Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Dennis Widmyer ""

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Dennis Widmyer

Dennis Widmyer is a filmmaker responsible for STARRY EYES, segments in the recent HOLIDAYS anthology and the upcoming PET SEMATARY remake for Paramount. He also runs the official website of best-selling FIGHT CLUB author Chuck Palahniuk ( and serves as Editor in Chief of the literature review site Find his ramblings and a collection of his obsessive Now Watching's on Twitter and Instagram at @DennisWidmyer.

I had string for a few years where I primarily watched films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Not in any sort of "film snob" way, but primarily because it was just where my film-watching interests at the time laid. Then in 2017 I moved in with my fiancee and married her a few months later. And while that was the best decision of my life, my amazing wife leans more towards a different bent of cinematic devour and, as I do the bulk of my movie-watching with her on the couch besides me, let's just say my habits changed. This is all just a long-winded disclaimer to say, there will be a lot less "classics" on this list as there would've been pre-2017, and a lot more trash-cinema and '80s gems. Luckily I had websites like this and podcasts like Pure Cinema to guide me int he fog. Here we go!

VIGILANTE (William Lustig, 1983)
Let's start with probably the best '80s film I saw in 2017, not to mention what I think is William Lustig's best movie. My wife (you're going to be hearing a lot about her here), is obsessed with Maniac, Maniac Cop, and Maniac Cop 2, so I figured it was time to delve into some of Lustig's other offerings. But I really didn't see Vigilante coming. Anything with Robert Forster has my attention. But any movie as vile and no-holds-barred as this has it two-fold! We both recall watching this movie, and it just continually getting better and better. Usually movies-- even great movies-- lose some steam in the third act. But Vigilante explodes into a non-stop onslaught of revenge and action that never lets its foot off the gas until the end credits. It also has a soundtrack by frequent Lustig collaborator, Jay Chattaway, that either Waxwork or Mondo needs to get on yesterday.
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THE OUTFIT (John Flynn, 1973)
This is a movie that wasn't even on my radar until I heard this website's own curator, Brian Saur, pimp it on his vital podcast Pure Cinema, that he hosts with some bozo from Australia. ;) Let me say without hesitation: this is a perfect film. There's not one false beat or boring moment in the entire thing. It's not only the best-written film I saw all year, but the best buddy thriller of the '70s. Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker needed an entire franchise of films together. Their chemistry is like something out of the best Elmore Leonard novel he never wrote. If you're not giggling madly in your seat when the end credits roll from the sheer delight of everything you just witnessed, perhaps I need to send Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker after you-- and Karen Black and Robert Ryan and Timothy Carey because, yeah, they're all in this masterpiece too!
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SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (Budd Boetticher, 1956)
Another Pure Cinema Podcast recommendation from Mr. Saur. This is one of the best Westerns I saw all year (and I watched quite a few). It introduced me to director Budd Boetticher writer Burt Kennedy and their frequent muse, Randolph Scott. And thank God for this holy trinity of sleek, stripped down, no nonsense badassery. I fell for Boetticher so hard, that I watched about half of his filmography in a few days. I even went out and bought the DVD boxset just so I could see Quention Tarantino and Clint Eastwood (together on screen!) discuss them in the special feature's documentary. I think out of all the Boetticher's Westerns, this is my favorite. It's the best-written story and it has the best villain of the bunch, played by a sleazy, scene-chewing Lee Marvin. If you're feeling like a trip to the old west, put this one at the top of your list.
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THE FOUNTAINHEAD (King Vidor, 1949)
I get a lot of crap for it, but I love the novel "The Fountainhead." I could care less about its politics. I just fall hard for its romanticism. It's a steamy read. So when I woke up one weekend and slapped myself for never having seen the 1949 film adaptation, I quickly remedied it. I'd already been obsessed with everything Gary Cooper, but I was quickly becoming obsessed with Patricia Neal as well (A Face In The Crowd anybody??). And together, the two are intoxicating on screen. There's a scene with Patricia Neal haughtily reprimanding (flirting) with Cooper with a leather riding crop that will make you feel tingly all over. Not to mention, it's just a strong adaptation of the novel and reminded me all over again why I love it so much.
