling anyone who will listen, but there's a big problem: No one believes her. We know that her stepdad (played by David Allen Brooks) is a slime ball: We see him setting traps that are intended on harming his wife (played by Marie Masters), and we know he's having an affair with a floozy (played by Lolita Lorre), whose husband has a plan to help him murder Christie's mom so that they can split the inheritance three ways ... which means that Christie will have to be killed as well. Christie, meanwhile, basically plays an amateur sleuth to figure all this out before any of it goes down, and her journey becomes increasingly perilous and fraught with sights and sounds no teenager should ever be witness to. She involves her friend Janey (Sandra Clark), who is murdered, and then Janey's boyfriend Josh (Corey Parker), and every time she tries to seek help, her situation gets worse and more complicated. Growing up should never be this dangerous ... or as sleazy.

From director Michael Winner, who made this in between his films Death Wish II and Death Wish 3, Scream For Help is a shockingly lurid and sleazy potboiler with graphic nudity, hard profanity, strong sexual content, and some death scenes that are zingers, but it's all wrapped up in a delightfully innocent-seeming Nancy Drew perspective that will have you baffled and rolling in the aisles with hysterics. It's most certainly a coming of age movie, but it reminded me of The Last American Virgin filtered through a Michael Winner exploitation film. There's nothing else quite like it, although a few years later the film The Stepfather repeated the formula, but without the hard sleaze factor. See it at all costs.
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