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BEST SELLER (John Flynn, 1987)
Yep, another John Flynn movie. Flynn was a theme of mine in 2017. Between The Outfit and this one, I also watched Defiance, Rolling Thunder and Lock-Up. A few of those I'd seen already, but I don't think I ever connected the dots before that they all came from the same director. What sets Best Seller apart is that it comes from the mind of Larry Cohen. It's the sort of cop film they don't make anymore. A plot so pulpy (a serial hitman played by Woods wants detective/novelist Dennehy to write his autobiography!) but pulled off so earnestly, that it all just works. Woods is unstoppable in this film. He's firing on all cylinders as king prick with a chip on his shoulder and a lot of people to shoot bullets into. And Dennehy and him have this toxic chemistry that makes every scene they're in together exciting. If I haven't sold you yet, maybe this will: The climactic shoot-out scene takes place during a children's birthday party. Yep, this film is sort of insane.
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FIRSTBORN (Michael Apted, 1984)
Aka, the birth of Corey Haim onto our cinematic landscape (it was his debut film-- and he's great in it!). It also stars Peter Weller, whom I watched quite a lot of in 2017. Props to Leviathan (which sort of holds up?) Shakedown (which has its moments) and Of Unknown Origin (suggested by Brian Collins as one of the best films he discovered during his "Horror Movie A Day" insanity. Also here is a strong performance by Teri Garr, who unfortunately begins dating Weller after going through a separation with her husband-- much to her kid's chagrin. Weller quickly establishes himself as an abusive, totalitarian loser who sets up home at the family's peaceful abode (replete with his own pinball machine) and soon begins sadistically disciplining the kids, lying to Garr, and selling drugs out of the house. And yet, all of it is handled completely sincerely. Guys, this film is great. It really caught me off guard and it builds to a violent showdown between the family and Weller that rivaled DiCaprio/Barkin vs De Niro at the climax of This Boy's Life (another under-appreciated domestic abuse story).
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GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (John Sturges, 1957)
Probably the other "best Western" I saw in 2017 that wasn't a hotel. Besides Tombstone, this is my favorite retelling e of when Wyatt Earp (played here by Burt Lancaster) met Doc Holliday (played here by Kurt Douglas). These two Hollywood titans made seven films together, and this is easily my favorite. Their chemistry just washes over you in every scene. The story and direction is also super tight and yet, quietly epic. The movie just looks gorgeous and has tension running throughout it. I'm honestly surprised it doesn't get talked about more among the great Westerns.
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EVILSPEAK (Eric Weston, 1981)
Jesus, where has Evilspeak been my entire life!? I didn't even know this film existed until it finally got a good Blu-ray release this year. Take Clint Howard's character from The Wraith, and give him his own movie where he wreaks havoc on all those who teased, abused and wronged him during the film's duration, and you have Evilspeak. But you also have one of those most batshit-bonkers climaxes I've ever seen in an '80s film. Seriously. Don't Google it. Just watch the damn film and bask in the lunacy of the final ten minutes. You'll thank me for it.
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THE NEW KIDS (Sean S. Cunningham, 1985)
The last film on this list and yet another Brian Saur recommendation from Pure Cinema Podcast. (seriously, if you're not listening to this podcast yet, it might be head-examining time). Growing up in the '80s, I'm sort of dumbfounded that I never saw this film on HBO, much less in any video store I visited. I hadn't even heard of it. And yet, the minute I looked at that iconic poster, I felt like it had been in my life all along. This is your basic Karate Kid story of a fish out of water-- in this instance, a brother and sister-- who have to move to a new town after a tragedy befalls them. Once situated at their new school, they quickly cross paths with a sadistic bully (played by an albino James Spader) who, along with his cronies, begins to terrorize our heroes for the runtime. What convinced me this movie belongs on this list though is the third act, where the movie explodes into horrific carnage in a way I didn't see coming. Seriously, this movie takes the gloves off in the final fifteen minutes and doesn't disappoint! I loved it.
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1 comment:

Robert M. Lindsey said...

I too love The Outfit. What a great film.

7 Men from Now is especially great in that it's only 73 minutes! I sure miss economical story telling like that.